The global development agenda now includes multiple goals on poverty reduction, economic growth, the environment and climate change. This unprecedented international policy overload is radically altering the aid landscape.
As the world’s most developed countries craft a new narrative that more strongly links aid to climate change and humanitarian crises, African countries can tip the balance in their favour. This can provide an opportunity to shape the future of North-South relations.
Less talk of rich-poor country
There has been less talk of the rich-poor dichotomy since the introduction of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Indeed, the development goals have strengthened the narrative that the responsibility for achieving sustainable development applies to all countries. Although each country may face distinct challenges, the inter-connectedness of global progress means that we are all in the same boat.
Many African countries have engaged in South-South Cooperation with major powers like China and India. In building large infrastructure projects, China highlights its impressive achievements in lifting over half a billion people out of poverty.
India showcases the successes of its green revolution and advances in information and communications technology and affordable healthcare. Both countries also flaunt their ability to develop affordable, available, and adaptable technology and their established track record of solving developmental challenges.
With the growing global economic power and influence of China, India and other middle-income countries, development diplomacy is being reconstituted.
A ‘new page’
The UK has often in the past shown a soft spot for its former colonies and been hailed as a generous and innovative global leader. But it is now also openly touting the national interest. The UK-Africa Summit held in January 2020 was an attempt to advance new initiatives and commercial partnerships with the continent.
And there is considerable uncertainty on the extent to which Nordic generosity of tying aid with “soft power” is compatible with maintaining a well-funded welfare state and achieving policy coherence on sustainable development. The climate crisis has made it abundantly clear that the oil producing and generous aid providers like Norway cannot “lead” the global development agenda without undertaking bold initiatives at home.
It is not just the West but also other actors that are showing interest in Africa. Russia has launched a major strategy to open “a new page” and make the whole continent a foreign policy priority.
Africa is thus attracting renewed global interest and rivalry among world powers. Some even warn of a “new scramble for Africa” involving major and emerging powers who are all vying for the continent’s attention. Although aid flows may decrease over time, there is now more interest in boosting trade and investments. The key question for us is how African countries can use this growing interest to their advantage.