South-South cooperation

South-South Cooperation refers to the exchange of resources, know-how, and technology between countries in the Global South. While this transfer is still limited compared to North-South exchanges, it holds much potential for the development of shared economic, political, and security objectives. The following articles include examples of an international railway project, a cooperation between Andean nations to restore cities' historic centers, and a Tanzania-Indonesia agriculture initiative. Read on to learn about South-South cooperation in Lagos, Nairobi, Mumbai, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, and Bogotá, and then join the discussion below.

Rio de Janeiro
Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi

Rail construction to deepen relations between West African cities

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi, Lagos Community Manager


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) represents one of the many successful south-south relationships in Africa, connecting 15 West African states to promote mobility, trade, and ultimately faster growth of the member nations. These states include Nigeria and Ivory Coast, who have taken their relationships one step further to establish stronger trade ties.

Both countries' governments are currently in talks about partnering on a rail infrastructure project to connect Lagos and Abidjan, as well as other African countries (Benin, Togo, and Ghana) in between. There are indications that Nigeria and Ivory Coast will work together to execute a number of transportation infrastructure projects to speed up economic development in both countries.

Already, the two nations have agreed to collaborate on fighting against coastline piracy, and have initiated the discussion on the construction of the rail line to connect Abidjan and Lagos. The project is expected to boost trade relations between the two countries and in the West African region in general. Cooperation between the two countries in trade relations alone is expected to rise to $2.7 billion; Lagos, with its large ports of entry, makes a very suitable rail stop in the West African trade rail route. However, the existence of a rail route raises a few questions. Firstly, would it help reduce traffic caused by the large population and poorly managed roadways? Will the rail link terminate at the port of entry, or extend into inner parts of Lagos city to help lessen the already congested roadways? And ultimately, will this inspire the city to work faster in providing alternative transport routes besides roadways for the increasing population of Lagos (which will increase due to the influx of merchants into the city through the trade rail lines)? If the answers to these questions are positive and are carefully considered, the rail line project will not only open the city of Lagos, as well as Nigeria, to other West African states through the more affordable and safer rail routes, but also lead to solutions for the traffic-laden Lagos city. This is especially true in light of other rail road revitalization projects currently taking place in Nigeria, such as the rail linking Lagos State to Kano State.

The construction of the rail line linking Lagos to other African states is expected to encourage trade, boost the transportation sector, and allow for the consideration of other forms of transportation within the city, such as using waterways and railways. The binational cooperation is a positive step for both nations and the concerned cities; the partnership is expected to advance goals of meaningful and sustainable economic, social, and political relations.

Photo credit: Nairaland



Jorge Bela's picture

When I interviewed Miguel Hincapié for my article on Bogota's historic center, he pointed out that even if the desired expertise is often in the nearby countries, the funding they desperately need to successfully undertake their projects still comes mostly from the north. This might not be a problem for large infrastructure projects such as building rail links, but it is often a source of tension for cultural or grassroots projects. Many wealthy development organizations recognize this and do not insist on imposing models from their countries of origin, but still the role that multilateral organizations, such as regional development banks, is crucial. Let's hope that institutions such as the Inter American Development Bank, and its counterparts in Asia and Africa, pay attention to the needs of south to south cooperation projects that too often go unfunded.

widya anggraini's picture

This week assignment has been very helpful for me to get a sense of how actually south-south cooperation benefited countries that involved. It is true that as one country is specialized or good at in one issue then they can offer the skills to other countries to be replicated based on their own situation, as what happened in Rio and Indonesia. However, in this case, Indonesia has the skill but has limited resources, hence we tried to look for some funds from international donor. Many donors are interested in this kind of partnership, so as we are able to develop and work with many different countries that need agricultural or food industry.

Furthermore, I really like Lagos case in infrastructure project. It shows how such initiative benefit countries not only economically but also socially and culturally. Maybe I can ask if Ladipo-Ajayi could update us with current status of this project and if there is obligation for the countries involved in rail project to provide some fund?

widya anggraini

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi's picture

It cannot be denied that sometimes south-south cooperation needs support from the north as indicated in the case of Bogata, however it's important to celebrate developing nations willing to come together to start projects on their own and create a blueprint of policies and projects that consider local problems. Some nations have the idea and need funding, some have funds but need expertise and others need a little bit of both.

To answer your question Widya, I believe both countries are willing to fund the project but are also interested in foreign and local investor participation, no doubt it's a big project that might strain resources of the nations without additional investors whether from the south or north.

Katy Fentress's picture

Last week Kenyan MPs voted that the country should pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) citing as one of their reasons for leaving, the fact that major world powers like the US were not members. Although quitting the ICC will not directly influence the current trial in which Kenya's president and vice-president are being prosecuted for their alleged roles in masterminding the 2007-2008 post-election violence, it would mark the first time an African country has taken such a stand.

The implications for a country that has long been dependent on foreign aid are many. Already before the elections Kenyans had been warned that there would be "consequences" for voting in men who were indicted by an international court. So far these consequences have been slow in materialising but it is increasingly accepted that Kenya's international influence is diminishing and that the country has to begin to look inwards and around it, in order to continue to grow and develop. In order to do this it has become imperative for Kenya's rulers to begin to devise new strategies that no longer rely on a North-South transfer of knowledge and aid but that strengthen regional bonds and seek to grow through mutual cooperation and shared strategies.

If and when this happens, initiatives like the Muungano regional outreach programs might begin to garner more attention as it is approaches of this kind that can really hope to make a difference and allow for change to occur in a cost-effective and efficient way.

However as Jorge mentions, although "the desired expertise is often in the nearby countries, the funding they desperately need to successfully undertake their projects still comes mostly from the north"... So who will continue to support these South South transfers of knowledge? Will China remain the only power to happily invest in Kenya and if so, at what price?

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

It is so great to read the enormous possibilities of exchange and collaboration within the South-South cooperation cases described this week.

Jorge, Widya and Kathy, you mention very interesting issues regarding the resources needed for such cooperation to take place and to be sustained in time: Sometimes resources are limited, sometimes they are tied for particular areas/sectors, and sometimes they depend on donors with specific interests...

I also see an additional challenge for South-South cooperation to be more effective; actually it applies to any type of cooperation. It is the ability to adapt a good experience from one place to another, acknowledging its particular needs and local context. This might sound like a very basic concept, but how many times have we seen or heard of initiatives that don’t work because they were not fully adapted from one place to another.

Beyond study tours, visits and exchanges among cities, whoever is learning from a successful experience must have a good capacity to analyse a specific effort and extract the positive aspects from it in order to adapt it into its new reality. Hopefully, resources around these learning and “adaptive” capacities can also be part from the South-South cooperation efforts.

Carlin Carr's picture

It's fantastic to see such cooperation happening across borders, regions and oceans this week. I'm particularly impressed by Brazil's rise to prominence for its progressive social policies. There's always a lot of buzz about what's happening in Rio from India's side, but it's amazing to see that even the US has taken an interest in Brazil's innovative approaches to working with low-income communities. There has been more and more talk of this "reverse innovation" idea--adapting new technologies and social policy ideas to the developed world. The Guardian ran an interesting article on this last year: "Reverse Innovation Brings Social Solutions to Developed Countries." Given the high-costs of healthcare in the US, this is one area that is considered to have a lot of potential for social enterprises in the South to share with the North. "Other examples of 'reverse innovation' on microfinance enterprises that started in the developing world and then identified a similar need in the US are Kiva, Grameen and Samasource, which is launching SamaUSA later this year," says the article.

La verdad muy interesante la nota, refleja el crecimiento de Brasil, sobre todo su postura frente a las desigualdades sociales, yo vivo en Argentina, aca tambien el Estado Nacional creo varios programas de para la inclusion social, y la mayor distribución de las riquezas, entre otros esta la Asignacion Familiar por hijo, q gracias al mismo aumento la escolaridad infantil un 25% y disminuyo la pobreza en mas de 15 puntos. Ademas de eso argentina cuenta con los programas de Becas para los estudiantes que en el 2003 había 2500 becados, y hoy llegan a los 50 mil becas para estudiantes primarios, secundarios y universitarios, un Investigador Argentino conocido Bernardo Kligsber fue convocado a China para exponer sobre estas medidas tomadas por el gobierno Argentino, esto teniendo en cuenta que en Argentina los estudios son gratuitos en todos los niveles. creo que varios países América Latina en general esta avanzando en estos procesos de mayor inclusión y justicia social. muy interesante la nota, desde ya un cordial saludo!

Carlin, here is the link of UNDP’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth; the page has a series of interesting South-South cooperation articles.

In the latest bulletin from September 2013, you will find a couple of documents in English regarding Brazil’s social policies and key programs, which could be of your interest or to any of our colleagues.

Esteban, gracias por compartir tus ideas! Efectivamente Argentina también ha implantado programas importantes enfocados en la reducción de la pobreza y la exclusión social. Esperamos que próximamente nos puedas compartir más sobre los avances de tu país en esta materia.

Esteban, many thanks for sharing your ideas! Argentina has also moved forward in implementing a series of poverty reduction and social inclusion programs. Please share with us updates and thoughts regarding your country’s way forward in these topics.

The diversity in instances of South-South cooperation indicates that such development partnerships need not be restricted to traditional modalities of operation. Further, as rightly pointed out by Catalina, the element of flexibility and ability to apply to any type of cooperation, not only makes its both unique and effective.

Developing economies have a long distance to cover to overcome innumerable common development challenges and such horizontal partnerships for mutual gains will help all countries involved in it as during the partnership they get access to most appropriate technology, realistic and cost effective solutions and financing at reasonable cost and most importantly without conditionalities.

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