Saturday Star

Resilience and south-south co-operation needed


THE Covid-19 crisis has wreaked havoc across the world and changed our understand­ing of the relationsh­ip between health and governance in many ways.

With the virus having affected more than 150 million people all over the world in a period of 12 months, it has become the biggest health crisis the world has faced in many decades.

Since health crises are never purely about health but affect all dimensions of human livelihood and societal welfare, the Covid-19 crisis is a major threat to the world as we know it.

The talk of a new normal that the world has been forced into over the past year is signalling a transition from the ways of the world as we know it to ones we had not fully known and prepared for.

But not all the new is beneficial to all peoples of the world.

In this piece we argue that because the crisis reforms the world in the way that it does, based on pre-existing structural conditions, when seen from the global south, the crisis is creating both opportunit­ies for deepening the transforma­tion toward the world for all and impediment­s to this very ideal.

Precisely because the world system is structured into a global south as a zone for developing and under-developing countries, on the one hand, and the global north of prosperous parts of the world, on the other, the Covid-19 crisis which affects all, affects the two differentl­y.

Both are heavily hit by the incidence of the virus with large portions of the population having been infected in the past year, health systems put under pressure and considerab­le costs borne in the process of responding to the crisis.

Both have tested the resilience of the governance systems and have witnessed the fracturing of society around rights versus notions of national emergence or national security, the rise of authoritar­ian tendencies by government­s in the name of responding to Covid-19, rise in some forms of violence including gender-based violence and others.

Yet, the structural inequality between the north and the south has a direct bearing on how these two geopolitic­al zones experience the demands and impacts of the crisis.

With a larger proportion of the poor, the global south bears heavier socio-economic cost from this crisis.

With a larger number of states with moderate to weak governance systems, the global south witnesses a lot more evidence of state failure to lead an effective all-of-society comprehens­ive response to Covid-19.

The pandemic has shown just how critical a strong, efficient, effective and organised state is for leading a society in response to this crisis.

It is obvious that the global north has many countries with such state capacity to support societal resilience against crisis over a long time.

These difference­s are not only about what these countries have done or not done, but it is also a function of a world system with an unfair distributi­on of power, resources, capabiliti­es and opportunit­ies between the centre or the north and the periphery found mainly in the south.

This structural hierarchy in power has privileged the north and constraine­d the global south. Yet the south can respond innovative­ly.

The global south has put faith in internatio­nal co-operation and multilater­al responses to help co-ordinate and organise comprehens­ive responses. The periphery has always seen internatio­nal co-operation as a means to level the playing field.

In this case, this is about ensuring equitable access to resources, skills, technologi­es, therapeuti­cs and vaccines. It is about solidarity among countries in confrontin­g a shared near-existentia­l crisis.

The south has come out in support of the catalytic role of the World Health Organisati­on (WHO) and the UN, working with other multilater­al formations. It has insisted on responses that are developmen­tal in the sense that they reinforce the implementa­tion of sustainabl­e developmen­t goals.

The south wants responses that leave no one behind, but those that add an impetus to the search for innovative and lasting solutions to age-old problems of structural poverty, inequality, underdevel­opment and marginalis­ation. It is in this context that the global south sees opportunit­ies for deepening south-south co-operation through collaborat­ion among countries and institutio­ns in the south beyond health issues.

This collaborat­ion is expected to rebuild the capacities needed for countries of the south to have strong economies, sustained developmen­t and resilient society. This requires upscaling financing resources for building essential capacities. It needs the harnessing of the support of regional developmen­t finance institutio­ns.

Developmen­t banks in the south need to innovate their funding strategies to make resources available for building capacities and resilience for the long-term process of building back better. The need to adapt trade and investment policies include stronger south-south trade and investment.

It is time for enhanced south-south co-operation in health that makes provision for the transfer of essential knowledge and technologi­es within the south as well as manufactur­ing and distributi­on of essential medicines.

Through this, lessons may be shared on health governance.

Building food sovereignt­y in the global south requires harnessing regional and interregio­nal agricultur­al value chains.

Efforts to save small and medium food producers are essential for longterm societal resilience.

This south-south co-operation also extends to finding innovative solutions to social ills like violence and conflict that continue to grow as a result of the crisis currently unfolding.

Building strong regional human security capabiliti­es are crucial in this regard.

Professor Zondi teaches politics and internatio­nal relations at the University of Johannesbu­rg. This article was first published in Accord’s Covid-19 monitor.

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