South-South and Triangular cooperation (SSC/TrC) is playing a greater role than ever before in the development cooperation landscape, as acknowledged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda, the African Union Agenda 2063 and the Addis Ababa Action Plan (AAAA). The economic and political role of Southern powers is undergoing unprecedented transformation. This new and more inclusive form of global partnership, which complements North-South Cooperation, is a logical result of the growth in power and influence of many Southern countries. It is also urgently needed to ensure adequate balance and representation of Southern development priorities on the international stage.

- Mr. Lamin M. Manneh, Director, UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa (RSCA)

The rapid and sustained economic growth in many African countries over the last decade has enabled them to emerge as international development cooperation partners. Many have graduated from low-to middle-income countries and have combined their economic strengths with their regional and international political activities and development cooperation interventions. In this way, they have assumed a greater role in the development arena through South-South and triangular cooperation (SSC/TrC), including through the sharing of successful experiences with other countries facing similar development challenges. Many of these countries are now institutionalizing their own development support as bilateral partners through the establishment of development agencies. For example, Nigeria has set up a Directorate of Technical Assistance, and South Africa plans to set up the South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA).

At the same time, there has also been a push to look for regional solutions to consolidate African voices and resources, to enable greater impact and reach in development. The African Union (AU)’s Agenda 2063 clearly articulates a vision for developing the continent and emphasizes, “Mobilization of the people and their ownership of continental programmes at the core; the principle of self-reliance and Africa financing its own development; the importance of capable, inclusive and accountable states and institutions at all levels and in all spheres; the critical role of Regional Economic Communities as building blocks for continental unity; taking into account of the special challenges faced by both island and land-locked states; and holding ourselves and our governments and institutions accountable for results.” The Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda stresses the need for mutually beneficial partnerships in this regard. It calls for international support linked to national and regional priorities, and supporting low-income, landlocked, small island states and post-conflict countries.

Recognizing their lack of capacity, the international community has increasingly sought to support these regional and sub-regional organizations. For example, the UN’s Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) of Operational Activities – the primary policy instrument of the General Assembly which defines the way the UN development system operates to support programme countries in their development efforts4 – stresses the importance of SSC/TrC. It reiterates the need for the UN development system to mainstream and enhance support to SSC/TrC with the ownership and leadership of developing countries, through a system-wide approach.

A growing number of middle-income countries worldwide, including Brazil, China, India and Turkey, are also taking a more proactive role in SSC/TrC in Africa. Development cooperation in the global South, in the form of concessional loans and grants, has grown rapidly in recent years, from $8.6 billion in 2006 to $19 billion in 2013.6 There are now more South-South partners with dedicated development cooperation agencies engaging in more bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral initiatives across countries and regions. SSC/TrC modalities and instruments have also expanded from small-scale technical cooperation projects and ad hoc initiatives to longer-term development interventions intended to strengthen human capital, develop countries’ institutional capacity and transfer technologies with high potential for local adaptation. Project finance for infrastructure development in productive sectors complement these SSC/TrC initiatives, which are taking place within an increasingly complex mosaic of governmental and nongovernmental actors, including private companies, academia and civil society organizations. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, information about SSC/TrC is generally patchy and incomplete and it is difficult to assess the scale and nature of on-going projects or processes. Projects are typically undertaken in an ad hoc manner, and face political, institutional and operational constraints resulting in sustainability challenges. Information about the different approaches taken, the results achieved and the lessons learned from SSC/TrC initiatives is generally difficult to access, and not being shared systematically.

This paper charts a path for UNDP’s future engagement on SSC/TrC in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to ensure that its approach remains relevant in a fast-changing environment, UNDP needs to re-evaluate the changing priorities and capacities of governments, sub-regional and regional organizations on a continual basis.

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