Brazil's "southern effect" in fragile countries

Global preoccupation with fragile environments is on the rise. Can south-south and triangular co-operation help? Brazil thinks so. A reply to Oliver Richmond.
Robert Muggah
19 November 2009

Rebuilding "fragile" and "failing" states is a declared priority of most western governments. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has issued a rash of policy statements and guidelines to help donor countries think through how best to restore public institutions, accountability, and service delivery capacities in countries prone to and emerging from wars. Likewise, the World Bank, established more than five decades back to rebuild post-conflict economies, has declared “fragility” as one of its six declared priorities. While multilateral and bilateral agencies confidently prescribe a cocktail of (neo-liberal and market friendly) remedies to promote stability and state-building, a growing chorus of critical scholars, together with those living with “fragility”, are asking if western outsiders fully understand the realities on the ground.

The conventional approach to promoting security and development in fragile states is at a crossroads. Recent efforts to stabilize and rebuild “post-war” Iraq, Afghanistan and Timor-Leste reveal the staggering complexity of consolidating peace, stimulating recovery and promoting good (enough) governance in fragile states. As Oliver Richmond reminds us, regional organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) together with governments from the United States to Japan are searching for new models. Notwithstanding spiralling peace-building and peace-keeping budgets, the UN's efforts to promote "integrated" support missions also routinely fall short of expectations. Faced with chronic pressures owing to the global financial crisis, western donors are casting about for alternatives.

Enter the southern effect

Alongside established western-led efforts to promote stability and reconstruction in fragile states and cities are a host of experimental interventions conceived and executed by public, private and voluntary or “third” sector actors in non-OECD countries. These efforts are not so much an expression of “resistance” as a function of necessity and innovation. Motivated less by the imperatives of counter-terrorism and conflict prevention and more by principles of solidarity and cultural affinity, countries such as Brazil, Chile and Mexico are exporting know-how and resources to countries as diverse as Angola, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Mozambique and Surinam. While informed by geopolitical interests and growing interest in south-south cooperation these countries are not burdened by a colonial past. Specifically, Brazil’s efforts are influenced as much by local priorities expressed in Maputo and Port-au-Prince as by strategic priorities set in Paris, Washington DC or Brasilia.

Alternative approaches to assisting fragile states are quietly emerging from non-OECD quarters. And some of the major western donors are taking notice. For example, some of the so-called BRIC countries alongside others such as Argentina, Singapore, South Africa, and Turkey are experimenting with alternative approaches to development cooperation and aid delivery in an ever widening array of contexts. In certain cases interventions are pursued in a ‘triangular’ fashion – in which two countries form a partnership to lend technical assistance to a third country. In other cases, cooperation is strictly bilateral.

Brazil’s nascent development agency (ABC) is increasingly courted to partake in “triangular” or “trilateral” missions with the European Union (EU), Germany, Japan, France, Spain, the US and others. ABC is simultaneously doubling its bilateral aid portfolio for Latin American, African and South Pacific countries in 2010. Likewise, Brazil’s Ministries of Justice and Health, its military and policing institutions – together with an increasingly bold non-governmental sector – are also playing a more assertive role in supporting multilateral peace-support missions and police training efforts around the world. According to former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, this is to be expected: “as Brazil consolidates its democratic institutions and its emerging role as a player in the global economy it is quite natural that it increases its participation as a provider of development cooperation”.

Consequently, conventional multilateral and bilateral approaches to stabilizing war and post-war states – focused as they are on establishing official cooperation arrangements through formal institutions, building on demonstrated “best practices” and supported by progressive rights-based criteria – are being complemented by newer forms of south-south cooperation. A short list of activities currently supported by Brazil’s security and justice sectors include a (planned) police academy in Guinea-Bissau and support for judicial reforms and increased access to justice in Haiti. The Brazilian Federal Police and the National Secretariat for Public Security have also launched police training programmes in Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia and Suriname.

In the meantime, Brazil’s development agency is investing in a range of “social technologies” to promote social welfare and economic growth in fragile countries that seem to be home-grown. Interventions include model farms to strengthen cotton production in Mali, factories to produce retroviral pharmaceuticals in Mozambique, and projects to promote technical training, renewable energy, tropical agriculture and prevention of malaria and HIV/AIDS. While these efforts are innovative and demand-driven, they do not necessarily result from a clearly articulated “fragile state” policy from within the Brazilian government. Moreover, notwithstanding considerable positive feedback from recipient states, many of these initiatives have yet to be formally evaluated and so it is still difficult to demonstrate their overall effectiveness.

Taken together, Brazil’s approach to promoting security and development can be summed-up as “demand-driven”. Interventions are articulated on the basis of needs identified in partner countries and also capacities available at home. Some development specialists believe that the approaches adopted by non-OECD donors such as Brazil are only possible due to the comparatively modest scale of their contribution. Others contend that the approach adopted by Brazil is not dissimilar to that promoted by other OECD members except that Brazil exhibits particular comparative advantages with respect to its “supply” of assistance. According to former President Cardoso, Brazil’s identity as a diverse multicultural society “adds value to its dialogue with countries of the South and facilitates the building of more horizontal platforms of collaboration, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa”.

Analogous to whole-of-government approaches endorsed by most OECD member states, the Brazilian government routinely identifies relevant skills, human resources and promising social technologies from the public, private and third sectors. After decades of international support to Brazilian non-governmental organisations working on social development, environment and human rights, these same agencies are now in a position to share their expertise with lesser developed societies outside of Brazil. Not surprisingly, Brazilian diplomats and policy makers are also increasingly looking to advertise the expertise of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Viva Rio, Sou da Paz, Luta Pela Paz, Oi Futuro, Afro Reggae and others. Social technologies supported by these groups range from urban and community policing models extracted from Brazil’s favelas to alternative forms of agriculture, energy production and waste management.

Like all OECD countries, there are geopolitical interests shaping Brazil’s growing involvement in providing security and development assistance to lower-income countries, fragile or otherwise. It is no secret that Brazil is seeking a seat on the United Nations Security Council and President Lula has made a more muscular foreign policy central to his overall agenda. There are also clear economic imperatives: the country is rapidly expanding trade with Africa, the Middle East and China as well as pursuing regional integration through the creation of bodies such as the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUL) and the India Brazil South Africa (IBSA) initiative. Emerging from decades of authoritarian rule, Brazil clearly aims to assume responsibilities (and advantages) as a global citizen commensurate with its growing political and economic potential. It is expected that these trends will continue after Presidential elections in 2010.

A visible expression of Brazil’s wider aspirations includes its political and military leadership of the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti. Together with Chile and Uruguay, Brazil provides the vast majority of all blue-helmets on the ground. Brazil has made important diplomatic and development inroads in the country – many of which are publicly (and privately) acknowledged by Haiti’s President and Prime Minister. Alongside considerable political support to a number of Brazilian NGOs such as Viva Rio, the Brazilian government manages several modest projects in Haiti amounting to more than USD14 million (2008-2011).

Finally the Country of the Future?

Although its global development portfolio is comparatively modest by OECD standards – Brazil’s entire development aid budget amounted to roughly USD 40 million in 2009 – it is the way aid is delivered (“jeito de fazer”) that offer glimpses into the future and can in particular make a difference in fragile environments where traditional aid has shown its limits. According to Brazilian diplomats and practitioners, the country’s assistance is carefully tailored to the variegated needs of its Latin American and African partners. Crucially, assistance is based on non-conditionality, solidarity, empathy, and sensitivity to multi-cultural values – a clear break from the past.

When Brazilians speak of strengthening civil society in the shanty towns of Port-au-Prince or Dili and enhancing state-society bargaining in places like Guinea Bissau or Mozambique they do so from direct experience, which allows for a better understanding of other realities and needs. Put succinctly, a Brazilian police officer or community development expert – bringing with her a particular historical experience and expertise – is likely better placed to read the landscapes of a fragile city and its inhabitants than a similar specialist from the Swedish countryside. Speaking in the context of Brazil’s involvement in Haiti, one Brazilian scholar observed how “we [Brazilians] empathize [with Haitians] because they are just like us … we look at their society and see our own”.

The recognition and affirmation of cultural affinities seems to play a critical part in expanding space for the consolidation of stability and ultimately reconstruction efforts, a lesson also being learned by more conventional OECD donors. Ultimately, while ostensibly “fragile states” are certainly priorities for Brazil, Brazilian authorities stress that they are more interested in prioritizing investments in societies where they share geographic and cultural affinities such Latin America and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia. Yet Brazil’s approach offers a promising alternative. As stressed by former President Cardoso “Brazil is not burdened by a colonial past [and] hopefully its international development cooperation will be less driven by hard economic interests and be more consistent with shared values such as democracy, human rights and sustainable development”.

This piece draws from research originally commissioned by the OECD-UNDP Partnership for Democratic Governance (PDG).

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