All about the Money? South Africa and International Development Cooperation

South Africans are feeling the pinch as the knock-on effects of the international financial crisis filter down and the costs of everything goes up; everything from petrol, to electricity and food, with the added cost of e-tolls looming large. As we head towards the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in March, discussions will resume on the establishment of a BRICS development bank, a representation of the growing economic power of these emerging countries and the success of South-South cooperation. Given our own domestic context, this discussion will be increasingly hard for South Africans to swallow, especially when it comes to questions of where the money will come from and who will benefit.

In just under a decade South Africa has become increasingly active in providing international development cooperation. Research reports indicate that R278 million was spent in support of presidential election in the DRC (2006), R4million was spent to fund South Africa’s participation in the AU observer mission in Sudan (2010), R24millon was spent in funding Cuban Doctors in Sierra Leone, and R300million was spent in supporting economic recovery in Zimbabwe. Even in the recent attacks in the city of Timbuktu, Mali (January 2013), evidence of the reach of South Africa’s funding was highlighted in the unfortunate torching of a library, which was built to house ancient manuscripts.

But what is international development cooperation and does it matter? As a concept it replaces the idea of ‘aid’, which has become a ‘dirty’ word, sitting uncomfortably with the new emerging powers of the South as it is seen as underpinning pervading inequalities between recipient and donor countries. While it is still bandied about by some donors (see for instance USAID, AusAID, Irish Aid) this concept has undergone something of a transformation.

As Jonathan Glennie has pointed out in his research, there have been numerous conferences, meetings and negotiations on aid effectiveness and their outcomes, including the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), have reflected the traditional relationship of donor and recipient. Nevertheless by the time of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, which took place in Busan, South Korea (2011), the word aid had all but been ‘erased’ in the final declaration. It went from appearing 57 times in the Paris Declaration to a mere 6 times (excluding reference to aid-for-trade) in the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-Operation. These conceptual changes have not only allowed for a rethinking in terms of donor-recipient relations, but also allow for a broadening of our understanding of cooperation that moves beyond ‘aid’ in terms of finance, to considering other areas of support for development such as training and technical assistance.

The question is what does this mean for South Africa. Given our own socio-economic inequality and the burgeoning unhappiness in the mining and agricultural sector, is this something South Africa should be pursuing?

While there are those who would argue a South Africa first position, there is value in development cooperation within the foreign policy tool kit. Whether this is for the more altruistic moral obligation to assist those who need it, demonstrating internationally the character and values of the people of South Africa, or as part of our responsibility as a ‘good international citizen’, this brings a benefits in improving stability allowing for deeper political as well as economic engagement.

In the simplest terms, development cooperation can be the human face of foreign policy. It affords support to our foreign policy priorities including the promotion of democracy, support of human rights, international peace, economic development and the African Agenda. For those of a more realist persuasion, development cooperation even ticks the box of advancing the national interest in supporting South Africa’s security through assistance to people in meeting their own socio-economic development needs within their own country.

The problem is that development cooperation, as an idea, is like that of climate change –unclear for those who it will impact on the most. There is also the challenge in making sure that it is not merely a change in words. Certainly China has increasingly come under criticism within the media for its approach, particularly in Africa, in bringing in their own labour, subsidising and using their own material, and focusing primarily on those areas where resources can be extracted. Understanding what development cooperation means is crucial to ensure the best implementation, which in South Africa is in the process of being re-defined as it is currently split between the African Renaissance Fund and a number of departments. This is important in ensuring that we are getting ‘bang-for-our-buck’ internationally (something which is currently open to debate). To ensure maximum impact for South Africa’s international support, transparency of process and accountability, both within South Africa and to South Africa, will be all important in ensuring that development cooperation does what it is intended in meeting foreign policy principles. The launch of the South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) is thus still keenly awaited.

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