north-south co-operation || building alliances: a southern perspective

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  • Oxfam GB

    Building Alliances: A Southern PerspectiveAuthor(s): Devaki JainSource: Focus on Gender, Vol. 2, No. 3, North-South Co-operation (Oct., 1994), pp. 15-19Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Oxfam GBStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 19:01

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  • 15

    Building alliances a Southern perspective

    Devaki Jain

    N orth-South relations could not be worse than they are today. One can in fact take a step back and

    ask, is there a South? We could also ask, is there an East? If there is no longer a South, there is no need or scope to talk about North/South relations. It pains me to say this, and to suggest that in spite of all the dedication and efforts of Southern and Northern activists in sharing work, thought and platforms, the North is effacing the South and the East. In doing so, it is actually effacing itself, as it cannot sustain its engines of growth and its environmental and political security and creativity without its identifiable and different partners, the South and the East. These two regions represent important differences in the history of social and political evolution. They can be broken by the North, but not digested. So, for its own self-preservation, the North must step back and reflect on its activities.

    It is my reading of the situation that in the last three decades the North has learnt a great deal from civil society in the South. While development aid would have been conventionally routed through government channels - perhaps on large-scale projeets - these aid channels received their real inputs in terms of learning from civil society: intellectuals, writers, and activists.

    Northern respect for us in the South came from these sources - not from

    official channels, nor from the conventional images of the South of hunger, disease, dirt and lethargy. In contrast, Southern civil society provided ideas on how to produce and consume in less wasteful ways; in addition to ideas on credit and marketing, the formation of trade unions and self- governance, the South gave an example of graceful social relations, community spirit, and living with joy and laughter. These and a million other ideas came from the South, to enliven ideas of development not only in the South but in the North also.

    In a sense, 'we' were the teachers and 'you' were the taught. We talk now of aid fatigue and development fatigue. But there was also growth fatigue and prosperity fatigue - and these were countered by a breath of fresh air from us. Women, minorities, non-white peoples, and the poor of the North were able to find inspiration, a sense of identity, and an agenda for action out of knowledge coming from the South. Links, threads and eventually ropes began to be formed joint thought, and joint action, even though it was always an uneasy partnership, as are all unequal partnerships, whether they are between men and women, employees and workers, or rich and poor.

    Once, I had the idealism to suggest that we of the South could be partners with the East: we could facilitate the reconstruction of the East, after the breakdown of

    Focus on Gender Vol 2, No. 3, October 1994

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  • 16 Focus on Gender

    socialism, as we knew the effect of the withdrawal of a controlling power, due to our experience of the end of colonialism. We had knowledge of the challenges of scarcity, treading the middle path between socialism and its opposite pole, capitalism. We had experience of co-operatives and forming unions of the self-employed, small businesses, and thrift societies. We, too, had pluralistic societies with young democracies, and political parties which were based on considerations including race, caste, and language. We felt we could share with the East our ability to 'muddle through' without being bought out.

    Somehow, in spite of the cloud of Northern domination, the former colonies had even set up NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), and G-77 (Group 77, a configuration of developing countries that vote together in economic matters discussed by the United Nations), and formed an affirmative 'South' consisting of NGOs, grassroots activists, intellectuals, and feminist organisations like DAWN (Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era). We thought that the East, too, could, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes,A and the South and East could then learn from each other. The East has experience in promoting workers' rights and full employ- ment, the provision of basic amenities, and a legal basis for equality between the sexes and the classes. In turn, the South has experience of self-determination and finding a middle path; there could have been a fruitful mutual exchange.

    Contemporary pressures on Southemn solidarity Today, all that hope is ended. The South is in disarray. For example, when the G-15 the group of fifteen countries which had come together for development co- operation, to counterbalance the powers of the G-7 - attempted to hold a summit in New Delhi in March 1994, it was attended

    by only three heads of state, if one excludes the host, India. One came for the opening only, and another for the closing only -so that there were only two who gave the summit their full attention. If that is any indication of the commitment to work together, the signal is that all is not well.

    The reason behind this difficulty experienced by the G-15 in taking off is common knowledge. The governments of the developing countries of the South are nervous that any affirmative action from their side might alienate their Northern benefactors. This ambivalence is allied to a desire to keep lines open to the North, in order to continue to receive financial support, as well as lines open to the South to gain moral support. These motivations were very clear when the report of the South Commission was being developed. But today this nervousness is worse - and their own lines of 'solidarity' appear to be broken, as exemplified in the aborted Burundi Summit and its recent aftermath, the civil war in Rwanda.

    Other Southern groupings, like G-77, and sub-groups like the smaller country groupings within Asia, Latin America and Africa, did not feel that they were sufficiently clear about the purpose of G- 15. In some quarters it was understood as an attempt to create harmonious relations and conduct a forum for dialogue with G-7. In others, it was viewed as a structure affirming solidarity between the Southern member countries. Was it, in fact, inclusion or exclusion which was being signalled?

    State and legislative structures in the South are devastated and have lost their way; even civil society is overwhelmed by the commanding heights of the new order. The attempt by some Northern countries to include social clauses into aid and trade regimes is a retrograde move which has caused not only confusion but a degree of debilitation of the NGO movement in the South. While the Southern NGOs were formerly fearless and articulate in their

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  • Building alliances 17

    critique of violations of human rights, the careless use of the natural resources of the South, the oppression of women, and so on, within their own countries, they are well aware that all these evils are as deaply entrenched in the countries of the North. Everybody knows about the destructive production and trade habits of the North, including the dumping of toxic waste, and the inter-racial violence, gender violence, and child abuse, which are some of the evils experienced in Northern countries.

    Thus, when conditionalities are introduced into trade and development agreements between the North and South, the first reaction of Southern NGOs is to ally themselves with their governments, protesting against such a move to penetrate the boundaries of national sovereignty. Northern attempts to impose conditionality have weakened the ability of Southern NGOs to reform their own governments and push them into giving greater attention to the needs of the poor, and the conservation of natural resources.If national sovereignty has to be superseded by international regulations, then this must start with the North, or start simultan- eously in both North and South - not be imposed on the South alone, in the form of conditionality.

    The latest in such ideas is President Mitterand's proposal of a Social Contract between the North and the South: