South-South Cooperation 2020: Soul Searching Day for Africa

Forty-two years after the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of action for promoting and implementing technical cooperation among countries of the global south, some progress has been made, but there is so much that needs to be done, especially in Africa.

Historically, the global south has been the source for most of the resources and materials that have been used to develop and sustain the economies of the industrialized global north. The consequence of this being the global south remaining in an underdeveloped or developing state, while societal benefits go almost exclusively to countries in the northern hemisphere. 

Forty-two years after the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of action for promoting and implementing technical cooperation among countries of the global south, some progress has been made, but there is so much that needs to be done, especially in Africa.

The legacy of colonialism still has an overbearing influence on the economic decisions of countries in Africa, South America and South-East Asia. Countries in these regions may have the resources to create wealth and self-reliance, but often lack the infrastructure to develop these resources. Major funding sources for such ambitions usually required unsavoury relationships with countries that conducted and benefited from colonial exploitation in the first place.

Defiance to the paradox of re-enslaving oneself for the chance at development inspired movements like the Non-Aligned-Movement, established in the early 60s, the Asian-African Conference and the South-American/African Cooperation. Pulling from important events like the Bandung Conference in 1955, the aim of groups such as these was to foster greater economic, technological and social ties between the countries of the global south. Other plans included joint investment for the development of energy infrastructure. 

The development gaps between the north and south significantly influenced the establishment of the millennium development goals, which was replaced with the sustainable development goals in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly.


The short answer is no and when considering Africa in that context, the answer is still a hard no. A recent article by the Brookings Institute stated that although there is massive adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), however progress has been uneven, unlike Asia, Africa is on the backfoot.

According to the SDG Centre for Africa, in its ‘Africa 2030 SDGs 3-Year Reality Check Report’, the continent continues to champion highly unsavoury statistics e.g. one in three Africans is at risk of food insecurity (Twinoburyo, et al., 2019). The report also shows that half of the global population living under poverty ($1.90/day) is in Africa. As if the grim information knows no bounds, the SDG centre also predicts that under the various facets which sufficient data exists i.e. access to electricity and clean water, poverty and maternal mortality; the major regions of Africa are unlikely to attain the SDGs. 

Today, Africa is tentatively on the way to attain 3 goals centred on SDG 5, 13 and 15 -gender equality, climate action and life on land respectively-, the operative word here being ‘tentatively’. This assertion is based on the International Monetary Fund’s 2017 Sub-Saharan regional economic outlook report which confirmed that 2016 saw the lowest level of growth (1.6%) in over two decades, owing mostly to difficult conditions in resource-intensive countries and recession for oil exporters (Robinson & Allard, 2017). The same report expected a 2.6% improvement in 2017 which honestly still falls short of any sustainable parameters for the socio-economic landscape of the continent.

What Went Wrong?

The current challenges afflicting countries in Africa and the global south can be attributed to bad governance and a lopsided global economic system. Many of these countries do not have or follow proper development plans, there is usually a wide policy and governance gap that will be filled by acts of corruption and cronyism.

Nigeria has been unable to reach multiple Sustainable Development Goals (3, 6, 11, 14, 15, and 16) because of inadequate industrial regulation, the tendency to prioritise short term profit over long term gain and the lack of sound economic strategies. The alleged misappropriation of over 5 billion Naira ($13m) meant as a COVID-19 relief fund for the 9 states that make up the Niger Delta geopolitical zone. Furthermore, informal networks between political leaders and private interest groups operate practically without oversight leading to higher chances of bribery to secure lucrative contracts, deals and/or influence. 

In Zimbabwe, hundreds of families are being dispossessed of land awarded to them through the land reform laws enacted during the period of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Currently, the Zimbabwean government has admitted its inability to compensate ($3.5bn) the white settler industrialist farmers, offering instead application for land reacquisition. On either end of the scale here, there are indigenous Africans (small scale subsistence farming) on one end and settler Europeans (industrial-scale export-based farming) on the other end, the government’s choice on who to cater and pander to, shows their priority. A lack of coherence and commitment to political objectives show the government’s loss of conviction and shared vision.

Debt, and Access to Credit Amid a Pandemic A particular interest of South-South Cooperation was to build financial institutions to address the challenge of funding that befell most countries of the global south, ultimately as an alternative to the IMF and World Bank. 

This has led to multilateral initiatives such as the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This coupled with China’s emergence as a major bilateral creditor, developing countries no longer rely almost exclusively on the IMF and World Bank for credit lines, thereby avoiding the conditions attached which include privatization of industries and economic sectors, adopting policies for debt repayment as prescribed by the World Bank/IMF.

The privatisation of access to the very resources that can be points for building a sustained wealth-creation base can be blamed for the current situation where the many governments make just enough to service the interest on the loans.

According to the IMF, among low-income countries, 9 are over-indebted and 24 nearly are, which amounts to 39%. And this was before COVID-19 pandemic. For many countries, years of economic growth has been reversed or derailed by the pandemic. Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the IMF, explained that we are facing “a recession at least as bad as during the Global Financial Crisis or worse”

Africa is particularly vulnerable because many economies rely heavily on extractive industries and the current lackluster demand for commodities put several countries on the path to default on loans. 

The UN Economic Commission for Africa warns that “the impact on African economies could be the slowing of growth to 1.8 per cent in the best case scenario or a contraction of 2.6 per cent in the worst case. This has the potential to push 27 million people into extreme poverty.”

It is stats like that that compelled the G20 to launch the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, full implementation of the DSSI is supposed to provide more than $12 billion in additional liquidity to the 76 least-developed countries in 2020, and an additional $14 billion next year.

Even that falls short of the $100b the UNECA says Africa needs annually for the next three years. This gap is ridiculously wide and the lack of financing for COVID-19 response is causing so much anxiety in capitals across Africa. 

Countries of the global south are facing dire and complex issues, be it debt and liquidity, COVID-19 pandemic or climate change. So as we mark the 42nd anniversary of South-South Cooperation, the call for not just greater South-South cooperation to overcome the challenges, but a North-South Cooperation. 

There’s also a need for the political will to execute the top-down solutions forged at the G20. It is also important for all countries understands that plans for short term gains will have to be eschewed for sustainable long term plans in the various economic sectors. This is needed to avoid stumbling blocks and pitfalls on the path to sustainable economic recovery and development