Cover Page


The “South-South cooperation” concept is still not widely known or used, except in the framework of the United Nations. Yet, its inception goes back more than 60 years, when the idea was crystallized as a key building bloc of the national liberation and anti-colonial struggle of developing countries1. The struggle found its apogee in the UN and was marked by the Congo crisis that witnessed the deaths of Patrice Lumumba and Dag Hammarskjold. In March 2019, the United Nations will hold the 2nd High-level Conference on South-South cooperation, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to discuss the state and prospects of South-South cooperation (SSC) and chart a path for the future. The Conference will also mark the 40th anniversary of the 1978 UN Conference on Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries (TCDC), also held in Buenos Aires, which adopted the Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (thus the acronym for BAPA+40 or Buenos Aires Plan of Action + 40). BAPA+40 offers a new opportunity for the international community and, more importantly, the Global South to focus attention on South-South cooperation. This cooperation is important not only for development and national-sovereignty aspirations and needs of the developing countries and their peoples, but also for these countries’ greater role and influence in the world arena. Consequently, South-South cooperation holds a promise of the developing countries playing a key role in reforming and shaping the · When the editor of the Vestnik RUDN International Relations , published by Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University), formerly Patrice Lumumba University, approached me with the suggestion to contribute an article on South-South cooperation for the journal’s special issue devoted to the 2019 UN High-level Conference on South-South Cooperation, he stressed the importance of including footnotes, and also suggested that I liven up the text with some recollections from my own academic and professional experience. I have obliged by providing ample footnotes parallel to the main body of the text, in the hope that this unorthodox, eclectic essay - partly historical, partly analytical and partly prescriptive - may serve as useful reference for those working on South- South cooperation, and also for researchers of this subject and the large student body from the Third World, especially Africa, studying at RUDN University, some of whom may in the future take part in a South-South cooperation undertaking. world order to respond to the shared needs and objectives of humankind. The essay approaches this question from a point of view widely shared in developing countries and is inspired by their decades-long collective struggle in the world arena.

Full Text

The historical challenge facing the Global South today is to grasp the possibilities and options inherent in South-South cooperation. This is a monumental task, a “gamechanging” opportunity, which, if seized with vision and determination, can fundamentally affect the shape and orientation of the international system and help to move the Global South from the periphery to the centre of the world stage. South-South cooperation has for decades been a marginal and neglected area of international development cooperation. This has been the case for different reasons, including objective difficulties and constraints, a concern among developing countries that SSC may be used to detract attention from North-South issues, the low priority assigned to SSC both within individual developing countries and internationally, and, indeed, the political opposition to the very notion of South-South cooperation and collective self-reliance, especially by the North’s key countries2. Possibly, one way to open a discussion on what can and ought to be done to seize multiple and varied opportunities that South-South cooperation offers today is to address some issues that have stifled SSC development for years. THE GEOPOLITICS OF SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION The first issue that needs to be mentioned is the underlying disagreement and often ambiguity within the United Nations regarding the meaning and content of South- South cooperation, an issue that has emerged also in the context of preparations for the 2019 Buenos Aires High-level Conference. The reason behind this goes back to the very early days of group or collective action of the Global South, the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung3, which was followed by gatherings attended not only by developing countries of Africa and Asia, but also those of Europe and Latin America. The first of those gatherings was the 1961 Belgrade Conference, which had a comprehensive agenda involving mainly political but also economic issues4 and which launched the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Then, under the impulse of NAM and the 1962 Cairo Conference on the Problems of Economic Development, the First UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD I) was held in 1964 in Geneva, at which the Group of 77 (G77) was born5. The Group’s objective was to strengthen the developing countries’ bargaining power and influence in negotiations with the developed countries concerning trade and development issues6. This bifurcation into “political” and “economic” was necessary because many Latin American and also some other developing countries were not ready to join NAM, seeing it as too much to the “left” and as being under the influence of some developing countries that were not to the liking of the North. NAM, nonetheless, exerted political influence in the socio-economic sphere, especially at critical junctures, first in launching, in the UN, the process that led to the creation of UNCTAD and birth of the Group of 77, and a decade later by conceptualizing the notion of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) and having it adopted at the 6th Special Session of the UN General Assembly7. Thus, the larger grouping of developing countries began to function in the framework of UNCTAD I, which was focused on trade and development issues, making possible the participation and involvement of all developing countries. The practice of developing countries’ permanent UN missions in Geneva to work and act together, forged during UNCTAD I, continued in the framework of the newly created UNCTAD in the post-Conference period. The Group of 77 was formally inaugurated in 1967 at the 1st G77 Ministerial Conference held in Algiers, where the Charter of Algiers was adopted and the unity of the Group solidified in preparation for the forthcoming UNCTAD II, scheduled for early 1968 in New Delhi. The developed countries were far from being pleased by the emergence of a united front of developing countries, and from the very first moment tried, by various means, to discredit, undermine and splinter the Group. They argued that there was no such thing as the Third World or the South, and that both NAM and G77 were artificial creations that were bound to fail and break up due to differences of interest and conflicts between developing countries8. This drive, often not visible to the naked eye and to the uninitiated, continues unabated and across the board to the present day. In the current global geopolitical context, as the international community gears up for the 2019 Buenos Aires Conference and the developing countries face the need to work out their up-to-date platform on South-South cooperation, it is important to highlight the fact that for decades continuous attempts have been made to undermine, sabotage, discourage and discredit group action of the Global South, both within NAM and the Group of 779. The above applies also to the concept of South-South cooperation. Parallel to the emergence of developing countries’ collective, group action in the UN and the multilateral arena, and inspired by the beginnings of regional integration in Western Europe, fledgling attempts were made at economic cooperation and integration in different developing regions, especially Latin America under the impulse of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), headed by Raúl Prebisch10. ECLA, a UN regional economic commission, was established despite strong opposition of some developed countries, which did not look favourably on the decentralizing of UN economic activities to developing regions11. The long and protracted tussle over the meaning and place of cooperation among developing countries began at the global level after the establishment of UNCTAD, which had in one of the Divisions of its Secretariat a team working on regional and sub-regional economic cooperation and integration of developing countries. Eventually, patterned on the ongoing UN programmes of technical cooperation assistance, and triggered by the developing countries’ New International Economic Order (NIEO) drive in the UN General Assembly, the UN Conference on Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries (TCDC) was held in 1978 in Buenos Aires12. As a follow-up to the Conference, a TCDC Unit was established within the UN Development Programme (UNDP), a unit that over the years played a very important practical and political role in promoting South-South cooperation and operational activities within the UN system. This was an important step forward within the UN, necessary but not sufficient, as it limited South-South cooperation to “technical cooperation”, which, due to the reservations of the developed countries effectively excluded “economic”, not to mention “political”, cooperation. It is in this situation that the Group of 77 organized in 1981, outside the UN framework, its own Caracas Conference on Economic Cooperation among Developing Countries, or ECDC13. The Conference was prepared and held with the support of UNCTAD. This must have displeased the developed countries, already unhappy because the UNCTAD Secretariat was assisting the Group of 77 and was seen as de facto acting as the Group’s secretariat14. They argued that such assistance was contrary to the mandate of the Secretariat, whose staff was obliged to be “impartial” in the North-South confrontation, not to take sides and assist the developing countries’ Group15. Indeed, by then a move was already under way to neutralize the UNCTAD Secretariat’s activities and in this way weaken the Group of 7716. A concerted drive was launched in the early 1990s to this end, which included even an unsuccessful effort to abolish UNCTAD17. As concerns the inclusion of ECDC which the developing countries were advocating, the countries of the North were clearly opposed to the idea. The institutional reform undertaken in UNCTAD saw, among other things, it being denied certain important functions, such as in the field of commodities, and its small, symbolic Unit on ECDC closed one decade after the Caracas Conference. In this unfavorable context, the developing countries began to promote the notion of “South-South” cooperation. The term became current in the 1980s, for example, prominently so in the Report of the South Commission which elaborated the concept in the chapter “Mobilizing the South: Towards Greater Co-operation among Developing Countries”18. It was meant to end the dichotomy between TCDC and ECDC, fuse the two, subsume the more “political” cooperation of the kind practiced by NAM and, in doing so, to give this cooperation a holistic, comprehensive meaning. Eventually, following the Group of 77 Foreign Ministers’ Declaration of 30 September 1994, which urged the United Nations to convene an international conference on South-South cooperation in 1996, the UN General Assembly in December 1994 adopted, by consensus, the Resolution “United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation”19. Noting the G77 Ministerial Declaration, the UN General Assembly Resolution requested of the UN Secretary-General, in preparing a comprehensive report on the state of South-South cooperation and how it is to be strengthened, to keep “in view the proposal to convene an international conference on South-South cooperation”. In the period that followed, the developed countries, in particular the United States, objected to such a conference being held, on the grounds that too many UN conferences were being organized, were costly and represented a burden on the budget and the Organization. As a result, the proposed UN conference could not be held, but the Group of 77 organized a number of its own annual South-South cooperation conferences on sectoral issues, including energy, food and agriculture, South-South trade, investment and finance. This process culminated in the 1st South Summit in April 2000 in Havana, Cuba, which adopted a programme of action that contained an important section on South-South cooperation20. However, towards the end of the first decade of the Millennium this obstruction by the developed countries softened for no apparent reason. The concept of South-South cooperation was anointed in the UN with the approval of the North. The Special Unit for TCDC was strengthened and in 2004 renamed Special Unit for South-South Cooperation. It was upgraded in 2012 into the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)21. Also, UNCTAD ECDC work was resumed as South-South cooperation, and agreement was reached to convene a UN High-level Conference on South-South Cooperation, which was held in 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya, 15 years after the proposal was first made by G7722. What brought about this change of heart on the part of the developed countries remains to be researched and explained. I have surmised, on the basis of my observations, that this policy shift, which inter alia led even the World Bank to begin supporting some South-South activities23, was at least in part a collateral benefit of China’s significant and growing SSC presence and diversified investment, especially in Africa but also other developing regions. China’s actions were viewed as political inroads, a threat and economic competition by some quarters in the West. The policy shift was also influenced by the ongoing changes in the global geo-political setting, including the emergence of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa Dialogue Forum) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) groupings, and the flourishing and diversification of SSC activities, especially in Latin America. This newly found interest in South-South cooperation on the part of the North was, at least partly, of a tactical nature. The underlying strategy of putting a damper on South-South cooperation, which began in the late 1970s as part and parcel of rolling back and/or blocking the Global South’s NIEO advances, persists basically unchanged. Under the motto “If you cannot defeat them, join them!”, the strategy has included the launching of “triangular cooperation”, i.e., bilateral cooperation projects between developing countries that also involve UN institutions and partners from the North. It is a way for developed countries not merely to assist but also to be present, involved and influential on the ground, both in the conception and implementation phases of given activities24. Not at all accidentally, this greater interest and involvement of developed countries in SSC has also been accompanied by the traditional OECD/DAC-inspired drive to make Official Development Assistance (ODA) an important dimension of SSC and involve major developing countries as “donors” in spite of the firm G77 position of not equating ODA with South-South cooperation, the latter being “partnership among equals based on solidarity”. Also, the giving of priority to bilateral and technical assistance projects continues to be the developed countries’ preference, and they often see SSC as “substituting” and not “complementing” North-South cooperation, as the developing countries argue. This approach is present and is felt in the context of UN proceedings and work on SSC, including in preparations for the 2019 Buenos Aires Conference. SOME MAJOR SHORTCOMINGS IN THE EFFORTS TO PROMOTE SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION... The awareness of the larger geopolitical context of North-South relations sketched above is necessary in the efforts to strengthen South-South cooperation and evolve a global vision and approach needed. In terms of practical action, it is important to be aware of and highlight some of the objective and subjective weaknesses and obstacles that need to be recognized, dealt with and overcome in the forthcoming period, based on and backed by a Global South’s up-to-date and overarching South-South cooperation policy and programmatic framework that needs to be elaborated and agreed on25. One can safely argue that the political dynamic of South-South cooperation, which did not take off as originally hoped and has been obstructed and not sufficiently encouraged and assisted, has been weak over the years relative to the growing challenges and complex needs that the Global South has been facing. Several factors have contributed to this situation. The objective condition of underdevelopment and lack of complementarity between economies of developing countries have significantly played a discouraging role. In the context of advancing national development, SSC requires a long-term sustained effort, political commitment and resources. However, these have frequently lacked, being that SSC has not been high on the list of priorities of individual countries, preoccupied with difficulties and problems of the development and modernization of their own economies and societies, competing needs for the limited available resources, and sometimes disagreement and friction with potential partners within their own region. At the same time, their traditional ties with developed countries, opportunities these countries offer, as well as demands they make have often pre-empted possible South-South links. The jointly agreed and declared intent and objectives have not been accompanied by the necessary follow-up and commitment to act, nor have the required conditions, institutions and resources been in place and available, nationally or internationally, for adequately translating these, often relatively ambitious, objectives into practice. If one were to attempt to point out the main shortcomings that have helped to discourage and stall the South-South cooperation process over the years, the following, in no order of priority, can be mentioned: · On a general policy level, lack of systematic efforts to build on commonalities within the South and lack of a sustained common strategy to minimize, overcome, and manage differences, and identify and deal with sources and causes of problems. · Lack of necessary and regular finance, including investment. · Lack, at the national level, of necessary institutional structures for South-South cooperation, and the inadequacy of existing arrangements, often only “SSC focal points” consisting of one minor officer within a ministry. · Weak intellectual support for and interest in South-South cooperation of research institutions and academic centres in developing countries, which are mostly focused on North-South issues. · Lack of infrastructural links for closer cooperation ties between countries of the same region. · Weak or non-existent regional mechanisms for South-South cooperation. · Lack of development finance for South-South cooperation projects and activities, including from the World Bank and regional development banks. · Inadequate support from the United Nations, in particular financial, for South- South cooperation. · Lack of a South’s own global institution, similar to the OECD of the North, to provide the necessary drive and long-term institutional leadership for the evolving process of South-South cooperation. · Absence of qualified and committed personalities in key positions and nodal points to drive and inspire action and provide the leadership required26. · Weak mutual awareness among developing countries27. · Lack of interest and sustained direct involvement of heads of state or government28. ...AND SOME PROMISING CHANGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR STRENGTHENING SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION The above is a lengthy laundry list indeed. The point is to single out these shortcomings that are manageable, can be dealt with and overcome, which, if approached systematically, would help to bolster South-South cooperation tangibly and significantly. More importantly, the objective situation and conditions for moving in this direction have improved markedly. It can be argued that today, despite difficulties, problems and political tensions within the South, between and within its countries, often with a pervasive involvement of and influences from the North, and despite the crises in the global economy and turbulences in the multilateral system of international cooperation, different countries and different walks of life, who often saw problems from different angles and had different national concerns and priorities from the Commission’s joint position that was required and had to be articulated in its Report. He used to repeat how this was a precious, invaluable experience of being “educated” about the South, its needs, the importance of common institutions, and South- South cooperation, which he summed up in an oft repeated phrase: “You people must work together!” Indeed, the developing countries are in need of leaders who are deeply aware and knowledgeable of common problems and challenges, thus the choice by Mwalimu Nyerere himself of the title for the South Commission Report, “The Challenge to the South”. Can such leaders easily emerge based only on their national involvement and experience, and without a deeper knowledge of the South, of the geo-politics of North-South relations, and of multilateral cooperation in the United Nations? Thus, the importance of such high-level, distinguished instruments, like the South Commission, to deliberate on common problems and challenges faced and experienced by the developing countries. This led some Commission members to suggest that the Commission be transformed into a permanent high-level institution. The idea was ruled out, because it could have been interpreted as a selfish proposal for “self-perpetuation” of its members. But, the need for a dedicated facility for regular get-togethers, interaction and reflexion was recognized during proceedings in the Commission. 28 During this period, Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia was notable for his interest and commitment to South-South cooperation. He was personally involved in launching a number of practical SSC initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also relevant to mention how, at the 11th Summit of the Group of 15, in Jakarta in May 2001, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela gave an impassioned speech about South-South cooperation. He waved the South Commission Report, The Challenge to the South, cited some of its recommendations on the subject of South-South cooperation, and asked his peers whether they had read that important document. Relying on financial resources available to Venezuela, he launched some important regional South-South initiatives based on the Commission’s Report, including Banco Sur and Telesur, as well as the ALBA project jointly sponsored with Cuba. Chavez’s rhetorical question, namely how many and which political leaders and decision-makers have read and studied the South Commission Report with a view to ensuring its implementation, remains unanswered. The Report keeps on being a unique and the Global South’s own analytical and prescriptive study. At the beginning, it did not get proper attention and follow-up, shrouded in the fog of the neo-liberal globalization and neo-conservative global expansionism of the 1990s, and then was largely overlooked as it often happens with complex documents and analyses. Yet, its basic themes are as valid today as 30 years ago and it offers a solid infrastructure to begin fashioning a new South-South platform of the Global South. the overall context is favourable for a new and promising beginning for South-South cooperation. In fact, South-South cooperation can also emerge as a leading force in the efforts to deal with predicaments confronting the international community. What are, in brief, some of these changes and opportunities? · Rising South and the diversifying of developing countries’ national economies. · BRICS and its institutions. · Emerging powers of the South and their interest in South-South cooperation, in particular China’s political decision to assign high priority to SSC in its national plan and longer-term vision. · Internet as a means of communication, information exchange and flows within the South, transfer of knowledge and know-how, etc. · Spread of right-wing populism and migrant crisis in the North, and major economic problems within and between developed countries are likely to be reflected in these countries’ greater aggressiveness and more negative attitude towards the developing countries, their demands and aspirations, and, indeed, multilateralism on which the United Nations was based. This too would require that the developing countries more actively seek and find solutions through South-South cooperation and the revival of the Third World project, i.e. their collective self-reliance, greater solidarity and overarching political stance on global issues as the Global South. BAPA+40: AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE GLOBAL SOUTH TO REVISIT AND REENERGIZE SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION As noted in the opening paragraphs, BAPA+40 ought to be more than just another UN conference where the developing countries assemble to present their demands and seek support from the North. Also, it must not turn out to be a replay of the 2009 1st UN High-level Conference on South-South Cooperation, i.e. an anodyne event in terms of impact and follow-up, though such a scenario may be preferred by some, risk of which exists since the conference is scheduled to last only three days, not enough time for genuine deliberations and negotiations. Therefore, it is up to the developing countries to build up BAPA+40 into a major global event, where they will articulate their vision and position on global issues, including the future of the United Nations and of multilateralism, both of which are under siege on a number of fronts. BAPA+40 is a chance for the Global South to speak and be heard as a group of countries that account for two-thirds of humankind and today are in a position and ready to play an active and leading role in shaping the future of the world in a constructive and progressive manner. BAPA+40 is a reason and catalyst for the developing countries to begin reflecting on what the South can and ought to do for itself through collective self-reliance to tap and constructively mobilize the potentialities offered by South-South cooperation. Given the geopolitical context depicted above, the Global South, led by G77 and NAM, must not allow the concept and vision inherent in South-South cooperation to be diluted and restricted in the UN by being subjected to negotiations with and demands from the North, which continues to pursue its project of “dismantling” and “neutralizing” the Global South, including by using the UN for this purpose. The developing countries thus need to come to the Conference with their own plan of action and framework, which they intend to follow up on and implement29. In addition, they need to define what the United Nations system and the international community should actively and effectively do to support South-South cooperation. The 2019 Buenos Aires Conference should open a vista for the future, rather than constrain and reduce options for SSC as preferred by the key North powers. It should thus, regardless of the Conference outcome, be used to make known the Global South’s own policy and institutional platform, to assert itself and show its intent to play the card of “collective self-reliance” and “national self-reliance”, and, importantly, also to exercise “global-leadership” roles. This would be an important and necessary step in a world that faces risks of major global crises, meltdowns and military conflicts, and given the resuscitation of old modes of thinking in the North, which inspire and permeate the rising tide and spread of far-right populism in developed countries, the heavy-handed assault on the United Nations and its mission embodied in the UN Charter, and the virtual disappearance in the mainstream, except for civil society, of the “like-minded”, socio-democratic North that used to urge international development cooperation, support the developing countries’ aspirations, call for peace and democratic international relations, back the mission of the UN, and was ready and willing to cooperate in these endeavours. South-South cooperation is a domain where the developing countries can act independently, much like the developed countries do in their own West-sphere and with the support of their own “West-West cooperation” mechanisms and institutions, which are off-limits to the “outsiders”. To act and cooperate together, the Global South does not need to seek permission or support from the old-time powers, which, if asked, would not be inclined to anything that would significantly increase the role, importance and competitiveness of the Global South on the world scene30. Today’s world is one of naked power and hard bargain. The developing countries, as the Global South, can and should mobilize and rely on their own collective power, political and economic clout, voice and influence to attain their goals and vision, to play a role and have influence in refashioning, reforming and changing the international order, and in enlisting the support of peoples of the world and world public opinion in this process that could potentially evolve into a “history changing undertaking”. It bears repeating that what the above implies is that the developing countries come to BAPA+40 both with their proposals for the Conference’s results, i.e. for what they hope to see as its outcome concerning multilateral cooperation in the framework of the United Nations, and, more importantly, with their own, a Global South’s platform or charter for South-South cooperation, their statement of intent and their declaration addressed to the international community. 1. South-South cooperation and the United Nations system One of the key objectives of the Global South at BAPA+40 should be to place South-South cooperation at the very centre of the UN system of multilateral cooperation. The UN system needs to recognize the diversity and broad spectrum that SSC subsumes, to resist the limits being imposed on SSC and it being distanced and cut off from its original institutional and political roots and aspirations. The United Nations ought to introduce clear and specific measures and programmes, necessary human and financial resources, and mandates by “mainstreaming” and “enhancing support” for SSC in every organization and agency of the UN system, to have them incorporate the needs and objectives of South-South cooperation. It needs also to be reiterated that South-South cooperation is not a substitute for North-South development cooperation, but a parallel and new sphere of multilateral cooperation that opens new and promising opportunities, stimulates North-South cooperation, and provides alternative and innovative approaches in development cooperation. In the fold of the UN, as mentioned, the first significant, yet very limited step has been taken by creating the Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), which has been doing valuable and useful work, especially in networking and promoting South-South cooperation. However, this cannot and should not be the end-station, but needs to be followed up ambitiously and seriously at the global level, by the establishment of a UN specialized organization (specialized agency, programme) whose mission would be to promote South-South cooperation, as recommended by the Group of 77 Ministerial Meeting. The organization would have to have its own intergovernmental machinery, a major capital development fund for South-South projects, and fully staffed substantive secretariat equipped to perform a number of important functions, including initiating and funding projects, undertaking research, maintaining a data base on SSC and a directory of national actors involved in SSC, and publishing a UN report on South-South Cooperation called for by G77 Summits31. Such an organization for SSC would need to be backed at the regional level by greatly strengthened and invigorated UN regional economic commissions in the South. These Commissions are the principal UN bodies based in and with a full knowledge of their respective regions. Their key mission should be the promotion of South-South cooperation or “horizontal cooperation”, as traditionally referred to in Latin America. The proposed structure, drawing also on UN specialized agencies in their areas of competence, would have as its task to support and energize sub-regional, regional and inter-regional South-South cooperation. Regular, high-level UN conferences on South-South cooperation would need to be convened, and UN annual reports on SSC will need to be prepared32. 2. Global South and South-South cooperation However, as pointed out above, the overall global context is not favourable, and the developing countries cannot rely solely on the United Nations, even if and when the suggested institutional improvements are approved and become operational. This essay has argued that South-South cooperation is an opportunity for the Global South to contribute to achieving a number of outstanding goals and aspirations and be a vehicle for reshaping the global system. For this to happen, however, what is needed on the part of the developing countries is hard work, mobilization of resources and of collective power, major and sustained efforts and commitment/obligation to pursue and attain a series of objectives that need to be identified and agreed on. Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, during his years as the Chairman of the South Commission and then the South Centre, often used to say: “The South must stand up and be counted”. In its efforts to do so, in addition to many practical obstacles and problems, the South would also encounter opposition and doubts within its own ranks, not to mention a frontal or undercover resistance by actors from the North. This resistance would especially come from those who would consider every major move in that direction as a potential threat to their own interests and global designs, and would, very likely, take steps, including within individual developing countries, often with local support and even via “inconvenient” regime change, to influence and embroil the collective efforts. What matters, however, is that today the Global South has the resources and collective power to stand up and move forward, and that this is not a “mission impossible”, as some who are familiar with problems and difficulties encountered in South-South cooperation efforts and undertakings and the building and management of joint institutions might point out. There is little that stands in the way of: · Undertaking a critical, in-depth review and analysis of: South-South cooperation, important actions and proposals agreed on over the years and their implementation, experiences, public attitudes, performance of individual countries, functioning of joint institutions and mechanisms of cooperation and integration, main obstacles and shortcomings that call for action, including the all too frequent difficulties or failure to follow up on important decisions taken at the political level. · Focusing on how to resolve the issue of lack of adequate financing for South- South cooperation, activities, projects and institutions, probably one of the most serious practical obstacles standing in the way of SSC being put into practice as desired and called for33. · Inspiring, informing about and involving in the South-South cooperation project the public and individuals; with this in mind, applying capacity-building and training to raise the awareness of the existing experiences and opportunities; using to this end also educational, marketing, media and public relations approaches, which are so common in contemporary society and are used not only to advertise and publicize goods and services, but also political and social goals and causes, in this case the common identity of the South as an entity. · Setting up a South organization for South-South cooperation, and pooling together and networking intellectual and analytical resources available in the South and internationally to staff and support the work of that institution34. effort. The whole process started successfully and one-third of the proposed sum was secured. But, when the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997, both regular financing of the Centre and fund raising for the Capital Fund were adversely affected. Despondent, Mwalimu Nyerere often sighed: “I only wish I had a rich uncle!” He did not enjoy going around with a begging bowl from one developing leader to another, most of them unable to act due to administrative and/or budgetary limitations. Although already quite ill, only a few months before his death in 1999, Nyerere visited Muammar Qaddafi in the hope of getting a major contribution for the South Centre Capital Fund. He left emptyhanded. The Capital Fund never approached the target figure and the Centre had to be financed by voluntary contributions of willing member states. This produced a situation similar to the voluntary funding experience in the UN, namely uncertain funding and some contributing countries claiming that they are entitled to have a greater say in the Organization’s work and operation. Due to the lack of regular finance and financial uncertainty, which thwarted institutional growth and consolidation, the Centre’s small staff had to devote a good deal of effort and energy to fund-raising. This, no doubt, detracted from the substantive work and activities of the small institution. In conclusion, the lessons of funding provided by the experience of the South Commission and the South Centre, and, in general, of South-South’s activities, including those of the Group of 77 and NAM, merit careful scrutiny and analysis in approaching future South-South cooperation activities and mechanisms and ways how to finance them. 34 Another Nyerere anecdote illustrates his views on the vital importance of institutions for South- South cooperation. In the South Commission there was no consensus on the need to create a major institution for South-South cooperation, an “OECD of the South”, as some of its members argued. Still, the Commission did manage to agree on and recommend the setting up of a South Secretariat, a modest institution of 30 or so professionals [The Challenge to the South 1990: 200-205]. But, aware of the likely difficulties and opposition from some quarters to the very idea of setting up a “secretariat”, it provided a safety valve. The Commission de facto extended its own life temporarily by setting up the South Centre as its two-year follow-up mechanism, chaired by Mwalimu Nyerere. In June 1992, the “former Commissioners” met at a “Two Years After” Meeting to consider what the Chairman and the Centre had done to promote the South Commission’s Report and to discuss the response of governments to the recommendation for the establishment of a South Secretariat. Given the lack of encouraging signs on the institutional front and repeated demands by some heads of state for the extension of the South Centre’s life, on the grounds of the valuable support it had provided both to G77 and NAM during the intervening two-year period, it was decided to authorize Mwalimu Nyerere to try to transform the Centre into a permanent institution. After a major and complex effort and with Indonesia playing a vital role in its capacity of NAM Chairman, including through financing the Centre’s operational costs and activities on behalf of NAM, and negotiating with Swiss authorities the organization’s permanent status in Geneva, this was achieved successfully. In 1994, the intergovernmental agreement establishing the new organization was signed by 44 developing countries at the G77 Ministerial Meeting in New York. The South Centre was formally launched · Placing on the agenda the challenge of intellectual self-empowerment of the Global South and the harnessing of its intellectual resources and institutions into an interactive network for support of common goals and collective actions. · Evolving, at the highest level, a representative system of political authority (e.g., heads of state or government, one delegated from each region) for regular and ad hoc communication, consultations and contacts, for meetings to assess progress in the implementation of agreed SSC goals, and for communication/interaction with all heads of state and/or government in the Global South. · Based on the workings and experience of the South Commission, of the now defunct UN Committee on Development Planning and of the G77 High-Level Panel of Eminent Personalities of the South, to consider establishing a permanent South-South commission or committee to bring together, on a regular basis, high-stature personalities and thinkers from the South to reflect and deliberate on challenges faced by the developing countries and by the international community35. · Elaborating and agreeing on a blueprint for national self-empowerment for South-South cooperation, to guide and be used as a reference by the individual developing countries in line with their own characteristics and capacities, and transforming this blueprint into a legal instrument binding for all developing countries. · Exploring various modalities of how BRICS can contribute to the pursuit of common SSC goals, including by reviewing the experience with important institutional, financing, investment and other measures taken by some BRICS members in support of South-South cooperation. · Focusing on the role and potential contribution of “digital South-South cooperation”, ICT, Internet and AI to the promotion and energizing of all forms of South-South cooperation, including closer contacts, communication, information sharing and interaction, mutual understanding between and among the peoples and countries of the South, transfer of technology, and education and culture. as an intergovernmental organization in September 1995, after the required number of ratifications of the Agreement. In the period that followed, Chairman Mwalimu Nyerere often said in private that the Centre was his “baby” and most important legacy for the cause of the South. With his well-known passion and enthusiasm, he began to work on the Centre’s institutional consolidation and placing it on solid foundations, in the hope that it was only the first step towards a major organization of the South that would match the North’s OECD in importance and influence. His sudden and early death in 1999 interrupted this quest, but Nyerere left as his legacy a structure, institutional memory, and institution-building learning and experience, a solid foundation on which to work on establishing a major South-South organization. 35 The South Commission Secretariat was headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh of India. His career included university professorship, a stint as a UN official (interestingly he worked with Raúl Prebisch in the UNCTAD Secretariat in the early days) and national service as Chairman of India’s Planning Commission before he assumed the posts of the member of the South Commission and its SecretaryGeneral. Singh went on to become the longest serving Prime Minister of his country. Other Commission members, who were all hand-picked by Mwalimu Nyerere, included several former heads of state and other highly distinguished personalities from national and international spheres. It bears highlighting the fact that three among them played crucial roles in the effort to establish and launch the South Centre, in particular Gamani Corea of Sri Lanka, Luis Fernando Jaramillo of Colombia and Widjojo Nitisastro of Indonesia, all belonging to the early generation of “Third Worlders” and South-South cause enthusiasts. · Nurturing, training and educating future cadres and leaders for South-South cooperation, directly exposing them to and familiarizing them with different problems and different regions of the South, and, when they are ready, deploying them in national, sub-regional, regional and multilateral, including UN, settings. · Extending a hand of cooperation to the “like-minded” countries and civil society actors in the North who want to offer genuine support to South-South cooperation, as an integral part and a continuation of the developing countries’ common struggle for sovereignty and development, formally launched far back in 1955 at the Bandung Conference. · Calling for closer cooperation between and joint initiatives of G77 and NAM, as an important and pending political and institutional topic on the agenda of the Global South. There is little new in the above suggestions, which draw on practical experiences and have been articulated over the years on many occasions and in different contexts. What these suggestions call for is within reach, is doable, and would represent a major “leap forward” for South-South cooperation. What is needed today is firm political will, long-term vision and determined initiative for a group of the South’s countries and leaders to launch on the desired track and, most importantly, sustain that process with the necessary political commitment and financial and institutional support36. Given the tectonic shifts occurring in the North, including those that hark back to the sombre periods of human history that the Global South had fought against and succeeded in overcoming, the developing countries have a duty to their peoples, their history, and the international community as a whole to assume a collective-leadership role in the world arena at this critical juncture for humankind. While cooperating with the “friendly” North, they need to recognize and bear in mind the existence of the deeply entrenched, powerful and unchanged West that has its roots in the colonial and imperialist age, the aggressive and militarized West resolved in its pursuit of its global-empire designs and thus determined to keep the South under its control by various subtle and less subtle means, including by neutralizing the developing countries’ national and collective efforts for greater autonomy and independence. 36 One more anecdote is in order at the end. At a South Commission meeting, wishing to dampen the enthusiasm of some Commission members during the discussion of whether to create a South secretariat, Manmohan Singh said: “If you were to present to developing countries on a silver platter an institution, with a building, ample financing, and a large staff, they would accept it gladly. If you ask them to establish and finance it themselves, there is very little hope that they would do it”. And, when I visited him relatively recently, after he ended his last term as Prime Minister of India, and brought up the potential importance of South-South cooperation, Singh asked me in his soft manner: “But, do you think that the developing countries’ leaders care for and are interested in South- South cooperation?!” Well, it seems that some care, as shown at the recent BRICS summits, for example in Xiamen, China, where the President of the host country, Xi Jinping, highlighted the role and importance of South-South cooperation. Were Mwalimu Nyerere alive, given his traditionally warm relations with PR China, he would surely by now have approached President Xi to ask him to play also the role of that mythical “rich uncle” he had been hoping to find and searching for but without success. The 2019 Buenos Aires Conference is an opportunity for the South to stand up and raise its collective voice, as in Bandung, in Belgrade, or at UNCTAD I in Geneva. Both Patrice Lumumba and Julius Nyerere, were they still with us today, would be heartened if this were to happen. And, Mwalimu Nyerere would no doubt add a parable he had learned as a child from the elders of his Zanaki tribe and he cited in the closing remarks of his speech at the opening meeting of the South Commission on 2 October 1987: “Wakasusu, nihe wagya? Nagya kwita Wanzugu! Oragya kutura? Ndagya kusaya-sayamu, Ndinukira!” “Rabbit, where are you going? I am going to kill the Elephant! Can you do it? Well, I’ll try, and try again!” He concluded: “The South can do what it needs to do. The South must never give up”.

About the authors

Branislav Gosovic

Author for correspondence.
Email: gosovic@wanadoo.fr

A UN career official, who worked in UNCTAD, UNEP and ECLAC, he was officer in charge of the South Centre secretariat, an intergovernmental organization of developing countries (1991-2005)


  1. Ahmia, M. (1995). Prospects for a United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation and Development. In: Cooperation South, TCDC UNDP, pp. 73-74.
  2. Boutros-Ghali, B. & Gosovic, B. (2011). Global Leadership and Global Systemic Issues. South, North and the United Nations in a 21st Century World. Kolofon Press and Transcend University Press.
  3. Boutros-Ghali, B. (1999). Unvanquished: A U.S. - U.N. Saga. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. Dosman, E.J. (2008). The Life and Times of Raúl Prebisch, 1901-1986, Montreal & Kingston:McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  4. Dubey, M. (2018). Algiers Conference of 1967, as I remember it. In: 50th Anniversary of the Charter of Algiers (1967-2017). Group of 77 Publication.
  5. Gosovic, B. (1972). UNCTAD Conflict and Compromise, the Third World’s Quest for an Equitable World Economic Order through the United Nations. Leiden: Sijthoff.
  6. Gosovic, B. (2014). The South Shaping the Global Future, Six Decades of the South-North Development Struggle in the UN. Transcend University Press. (Also republished by Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2016 and by Mkuki na Nyota, Dar es Salaam, 2017).
  7. Gosovic, B. (2016). The resurgence of South-South Cooperation. Third World Quarterly, 37 (4), 732-742. doi: 10.1080/01436597.2015.1127155.
  8. Heatherly, Ch.L. (Ed.) (1980). Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration. The Heritage Foundation.
  9. Jawara, F. & Kwa, A. (2004). Behind the Scenes at the WTO, The Real World of International Trade Negotiations. Lessons of Cancun. ZED Books.
  10. Kaufmann, J. (1980). United Nations Decision-Making. Maryland: Sijthoff and Noordhoff, Alphen van den Rijn and Rockville.
  11. Malinowski, W.R. (1962). Centralization and Decentralization in the United Nations Economic and Social Activities. International Organizations, 16(3), 521-541. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/ S0020818300011280.
  12. Mates, L. (1972). Nonalignment, Theory and Current Policy. New York: Oceana Publications, Dobbs Ferry.
  13. Our Global Neighbourhood. (1995). Commission on Global Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  14. Prashad, V. (2008). The Darker Nations. A Peoples’ History of the Third World. New York: New Press. Prashad, V. (2012). The Poorer Nations, A Possible History of the Global South. New York: Verso Press
  15. Santa Cruz, H. (1984). Cooperar o perecer: el dilema de la comunidad mundial. Buenos Aires: GEL
  16. The Challenge to the South. (1990). South Comission. Oxford: Oxford University Press



Abstract - 691

PDF (English) - 439




Copyright (c) 2018 Gosovic B.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies