“From the paradigmatic to the practical battlefield: Southern development cooperation practices in a traditional aid hosting context” – an interview with Alvaro Moreira by Giulia Scortegagna

The article published in the Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (RBPI, Vol. 63, n. 2, special issue) is entitled “From the paradigmatic to the practical battlefield: Southern development cooperation practices in a traditional aid hosting context.” It analyzes through a Bourdieusian perspective, how the implementation of projects established through south-south cooperation contrasts with the expectations known from previous international development cooperation programs. It also observes the provider-host relationship countries and how the latter have an underestimated role in the design of the international development cooperation sector. Giulia Scortegagna, master’s student of analysis and management of international policies at PUC-Rio, interviewed Alvaro Moreira.

From a Bourdieusian perspective, how did the new elements of south-south cooperation result in an incompatibility between traditional expectations and new practices in international development cooperation?

Bourdieu’s theory of practice gives particular importance to past experiences as they shape one’s current practices. As such, our actions are strongly influenced by what we have lived in the past. This becomes more noticeable when past and current practices occur in similar contexts. In the article, I apply this idea to understand current South-South Cooperation practices in traditional aid-hosting contexts.

When South-South Cooperation projects were introduced in contexts that have known only the traditional aid paradigm for approximately fifty years, we have a mismatch of practices. Host actors engage in SSC projects with expectations based on past experiences, but these expectations are not met within Southern encounters. For instance, SSC projects intend to establish horizontal relationships between provider and partner. This implies that both parts seek mutual benefits and share management and financial burdens. While Southern providers introduce these processes, host actors expect something different, based on past experiences. In the latter, traditional donors maintained hierarchical relationships, and projects became a source of financial support. Throughout history, host actors developed strategies to maximise this support that they apply in development encounters, be it framed within Southern or traditional paradigm.

What are the common characteristics of southern countries like Brazil, China, India, and Turkey while carrying out south-south cooperation projects in Benin? Furthermore, how do these elements contrast with the implementation of previous projects led by countries in the North?

Brazil, China, India, and Turkey are major world producers and exporters of cotton. One of SSC’s guiding principles is the context-similarity claim. It means that SSC provider and host share common elements of geographies and history. This provides the foundation for the cooperation to take place and is the main difference from Northern providers, whose rationale for aid is to be found in other sources. This is at the level of discourse. At the level of implementation of the practice, Southern providers introduced different project management processes. There is a clear focus on knowledge sharing and capacity-building. Material support is also a common characteristic, although not as prominent as within North-South projects. In all aspects, it is expected shared management and cost-sharing between host and provider. This is probably the main difference between previous North-South projects that came before. Southern providers expect a deeper financial engagement from the hosting country. The example of Benin shows that host actors resisted acting accordingly or that the mechanisms for such cost-sharing were not in place at the time of implementation. As the article demonstrates, this mismatch affected projects’ processes and, thereby, projects’ outcomes. However, it also came to light that SSC projects seem to be more resilient to changing circumstances. The mismatch of practices led sometimes to a revision of projects’ objectives that reflected better hosts’ interests.

How do the elements of south-south cooperation influence the results of cooperation projects and the relationship between provider and host countries? Do these changes bring about a significant change in the doxa in the field of international cooperation for development at the international level?

South-South Cooperation had strong momentum at the beginning of the 2000s. Emerging countries were then able to influence the aid architecture as we saw some of the SSC principles permeating spaces dominated by traditional donors hitherto. In this sense, Southern providers succeeded in pushing the borders of the international development cooperation field. However, what remains to be studied – and my article is a contribution in that sense – is how Southern providers translated SSC paradigms into practice.

From this perspective, SSC cotton projects in Benin introduced international development cooperation practices that contrasted with previous practices. If we think of practice as’ embodied history,’ host actors carried traditional practices within SSC cotton projects activities. This created a mismatch of practices between providers and hosts. Thus, the paradigmatic battle became a practical one, in which outcomes became even more uncertain. This means that hosts and providers had different taken for granted rules (or doxa), indicating thereby that the change in paradigm did not reach the hosting context. In turn, these findings underscore the importance of including host actors in the debates about aid paradigms at the global level, since they play a determining role in shaping practice.

In what manner can the host countries modify the practice of international cooperation for development considering the asymmetry of power between countries? Is there a perpetuation of colonial relationships?

Yes, there is a continuation of colonial relations in the aid and development sector. Longitudinal studies show that these relations have changed over time, taking different shapes, as powerlessness was internalised by colonised people. In the case of the cotton sector of Benin, the first international development projects enabled the continuation of the colonial enterprise. In this sense, from the beginning, cotton projects were construed on colonial relations, in which the interests of the coloniser predominated. The intensification of cotton production, for example, was first a project of France, who sought to diversify the source of seed-cotton and become less dependent on US cotton.

As projects come and go, and the hosting context prevails, host actors developed strategies to maximise foreign support in favour of their own interests, which endure beyond projects time and spatial boundaries. It is important to note that host actors have more agency in shaping change than a development project, which is limited in time and space. Therefore, colonial relations continue to exist within projects processes, but host actors’ strategies seem to work well in optimising projects’ resources outside the projects’ framework. In my opinion, this should not be understood as diversion of project objectives or resources. On the contrary, if the objective of the project is to foster change, it is working somehow outside the project framework, even if not on the same terms established by the project.

Read the article

Moreira, Alvaro. (2020). From the paradigmatic to the practical battlefield: Southern development cooperation practices in a traditional aid hosting context. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 63(2), e004. Epub June 12, 2020.https://doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329202000204

About the authors

Alvaro Moreira, University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (a.moreira@ids.ac.uk).

Giulia Scortegagna, master’s student of analysis and management of international policies at PUC-Rio

How to cite this interview

Cite this article as: Editoria Mundorama, "From the paradigmatic to the practical battlefield: Southern development cooperation practices in a traditional aid hosting context” – an interview with Alvaro Moreira by Giulia Scortegagna," in Revista Mundorama, 25/06/2020, https://mundorama.net/?p=27291.