The Network of Southern Thinks Tanks (NeST) was established in April 2014 at the fringes of the first High Level Meeting of the GPEDC, with the purpose of 'generating, systematizing, and sharing knowledge on South-South Cooperation (SSC)'.
Over the course of the next two years, academics and experts from the global South have consolidated national and regional chapters, developed analytical frameworks, and conducted a number of case studies that have improved the evidence and understanding on the contribution that SSC makes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
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From The Side-Lines in Nairobi: South-South Cooperation (SSC) and Mutual Accountability – The Good and the Bad, Or Just Ugly?
On September 25th 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to 'end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all'. Goal 17 stresses the importance of mobilising human and financial resources through government, the private sector and civil society partnerships. This goal is premised on an assumption that SSC partnerships enable mutual accountability and extend limited resources.
The Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), formed post-Busan to facilitate the implementation of global agreements on development assistance, supports and ensures mutual accountability for co-operation. The partnership is premised on commitments to developing and supporting country systems; ensuring transparency on financial flows; monitoring results progress, and using a range of stakeholders, mostly local.
The second GPEDC High Level Forum took place in Nairobi on 30 November and 1 December 2016. Here senior members of government from all over the world gathered at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) to review progress. The so-called new donor BRICS countries were conspicuous in their absence, having opted out of the GPEDC process.
The Nairobi Outcome Document (1 December 2016) reaffirms the commitment to mutual accountability and ensuring that all stakeholders, donors and recipients, are 'equal and inter-dependent partners in development'. All actions agreed are based on '… ownership of development priorities by developing countries, focus on results, inclusive development partnerships, and transparency and accountability'. In principle, these are all necessary conditions for sustainable development cooperation, given mutual goals to leave no one behind.
In practice, however, the politics of cooperation tracking and accounting are complex, dynamic and embedded. They are evident even in venue selection. A few pre-event sessions were hosted in central Nairobi hotels complete with air-conditioning and snacks. Others, such as the Nairobi Civil Society Forum, were further out and look place (mostly) under marquees. The contrast in venues, donors on one side, and civil society on the other, tests the idea of mutuality in a world so starkly defined by inequalities of voice, power and resources.
This inequality, the ‘bad’ which is seen to define established N-S development relationships, through conditionality, financial and reporting controls, is mediated by the ‘good’ of mutuality implicit to S-S commitments and associated GPEDC partnerships. There is an underlying assumption that the power dynamics implicit to development assistance are less uneven, and more transparent, between southern partners with similar experiences. But is this the case?
The word from the side-lines is no. It seems that accountability is a contested and loaded term in almost any context – as the questions ‘to whom’ and ‘for what’ are hard to answer. Linked to these is the loaded discussion on ‘measures’ – what and how – and the ever-present question of ‘why do we need to?’. And so, it cycles back, for transparency, for accountability – to whom, for what – what measures and how do we collect and share data. Does the 'publication of open data on development cooperation' enable development that improves the lives of the most marginalised and impoverished in our worlds?
I attended several side-events. The first was hosted by the German Development Institute (DIE), entitled 'Efforts and accountability for Development Cooperation under the 2030 Agenda: moving towards convergence?' The second, hosted by RAN, Oxfam and NeST Africa explored 'Inclusive Participation and Accountability in SSC.' Other side events attended debated the roles and accountability of SS partners for Africa’s development; alternative frameworks for monitoring and evaluation (Oxfam and NeST), transparency and accountability in finance reporting.
So, what did I learn about SSC and mutual accountability?
- There are two ‘approaches’ to development cooperation: emerging donor or SSC, seen as collaborative and supportive; and traditional ODA or N-S cooperation characterised as unequal and conditional. The good and the bad? Each has a different accountability mechanism, one imposed and the other mutual. Is there an emerging third way rooted in transnational cooperation that recognises local contexts and adapts accountabilities to project conditions?
- Accountability is about answerability and enforceability, and involves vertical and horizontal agency. It is affected by culture and context, historical relationships, and capabilities. For example, Rwanda uses a donor forum to monitor donor assistance and ensure mutual accountability. But many recipients lack the capability or force of will to ‘manage’ donors – regardless of their origins. How are common norms and standards defined when distribution favours the powerful and aid recipients are absent from decision making?
- We are still not sure what SSC is, and this affects how we think about mutual accountability and responsibility, and what is transparent and what is not. For example, China is committed to the SDGs, SSC and partnership. And is strongly accountable to Chinese citizens and their development commitments. But they do not see the necessity of adapting their country monitoring and financial systems to provide data for global monitoring when the purpose is fuzzy. What is the information for and who is judging? And if the recipient country is happy and benefits, does it matter?
- The face of SSC is government to government, despite the solidarity which defines its origins. SSC can close spaces for civil society organisations (CSOs) – “they give us a deaf ear”. SSC is an opportunity to do things better, but there is a need to strengthen in-country democracy to make it work. On the surface, SSC is appealing but in practice it can repeat the same power practices as ODA. The politics of partnerships should be managed to ensure an institutionalisation of SSC principles. Despite intentions, SSC is not a partnership of equals and it should take care not to affect the democratic independence of recipient countries.
- We agree that we need some common measures so that we can learn from progress (or failure). But this is easier to achieve within countries than across the globe. Our differing contexts make it difficult to find standardised ‘things’ to measure and so there is an attempt to monetise processes and results. This does allow comparability (if it’s needed?) but does not say much about the politics of the process, or the effects of the interventions on development and poverty. NeST SA have attempted to address this with a qualitative framework that goes some way to addressing the political economy of development relationships, but it is highly dependent on the willingness of partners to commit. The SDGs provide a global framework for mutual accountability but again – how to move beyond the number tick box to sustainable impact? Measures are never politically neutral.
Our choices are not simply about the good or the bad – SSC, ODA or SDGs. In the practice of shifting the global resources distributions, insufficient attention is paid to constitutive processes - the ‘rules’ which govern who is heard, and for what reason. We have to tackle the ugly and work out what accounting for results mean for the politics of process? Does the outcome of sustainable development justify the means used to achieve the SDGs? Or are the results only sustainable if you follow the right steps? And in an unequal and resource-hungry world, it is always the poor and marginalised that are silent and invisible.
Author: Prof. Anne Mc Lennan, Wits School of Governance, for Oxfam South Africa and NeST Southern Africa.