South-South-North alliances

Patrick Bond


are two sentences in the concluding paragraph of Chomsky’s September 17 ZNet

Commentary (`Summits’);, in which he champions the Havana South-South Summit of

`G77′ country leaders that took place in April:


leaders pointed out that the `voices in the street’ in the West are repeating

what `the developing countries have been saying for many years in various

international fora with little success.’ Several suggested that `an alliance

was possible.’


must return with a mixed answer as to whether African leaders are listening to

`voices in the street in AFRICA,’ given a remarkable upsurge in activism

recently, but will wait until next month’s ZNet Commentary to do so, and today

just focus on `voices’ in the form of critical analysis.


not alone, drawing as he does upon interpretations by a prominent advocacy

group–Third World Network, based in Penang, Malaysia–which builds relations

between civil society and nationalist governments throughout the South.

Likewise, a longish list of signatories, including internationalist

organisations I admire enormously (like Ruckus and Global Exchange from San

Francisco), concluded after the Havana meeting that left-popular alliances with

Southern rulers are possible and desirable:


regard to the fundamental debt cancellation and fair trade issues, the G77

summit in Havana once again confirmed the accordance between the views of the

G77 and the new worldwide anti-globalization movement that protested

WTO/IMF/WB in Seattle and Washington. A cooperation between the two parties

therefore would seem appropriate in order to achieve our common goals in the

most efficient and speedy way. (Letter to Nigerian president and G77 leader

Olusegun Obasanjo, 16 June 2000, http://www.unitedpeoples.net/engelsk/univers



what if cooperation is not appropriate, under prevailing circumstances? Setting

aside the controversial Obasanjo for now, the most vociferous anti-IMF

campaigner from Third World officialdom remains Zimbabwe’s authoritarian ruler

Robert Mugabe. Earlier this month Mugabe inexplicably received generous applause

at a Harlem public meeting, and praise on the otherwise discerning Democracy Now

radio program produced at NY’s WBAI, notwithstanding the intensifying brutality

of his regime.


important footnote: last Friday, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change

headquarters in Harare was raided by cops, in the wake of a grenade attack the

previous week which blew out the office windows but fortunately injured no

one. Over the weekend, Zimbabwe police photocopied a truckload of MDC

documents and backed up the party’s computer hard- drives–i.e., its entire

database–all the better to intimidate MDC members in future. On Monday, five

Zimbabwe spies were reportedly fired because they had not predicted the

opposition’s capture of nearly half the parliamentary seats contested in the

June election. What democrat wants cooperation with Mugabe?)


best case for allying with Third World nationalist rulers against global elites

is probably the African National Congress government in Pretoria. But a month

ago, in a ZNet contribution called `Can Thabo Mbeki Change the World?,’ I

briefly summarised why even the most sophisticated backroom dealmaking by South

African president Mbeki, finance minister Trevor Manuel and trade minister Alec

Erwin is already flopping (http://www.marxmail.org/patrick_bond.htm).


who is chair of the World Bank/IMF board of governors, is giving the opening

speech at the organisations’ annual meetings in Prague next week, and will join

a debating panel with the superb Filippino political-economist Walden Bello,

Bank president James Wolfensohn, and host Vaclav Havel. Erwin is busy trying to

put a `G5′ of leaders from Nigeria, Egypt, Brazil and India, to restart the WTO

negotiations that were derailed in Seattle.


three South Africans are big guys, with a big agenda–but they are fundamentally

misguided and they will fail. The reform project suffers from inaccurate

analysis (e.g., attributing globalization mainly to technology), insufficient

strategies (minor reforms of the Bretton Woods Institutions and WTO),

incompetent tactics (generally reduced to begging and scraping), and

inappropriate alliances (e.g., SA’s coddling of bad Southern leaders like

Indonesia’s Suharto until the moment he fell and the Burmese junta still today,

and occasionally even US multinational corporations, while for all practical

purposes dissing the social movements).


want to explore this position further, by asserting the exhaustion of the Third

World nationalist, `talk- left, act-right’ project represented by the likes of

Mbeki, Mugabe or Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad (also a brutal anti-democrat,

even if his anti-IMF stance and imposition of capital controls attract our

admiration). Thus, I’ll argue, the real allies of Chomsky, Third World Network,

Ruckus and GX, Harlem African-Americans and any other progressives looking for a

global critique are not to be found in Pretoria, Harare, or Kuala Lumpur state

houses, in G77 meetings, or in any finance ministries I am familiar with. They

are, instead, in the poverty-stricken communities, streets, factories, mines,

fields, churches, hospices, clinics, creches, schools and homes.


to be fair, Chomsky explicitly confirms in closing his article, by observing

that South-South alliances worth supporting have indeed "been taking shape

at the grassroots level, an impressive development, rich in opportunity and

promise, and surely causing no little concern in high places."


Africa, there’s plenty going on to distinguish genuine grassroots allies from

the comprador `waBenzi’ (named after their favourite auto) now ruling all

Africa’s four-dozen nation-states. (And if I knew more about the rest of the

world I would generalise this beyond Africa.)


by looking more closely, it quickly emerges that what `the developing countries

have been saying for many years in various international fora with little

success’ is actually in contradiction to the messages from Seattle and DC, not

to mention many of the best grassroots programs in the South. Third World

nationalist rulers generally want IN to the global capitalist economy, on better

terms, particularly through reforms of the Bank/IMF/WTO. Like Erwin, many use

neoliberal rhetoric to this end, citing protectionist barriers in the north as

evidence of hypocrisy, while demanding (as does Erwin) the extinction of

`dinosaur industries’ like Northern agriculture and even manufacturing.


in contrast, the protesting masses are fed up with reforms and are trying to

shut the institutions down, in part so as to one day allow more space for

protecting potentially radical socio- economic programs from the vagaries,

volatilities, vulnerabilities and hostilities of world markets. The strategic

differences between the two camps are enormous–and make alliance-building

foolhardy and potentially fatal at this juncture.


examples document the need for putting the people first, and only later giving

credence to nationalist rulers, once grassroots power is more firmly

established. Consider the `Lusaka Declaration’ signed in May 1999 by the leading

African social movement and church organisations working on debt, (from Burkina

Faso, Lesotho, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, Swaziland,

Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe).


Lusaka Declaration captures the suspicion that many activists feel about their

nationalist leaders, for they view the demand for


cancellation of debt as part of a broader struggle to fundamentally transform

the current world economic order and transfer power from the political

leadership of the rich countries and the economic power of Transnational

Corporations an international financiers, and their instruments, notably the

International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation.

Likewise, these forces have instruments in the South, namely some of our own

technocratic, political and commercial elite who are in the tiny minority of

Africans who continue to promote the Washington Consensus.


built upon similar regional meetings in Accra, Lome and Gauteng in 1998-99, and

led to the launching of a mass-popular `Africa People’s Consensus’ drafting

process to transcend the development orthodoxy of the Washington Consensus and

the slightly reformed–but now collapsed–Post-Washington Consensus.


similar initiative in West Africa is known as the `Dakar 2000′ Coordinating

Committee, which is supported by groups like the Association des Femmes

Africaines pour la Recherche et le Développement as well as numerous West and

Central African social movements and NGOs (and on the Northern end of

solidarity, by the excellent Paris-based Association pour la Taxation des

Transactions financiFres pour l’Aide aux Cityens, and the ComitQ pour

l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde in Brussels). Dakar 2000 took on more

momentum in a Yaoundé conference in January this year, and by May the Dakar

Committee condemned the existing debt `relief’ schemes: `Like all previous

gestures, the initiatives taken in Cologne [G8 reforms in June 1999] and in

Cairo [African and EU elites in April 2000] do not offer any actual solution.’


need to stop coddling nationalists was also explicitly recognised last month in

Namibia, when cross-border radical activists and strategists condemned the

failure of the `old boys’ club’ in Southern African Development Community

countries (SADC). While SADC elites met and slapped each others’ backs in

Windhoek, a declaration was drafted by the Southern African Peoples Solidarity

Network, which includes the Alternative Information and Development Center,

Associacao para Desenvolvimento Rural de Angola, Council of Churches/Ecumenical

Institute (Namibia), Ecumencial Support Services (ESS-Zimbabwe), Food and Allied

Workers Union (FAWU-South Africa), Gender and Trade Network (Southern Africa),

Jubilee 2000 (chapters from Angola, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia), Ledikasyon pu

Travayer (Workers Education- Mauritius), Mineworkers Development Agency

(Lesotho), Mwelekeo wa NGO (Southern Africa), Namibian Food and Allied Workers

Union, South African NGO Coalition, Swaziland Youth Congress and the Zimbabwe

Coalition on Debt and Development. Their `Declaration to the Governmental Summit

of the Southern African Development Community’ resolved that the governments of

our countries 

  • have

    for long mainly engaged in rhetorical declarations about national

    development, and development cooperation and regional integration, with few

    effective achievements;   

  • are

    mainly concerned with preserving and promoting their own individual and

    group status, power and privileges, and their personal and aspirant-class

    appropriation of our nations’ resources; and, for these reasons, are

    frequently engaged in divisive competition and even dangerous conflicts

    amongst themselves at the expense of the interests of the people at national

    and regional levels;   

  • are,

    at the same time, committed to supporting and defending each other whenever

    the interests and power of the ruling elites come into conflict with the

    human rights, and the democratic and development aspirations of their own


  • and

    are using SADC as a self-serving `old boys’ club’ for such mutual support;

    and   are increasingly responsive and subordinate to external

    inducements and pressures from governmental agencies in the richest

    industrialised countries, and their global corporations, banks and other

    financial organisations, and the `multilateral’ institutions dominated and

    used by them.


Network went on to demand that 

  • the

    elites desist from their collaboration and collusion with national and

    international political and economic forces and neo-liberal agencies,

    particularly the IMF and World Bank, to turn SADC into an `open region’ of

    free trade, free capital movements and investment rights, to the benefit of

    international traders, transnational corporations and financial

    speculators–this runs counter to the potential for full and effective,

    internally-generated and rooted national and regional development… Whether

    or not our governments accept and act on the above vitally important

    demands, we as members of people’s organisations from the whole of Southern

    Africa will continue to pursue these aims and deepen our work in and with

    existing and emerging mass movements to challenge and change our

    governments’ policies and strategies; and–if that fails–to change our

    governments. (http://www.aidc.org.za –also, don’t miss the Jubilee South

    site hosted by my AIDC friends.)


ZNet readers, these are the declarations and summits which deserve a bit more

publicity and consideration–at the very least, prior to fragile alliance bids

with the G77, G24, NonAligned Movement, G5 and whatever other configuration of

Southern elites comes together in Prague next week to talk-left/act-right.


month I’ll look beyond Seattle, Washington, London, Melbourne and Prague, to the

dozens of other sites of anti-neoliberal rebellion, to show that Our Team is not

merely doing armchair resolution-writing, but is hitting the streets with more

people and more militancy than you may have guessed.) 


Bond (pbond@wn.apc.org)

University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development

Management, South Africa



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