Global South, beyond the State

Global South's emancipatory practices are demanding the renewal of the 'Spirit of Bandung' that gave birth to the South-South cooperation. Español

Enara Echart Muñoz
15 February 2016

Street view from Bandung today. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Over the last decade, we have witnessed many changes within the field of international cooperation for development, among which are the discussion of a new development agenda (the newly adopted sustainable development goals), the defining of new ways to improve aid effectiveness, and especially the renewed strength and visibility of methods for South-South cooperation (SSC), with the potential to reshape the international scene.

Inspired by the principles of Bandung, which gave rise to the non-aligned movement, the SSC framework defends respect for sovereignty and non-interference as a basis for action. It proposes technical cooperation at a remove from those conditionalities that often permeate North-South relations, allowing new forms of solidarity and development opportunities for developing countries. One of the first consequences of this is an opening of the international space to more pluralistic voices that may be involved in defining global agendas. What once was decided between a select group of rich countries meeting at the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, today has to include countries such as China, India and Brazil, among other emerging powers. The global South thereby acquires more space in global arenas: a breakthrough in a highly unequal international system.

But we must ask ourselves what this opening really entails, granted that most of the countries and peoples of the South are still excluded from international discussions and decision-making institutions. Moreover, in these spaces, the emerging powers do not question the purposes of development so much as their means and the role they themselves play in these debates. In this context, South-South cooperation today does not have structural transformation as its end-goal, but instead the distribution of power and expanding the participation of some countries of the South within these structures. If structural changes were sought in Bandung, based on agreement that the world economic order was one of the main causes of inequalities, now capitalism seems to be accepted as an incontestable variable for development.

South-South cooperation and development

With this backdrop, it is important to discuss the opportunities and challenges that the current South-South cooperation framework has in promoting processes of inclusive development. This involves looking beyond the states as supposedly homogeneous and unified blocs to take into account the complex political, economic and social relations that permeate them, and to see who are the actors that benefit or lose out as a result of the current model of development, differentiating their impacts. The question thus transcends form (who participates and how?), to focus on substance (for what end?), meaning, the ultimate purpose of cooperation: development. What kind of development is enhanced through cooperation? Who defines it, and based on whose interests? Who does it benefit?

In the 1990's the idea of sustainable human development gained traction, which placed people at the centre of processes, advocating for betterment of their individual capabilities and future prospects. However, the practical translation of this idea in the Millennium Development Goals ended up giving more weight to covering predefined basic needs and combating poverty than to a questioning of the reasons for these shortcomings, thus leaving aside structural causes when facing the problems of inequality. Discussions over the new agenda of sustainable development objectives continue in that vein, renewing the importance of economic growth and public-private partnerships in defense of a green capitalism, whose parameters are no longer questioned. Economic growth, modernization and integration into the global economy become the mantra of public-private partnerships (for example, the recommendations of the World Bank for the development of the African continent), hiding the unwanted effects that these development models have on people and nature, and for social and environmental justice. Left aside then are the visions and the demands of much of the social movements and organizations that advocate the need to consider new methods of development or even going beyond it, from the defence of human rights to the Andean worldviews on sumak kawsay / good living.

Today's debate focuses on different models of integration and insertion into the capitalist model without questioning the validity of this model for overcoming inequalities, and it even delegitimizes those anti-capitalist discourses which in times past strengthened critiques of the extractivism of the Northern countries. The extractivist capitalist model remains the basis for development, believing this will generate growth, the only solution to cover the basic needs of the population and therefore to assure their welfare.

However, critiques of this model are becoming increasingly visible, not only of its efficacy in neoliberal terms, but also on the side of the fact of its adoption by those who supposedly were to break with its dictates. Progressive Latin American governments, for example, who came to power supported by strong popular mobilization, renationalized certain sectors in the late 1990s, supported by discourse based on themes of sovereignty, anti-imperialism and patriotism. They defended and justified maintaining extractivism because it generated revenues that were then allocated to maintain social programmes to fight poverty (such as Bolsa Familia or the Zero Hunger program in Brazil, which have contributed to meeting the first of the Millennium Development Goals -- today extreme poverty affects 3.5% of the Brazilian population, according to the UNDP – and Brazil has been removed from the FAO Hunger Map. This development model involved a reconciliation between the State and the market in the forward path of development, while there was a strengthening of South-South relations in defense of this model against the neoliberal policies of the North.

Businesses and public-private partnerships in Brazil

In this process, some actors have gained much more than others: public-private partnerships define the direction and goals of development, this practice extends from traditional cooperation with international agendas, to the experience of the emerging powers. The benefits that large contractors accrue from these partnerships are not negligible.

Various studies show, in the Brazilian case, the strong interaction between the State and the private sector in foreign policy, and specifically in the SSC framework, if we consider the directionality of technical cooperation projects, the private investment of Brazilian companies and and public financing of these companies through the National Bank of Economic and Social Development. The strong interaction between the two logics is also seen in the importance of the presidential visit as a driver of business missions, in what appears to be a privatization process rather than a democratization of decision making: public institutions act as facilitators of private interests without taking into account citizens' demands and experiences. For example, the visit of the Foreign Minister, Mauro Vieira, to various African countries, which included business meetings on business opportunities. The Ranking of Brazilian Transnationals developed in 2013 by the Dom Cabral Foundation draws attention to the strong impact of Brazilian foreign policy on the process of increasing internationalization of companies such as JBS, Gerdau, Stafinini or Vale. It is also interesting to note that of the 10 most transnationalized companies, three are engaged in the food sector (JBS-Friboi, Marfrig and Minerva Food Foods), which is in turn the principal sector of the Brazilian SSC. Comparing, on a map, where cooperation projects are located alongside the sites of some of the major Brazilian companies helps visualize these dynamics.


Social movements and dispute over the meaning of development

Bearing in mind these interactions, it is worth questioning the real objective of the SSC: the development of both partners or the internationalization of Brazilian companies? Are the two compatible? Various reports seem to suggest otherwise, by the strong negative impacts that projects are having on local communities, farmers, human rights or the environment. Population movements, health problems, loss of local produce alternatives to mega-crops, environmental pollution, reconfiguration of territories as concessions to big business and the consequent expropriation of farmerss and indigenous peoples, etc., are just some examples. In this regard, policies to combat poverty, aligned to the MDGs, forgot the broader definition of social and environmental justice. Consequently, social conflicts multiply in the region, creating a rift between those governments and the social movements that initially enabled them to come to power, mainly indigenous peoples and farmers' movements.

The extension of those conflicts is visible when the various networks and coordination groups around the defence of biodiversity and water, or against extractivism and integration projects for infrastructure in Latin America are mapped. They are weaving solidarity between different local areas (the Amazon to the Andes), through transnational networks of the affected and the outraged, to try to resist the imposition of a development model whose main victims are the local communities. International cooperation can play an interesting role in the coordination of these networks, showing the possibilities of alternative practices of solidarity constructed from other actors and narratives that claim more autonomy, new policies and participatory debate and define new development models to ensure that social and environmental justice.


The resource curse and the new battle for land in Africa (which accounts for 60% the planet's potentially arable land) also illustrate the benefits of this development model for businesses, and the little or negative return it has for the people. Many of these lands are in foreign hands (about 15 million hectares), in a continent where one in four people suffer from malnutrition, according to the World Food Programme, which brings it to being, ironically, one of the major recipients of food aid. Among the countries with most arable land owned by foreigners are Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique, countries where malnutrition rates are alarming. Regarding relations between Brazil and African countries, a paradigmatic example of these contradictions is the ProSavana project in Mozambique, but also protests against Vale (resulting in the establishment of an international network of people affected by Vale) or against Odebrecht, among others.

Despite the growing importance of these denunciations, in the face of sectors with such economic clout, the demands and protests of social movements and the sectors of society with most critical awareness are invisiblized, controlled and repressed by the State. This infantilizes or criminalizes those actors who question the practices of extractivist companies, arguing that they put national development at risk.

Faced with the importance acquired by businesses in development projects, social actors have less and less space. The relevance of social movements in defining the meaning of development and in setting the agendas does not translate in practice to an equivilent role structurally within the system of cooperation, especially in the case of the SSC. Quite the contrary, they are largely absent. The current arguments the Southern governments wield against them are, on the one hand, a lack of patriotism and a disloyalty of the organizations and social movements that denounce the negative consequences of the development project. On the other hand, they point to a historical exploitation of non-governmental organizations to legitimize Northern interference, and with it weaken national sovereignty and the role of government. Thus, social actors are excluded from the debate, especially in South-South co-operation still strongly linked to a foreign policy which is defined as a State-only domain. The truth is that public-private partnerships have managed to "shake off" a potentially problematic civil society. In this context, social participation is viewed with much greater suspicion than private companies, with major criticisms regarding the danger of interference in state sovereignty cast more against social organizations than against businesses. If stakeholders served to support the State in its promise of development as emancipation, they are left aside when they call into question the meaning of that State promise.

This is not new. Since its inception, the international system of cooperation for development has invisibilized or co-opted, as a containment strategy, the emancipatory agency of other actors beyond the State to keep the system running. Cooperation practices have reduced the public to the role of passive recipients of social programmes, or of project managers, forgetting their defence of development as an emancipatory project of the southern populations against the domination of the centre, and their active participation in defining policies in various forms and scales.

The delegitimization and criminalization that social movements and transnational solidarity movements face today has to do with the challenge they present to the current development model. In recent times, social confidence in the promise of growth has diminished, and demands for participation, democracy and autonomy and do not always position States as allies and partners. They do not accept the delineation of acceptable input by way of participation that the system permits, most of the time instrumental to its interests, and continue to demand diverse and democratic channels for citizen participation in the various stages of the development of this cooperation policy. Through this they contribute to the conceiving of emancipatory projects, and build alternatives to the current development model based on different narratives. In the debate regarding development models it is necessary to bring the people back into the equation, the opinions that the "victims" have of this development, that is, those who are denouncing its impacts on the usurpation of land from farner, neglect of indigenous communities, environmental damage, the criminalization of social struggles, etc.

At a time when forms of organization and global action are disputed, it is essential to recover the agency of social actors in the international system, as a principal force with transformatory and anti-hegemonic potential. To do this, the first step is to look beyond the state, from international relations based on a state-centric vision and vertically-integrated, to reinstate the value of social and political solidarity, diversity and internationalism as a way to build an alternative world order. In this regard, we must look to other practices that build South-South cooperation from below, through actors who question the dominant meanings in the field of development and its impact on the lives of the people, while bringing together alternative experiences and narratives of solidarity. This will help in coordinating those actors in the Global South whose emancipatory practices are closer to a possible restoration of the Spirit of Bandung that gave birth to South-South cooperation.

Translated from the Spanish original by Katie Oliver, member of Democracia Abierta's Volunteer Program

Note: The maps used in this article are from the Atlas of Brazilian Foreign Policy,by Carlos Milani, Rubens Duarte y Magno Klein. The Atlas is available in Spanish and Portuguese in the CLACSO library. It will soon be available in English.

How to cite:
Munoz.E.E.(2016) «Global South, beyond the State», Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 15 February.

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