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The Role of South – South Cooperation in Realizing the Vision of Peace and Development for All

September 12, 2019 Cecilia Milesi, 2019 AsiaGlobal Fellow

The Role of South – South Cooperation in Realizing the Vision of Peace and Development for All

Cecilia Milesi, 2019 AsiaGlobal Fellow, explores  why and how South-South Cooperation is a path to inclusive peace. 

The preamble of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all United Nations Member States solemnly declared: “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”. It is positive that countries are paying increased attention to the interlinkage between peace and security and development. It is essential to multiply and diversify the efforts to enhance inclusive peace and development, moving from statements to action. South-South Cooperation offers an additional and complementary path to renew, revitalize and multiply the alternatives to sustain inclusive development and peace. Importantly, this is done with Global South countries directly affected by insecurity, instability and violence at the forefront of policy and programming processes. South-South Cooperation is a prospect to increase knowledge transfer and enhance policy coordination in a multipolar world.

In 2019 the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation on 12 September marks the 41st anniversary of the 1978 adoption by consensus of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. Importantly, we are just a few months after the historic “Second United Nations High-Level Conference on South-South Cooperation” (BAPA+40) in which 145 Member States endorsed an outcome document guiding the future of South-South Cooperation. Thus, it’s a good chance to reflect and offer some insights and ideas to support the expansion of the global agenda for Southern solidarity for inclusive peace and development.

Why and how South-South Cooperation is a path to inclusive peace

South-South Cooperation to diversify the routes for increased trust

For practitioners working for many years in peacebuilding, conflict prevention and development, the evidence that only through “multiple paths and inclusivity” it is possible to achieve durable peace, is not new. Concentration of decision-making power, knowledge and resources in the hands of a few actors is likely to lead to division, conflict and lack of understanding. For example, when policy processes are enriched by the participation of multiple stakeholders, when they are owned by those directly affected by violent conflict, clearly benefiting victims of exclusion, the chances for lasting peace increase. Considering this, it seems clear that opening up more opportunities for horizontal joint action and knowledge transfer of and among Global South countries is an important additional pathway to expand the probabilities to achieve peace and development.

As South-South Cooperation embraces the key principle of South-South solidarity as a key pillar to build a new world, Southern Member States are opening up new routes to work together, listening to each other and sharing knowledge while improving policy coordination. This may lead to increased mutual understanding, trust and reciprocated accountability, fundamental pre-conditions to create contexts of peace and stability. Over the past few years, it has been encouraging to observe the efforts of national governments investing resources and capabilities to build South-South initiatives, notably through regional organizations such as the African Union (AU), the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the g7 plus -just to name a few. These organizations are working independently to coordinate regional and cross-regional peace and development actions while promoting revitalised dialogue among neighbours and/or actors facing similar challenges.

In complex political times, we consider that it is also vital to increase cross-continental exchange of ideas, moving beyond regional boundaries: Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia must come even closer together to protect “global commons”, supporting each other in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We have much to gain from learning from each other’s experiences, avoiding past mistakes and expanding chances for cross-fertilization of effective policy options.

In this process, the United Nations plays a catalytic role by strongly supporting Global South partners’ priorities while becoming a more efficient platform to facilitate connections between Global South governments and multiple actors such as think-tanks and civil society organizations. The BAPA+40 outcome document reaffirmed the central role of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) to play the role of focal point and promote a global United Nations system-wide mechanism to ensure more and better coordination for Southern solidarity. The UN system can enhance its assistance to support developing countries in seeking cooperation partners in strategic areas for national development plans. In this regard, the expanding collaboration between UNOSSC and several UN agencies and initiatives with the mandate to prevent, transform conflict and promote development, is an encouraging sign. By working together, UN agencies better support Member States, regional organizations and other key stakeholders committed to sustaining peace.

South-South Cooperation endorses ownership, crucial enabler of sustaining peace

Another crucial South-South Cooperation principle points out to the “demand driven” nature of Southern collaborations. For example, paragraph 9 of the BAPA +40 outcome document recognises the “voluntary, participative and demand driven nature of South-South Cooperation born from common objectives…”. This means that Global South countries pledged to respect the decisions and priorities set up by Southern counterparts when defining and implementing the peace and development policy agenda. It is about striking a delicate balancing act to avoid the negative consequences of interventionism and disregard of national sovereignty. The role of Northern partners or other multiple partners -including United Nations agencies and investment banks- should be of facilitation as per priorities defined by the Global South. Non-conditionality is a must to be considered in the intricate dialogue among partners.

Peace practitioners acknowledge that ownership and agency are essential factors enabling lasting peace. In this sense, South-South Cooperation principles are a guidance to create contexts of sustainable positive policy change. It’s important that they are consistently applied considering aligned approaches, methods and tools.

South-South Cooperation to support the design of context relevant peace endeavours

The Sustaining peace agenda focuses on conflict prevention and transformation. It remarks the critical need to address the root causes of violent conflict if the aim is to achieve durable peace. Countries must act before “the forest is burning” while putting in place transformative policy measures to prevent the recurrence of violence.

In each context, how this is done varies significantly. Context- relevant peace and development endeavours, moving beyond short-time policy interventions, is a fundamental pillar to sustain peace. In this regard, the South-South Cooperation agenda clearly stresses the relevance of “proximity of experience” and also the multilayer and distinctive challenges faced by the Global South countries. More than simply working to manage crisis and mediate wars, policy processes and all involved stakeholders should commit to work on transforming the conditions that generate violence with special focus on poverty, inequality, various forms of discrimination and abuse of rights.  The inclusion of all Global South countries perspectives to analyse the systemic causes of violence and, consequently, set up a more legitimate and context -relevant agenda for inclusive peace and development is vital to achieve durable peace results.

Considering this, it’s notable that the BAPA +40 outcome document highlights the need to consider the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability, stressing the need to work in an integral manner to implement all 17 Sustainable Development Goals with the aim to achieve peace and prosperity for all. A very diverse and complementary set of issues are integrated in the South-South agenda including, for example, good governance, climate change, women participation, management of countries’ debts, urban planning, new technologies among others. During BAPA +40, Member States acknowledged that Global South countries can best support each other because they face similar problems. The above mentioned “proximity” is a key factor to design legitimate and context relevant policy responses to achieve inclusive peace.

Several national, regional organizations and UN agencies are already actively building bridges, effectively supporting each other to transfer knowledge and promote the adaptation of policy solutions to tackle similar challenges. For example, the African Peer Review Mechanism is a platform to ensure that good governance practices are enhanced in the African continent, thus, promoting increased transparency and institutional performance, some of the key enablers of conflict prevention. Another promising example is the newly established Rwanda Cooperation Initiative where other Southern countries are invited to Rwanda to learn how the country moved from genocide and post-conflict crisis to inclusive economic growth. The IGAD’s Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) which brings together seven countries to coordinate and share lessons in early warning conflict prevention, also recently held a knowledge fair to share insights on approaches and policy options to manage cross-border challenges. These included livestock management, cross-border trade and cross-border security- governance. UNOSSC recently published the first “South-South in Action on Peace and Development”, including 21 case studies of South-South coordination to transform the root causes of violent conflict, led by multiple UN agencies, national governments and regional organizations.

The list of good examples and solid initiatives to facilitate exchanges keeps growing. It will be essential to maintain and expand these endeavours to facilitate more and better South-South learning. The application of solid methodologies also suitable to measure concrete impacts in the long-run will be important to increase trust in these initiatives. In this regard, the BAPA +40 outcome document invites Member States to scale up efforts to systematize knowledge and measure the positive effects derived from creative and innovative connections among Global South countries.

In all, we are witnessing even more promising times for Southern partners collaboration. As we celebrate the “South-South Cooperation day” we should take time to reflect on the BAPA +40 Outcome Document as a key guidance to move ahead. The United Nations System Staff College’s contribution to disseminate knowledge and capacities across the UN family is encouraging. We must multiply action and nurture innovation, understanding that we are facing a historic opportunity. It’s in our hands to step-up and live-up to the South-South Cooperation promises.

The recently published research report “The Case of South-South Cooperation for Peace and Development” by Dr. Isabel de Siqueira offers a more insights in regards to the “peace-development” nexus: https://www.unsouthsouth.org/2019/03/18/the-case-for-south-south-cooperation-on-peace-and-development-2019/


This article first appeared on United Nations System Staff College on September 12, 2019.

The views expressed in the reports featured are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Asia Global Institute’s editorial policy.

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