In the light of recent events (a.k.a. UCM pre-Capstone Panik), I thought a lot about South-South Cooperation for development. Yes, it is one of these buzz-words. And yes, I’m going to write about it. Mea culpa. But bear with me here. Saving the world sometimes requires a little generousity when it comes to overly used terms. After all, it’s pretty much a fulltime job, so I can’t possibly spend even more time on thinking up new words.
So what is South-South Cooperation? Essentially, it means that poor countries should help each other to get out of poverty and become a second Europe or a second America. (But without all the pollution please, otherwise we’re all going to hell). At first, the idea that less developed countries help each other, might seem rather arbitrary: How can a country that is struggling with poverty, corruption, little economic opportunities and possibly political instability mobilize the resources to help another country? How can a global partnership be developed when education and infra-structure are scarce goods?
What these questions imply, are serious challenges for the whole concept of South-South cooperation and suggest, that this kind of development cooperation can in fact only truly work, when we find a way to make development cooperation less of a zero-sum game in which whatever contribution one country is making, is inevitably lost for its own development. Poor countries can only help each other, when their respective contribution is a investment that offers both, short-and long-term returns, and leaves both parties better off. “Making the pie bigger” is a metaphor often used when arguing against a redistribution of wealth. Using the same metaphor for South-South cooperation, it is fair to say that the cake still has to be baked. The necessary ingredients have been dispersed across the global South and neither country has enough of them to bake it on its own. Country A might fare really well on poverty reduction, but lacks economic activity, while Country B is really corrupt, but has important knowhow and Country C, although dirt-poor, can show off some good governance and sound policies. In this case, the question of redistributing wealth (the cake) is secondary, because there is no cake to begin with. But what if the real merit of South-South cooperation is just this: the potential to bake a new cake? A cake which is made of the best that each country has to offer and from which each country gets a fair piece.
Maybe South-South Cooperation is not a panacea to the many illnesses of the current aid system and I’m almost a 100% sure such a cure-it-all doesn’t exist. But it’s obvious, that the cake we’re currently eating, doesn’t taste too well. So why not try baking a different one? Ideally one, that is also very green, energy-efficient and sustainable.
And fluffy! The cake has to be fluffy.