Home|Latest on International Development Cooperation|Principles in SA’s Development Diplomacy: the case of its Post-2015 Agenda

by Siphamandla Zondi


by Siphamandla Zondi


The shortcomings and poor outcomes on the MDG so far are not a matter of implementation per se, but one about the sort of change that has been allowed thus far. It is also about how countries like South Africa have used their diplomatic clout in support of genuine implementation of MDGs.

Assessments of the progress in the implementation of the eight (8) goals that include poverty eradication, the reduction of child and maternal mortality, increasing access to education and health and so forth indicate that while the MDGs had energized the world community to confront the transnational challenge of development and helped increase the number of people being taken out of poverty, progress was uneven and partial. The ambition to build upon the MDGs’ success, while drastically improving the quantity and quality of development outcomes motivates many UN member states and regional negotiations groups to push for a post-2015 development consensus that builds on rather than deviates from the MDGs frameworks. While the South African position is still work in progress and will be subject to civil society engagement in the coming months as it emerges, government statements have started setting out the broad SA position in the post-2015 debate and these need to be scrutinised, at least.

Towards a SA Position

South Africa has placed itself squarely among countries that want to avoid a situation where the discussion on the post-2015 agenda distracts from commitments made in the past as part of MDG processes and other international forums. It is opposed to creation of a new development framework. Like most developing countries, it recognises that there is a worrying appetite on the part of developed countries to want to scale back on their past commitments and responsibilities, using the global economic recession as the excuse.

At the UN General Assembly in September 2013, South Africa through president Jacob Zuma issued a strong statement on the post-2015 development agenda and thus outlined what is its broad ideas in discussions towards a common position of the countries of the south. One identifies six principles that have been put forward, but there could be more.

The first is the idea of transformative economic development as a necessary condition for real progress in human development to happen. This is a pregnant concept, capable of giving impetus to development efforts aimed at transforming patterns of economic production especially by investing in industrial development in the developing world to avoid the scandal of high economic growth rates, but poor development outcomes that has come to epitomise the African economic story. It requires a fundamental change in the manner in which development finance is used by focusing it more on boosting industrial development and economic production in developing countries. There can be no real economic development without the transformation of power relations that reproduce underdevelopment for some and development for others in the manner the late Caribbean scholar, Walter Rodney, described as fundamental to the African development question.

The second is the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities, which says that the world community must be mindful of that fact that developing countries suffer disproportionately the impacts of the current world economic system and the commitments agreed should not further disadvantage these countries by limiting their path to development. It recognises the fact that in the pursuit of common good, developed countries do often ignore the historical injustices that resulted in an uneven playing field by expecting the developing countries to make sacrifices that undermine their economic development. Underlying this principle is the need to understand the negative impact of the history of power asymmetry on developing countries and the historical obligation on developed countries in order to do more to level the playing field.

The third principle that has been underscored is the expectation that the new agenda will entail a good balance between the three pillars of sustainable agenda – social, economic and environmental concerns. The Rio consensus on sustainable development is crucial for developing countries, threatened by the use of the concerns of adaptive technology, green economy and so forth to limit their economic competitiveness. The damage to the environment that the current economic model promotes will limit the poor countries’ developmental achievements. This too is about transforming the nature of economic system that reproduces environmental degradation in order to drive higher production and consumption patterns especially in highly-industrialized countries.

The fourth principle is that in order to succeed the new agenda will need predictable and honest resourcing. The financing for development principle is largely an outcome of discussions under both the Development Effectiveness and the Aid-for-Trade Monterrey processes of the past decade, which remain trapped by virtual statement in the efforts to fundamentally transform development financing and ODA. The new agenda should include the renewal and strengthening of developed countries’ commitments to provide Official Development Assistance at 0.7 of their GDP as well as to grow technical assistance and other forms of support. This is based on the acceptance that many developing countries will not be able to implement the agenda without external support due to the poor state of their economies and development. This is also a meter of historical justice, a form of reparation for the harm caused to the developing countries by centuries of imperialism, colonialism and skewed globalisation.

The fifth is to build synergies between the global efforts and regional initiatives such as NEPAD in the case of Africa. The idea is to do so in a manner that the new agenda support coherent regional programmes towards the full implementation of the agenda and thus enhance regional ownership of global efforts. The strengthening of the capacity of regional organisations to both coordinate and support national efforts at development is an important condition for effective development.Unsaid here is the old south-south cooperation idea that development must be an expression of “own” aspirations, civilizations and determinate conditions.

The sixth relates to the manner in which the discussions should be conducted, that they should be done on the basis of the principle of equality, equity and respect. Understanding the potential for conflict, power play and bullying in the negotiations, the South African government believes that a clear and unequivocal commitment to equality and mutual-respect among negotiating groups and countries. This is to prevent the inherent power imbalance in the world system from generating conflict that divides the world again into the north and the south, the west and the other. The commitment to a compromise that reflects the legitimate concerns and interests of both the south and the north is an important factor in South Africa’s ambition to playa bridge-builder role.

Towards an African and South Position

These principles are not an exhaustive list of guiding principles in this process, but represent key principles to underpin South Africa’s own position and its input into the building of common African negotiating position. They reflect both the country’s national interests and regional discussions towards 2015. They form part of the country’s input in the development of regional and global south common positions. Fortunately, the principles also feature in the country positions of several other countries.

Because these principles are generally shared by the AU and the G77+China member states, they form a crucial ingredient for south-south cooperation at the UN level and one that strengthens the cohesion of the south in respect of its shared desire for global reform, without unnecessarily dividing the world. The desire to redefine the structure of global power, which is underpinned by the tendency to create and maintain a few core states that are wealthy and dominating, and peripheral areas that are poorer and dominates; the dichotomy between states that have developed at the expense of others benefitting from exploitative social and economic relations while helping to thus reproduce marginality and poverty on the periphery.

Fundamental change and the south development’s diplomacy

It is this fundamentally that needs to change in order to end inequality and underdevelopment, for these conditions are not incidental, but are in every way structural and systemic. The concept of transformation that underpins the six principles is crucial in efforts towards addressing the fundamental problem(s) with development today. The idea of global partnership not directly linked to the needed transformation of power relations between the cores and the peripheries in the world system at all levels is an illusion of grand proportions. A partnership without an acceptance that something has to change fundamentally is a false hope, a form of deceit.

The global south has a duty to pursue this during the on-going conversations on post-2015. South Africa is right in raising this point now in order to deepen the conversation, but would need to do so consistently at the AU and G77+China platforms until 2015, ensuring the whole south speaks with one voice pertaining to what fundamentally ought to change.

It would also need to do better in building alliances with civil society in the country, in Africa and globally, taking advantage of convergence of its position with that critical civil society generally. This is made easier by the fact that the position suggested by the six principles is in sync with positions of international and African civil society. It should be much easier to build relationships that coordinate discussions inside negotiation chambers and on the streets in parallel civil society platforms.


Ubuntu diplomacy must mean a multifarious approach to diplomacy, pursuing humanistic goals globally through both inter-state and civil society tracks, thus not just making people the key focus of the substance of its diplomacy, but also including a cacophony of people’s voices in the practice of diplomacy. This is what retired Ghanaian multilateral diplomat, Frederick Arkhurst, in his book African Diplomacy calls “essentially African diplomacy.”

This is a product of the IGD’s Development Diplomacy Programme generously supported by the DFID

Related Posts

View all
  • By Published On: February 23rd, 2016
  • By Published On: February 23rd, 2016
  • By Published On: February 23rd, 2016