Less politics, more economic development
Nairobi: Economic and social growth have become the heart of the development agenda of the bloc of leading emerging economies known as IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) since it began focusing less on politics. This is according to Michael Sudarkasa, chief executive officer of the African Business Group, a South African-based economic development and business consulting advisory services group.
It has been nine years since the IBSA forum was established, and it has impacted on aid effectiveness in Africa, says Sudarkasa, who has 20 years of experience in regional and international trade and business analysis, with a focus on private sector development.
"The IBSA dialogue forum has also been a catalyst for greater efforts within the South to explore ways that development aid can be mobilised from domestic resources to support developing countries."
IBSA has stimulated increased bilateral initiatives among Southern partners such as the Africa South America Strategic Partnership and the New Asian African Strategic Partnership, he says.
- Excerpts of the interview follow.
Q: Are there specific examples of the impact of IBSAs success?
A: The success that the IBSA countries have had in working together has indirectly stimulated increased activity by all three nations, both independently as investors and as partners in other parts of the continent of Africa. And South Africa has emboldened efforts to engage with other Southern partners in South America and Asia. Also, South Africa's participation in IBSA has to be considered as a key reason that the country was invited to become a member of BRICS (the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and BASIC (the block of developing countries of Brazil, South Africa, India and China).
Q: Have there been any fundamental shifts of bi- and tri–lateral engagements within IBSA in an attempt to boost its impact?
A: There are none that are glaringly apparent. At the onset of BRICS, when South Africa joined the BRIC forum, there was some speculation that the new initiative, with China as the key driver, might overshadow IBSA. However, the institutions of IBSA are quite strong, well defined, and all the IBSA members have reiterated their support of the initiative and heralded its value as a stand-alone structure.
Nonetheless, the potential rivalry exists between the two structures and as such there will likely be continued effort to distinguish IBSA from BRICS, and this may ultimately lead to more pronounced and visible shifts, and/or dynamics within IBSA.
Q: What have been IBSA’s best practices so far?
A: They include the development of joint technical committees involving the ministries of all three governments to explore technology sharing and joint projects, and the establishment of a fund to support lesser-developed countries within the three regions.
Q: What impact has the IBSA forum had on the livelihoods of people in its member countries?
A: Economically, IBSA provided a diversification opportunity for all three nations and bilateral trade grew. This cushioned them from a sure economic contraction had they remained solely focused on engaging with their historic trade partners in the North.
Q: Has the global crisis compromised IBSA's ability to achieve developmental objectives in target countries?
A: If anything, the global crisis has strengthened the resolve of the three nations to engage economically and created an opportunity to look into other South-South economic partnerships.
Q: Is the IBSA initiative an important example of South-South cooperation that could provide a blueprint for future South-South partnerships in support of development?
A: IBSA has definitely become a poster child for the benefits of South-South cooperation, and a leading forerunner for the voice of the South in global multilateral structures. However, the fact that IBSA is a tripartite initiative, aimed in part at also serving as a bridge between the regions that the three countries represent, means that it would be difficult to easily replicate IBSA with three other countries from each region.
Q: What is the key thing to take away from the IBSA initiative?
A: IBSA has encouraged and will continue to encourage Southern nations to see each other as stronger potential partners, and has definitely set the trend for future South-South partnerships in support of development.