In the past few decades, many African countries have engaged in so-called South-South Cooperation (SSC) with major powers like China and India.
While China highlights its impressive achievements in lifting over half a billion people out of poverty within a couple of decades, India showcases the successes of its Green Revolution and advances in information and communication technology (ICT) and affordable healthcare under the tagline ‘First World Health Care at Third World Prices’. Both countries showcase their ability to develop Triple A technology (affordable, available, adaptable), and contrast these to Western models.
The goal is to promote the idea that Africa can benefit more from SSC given that both China and India have an established track record of solving developmental challenges.
Many scholars have critically assessed the various modalities of SSC policy, which takes three main (and often blurred and blended) forms: development cooperation through technical assistance and the extension of concessional lines of credit; foreign direct investment and trade aimed at securing access to oil and other natural resources and providing export subsidy for commercial goods; and diplomacy through high-profile events such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the India Africa Forum Summits (IAFS) aimed at improving international reputation and securing African support for Chinese and Indian businesses.
While traditional (neo-) realist scholars have explained state capacity in relation to military strength and economic power, others have suggested that SSC is an important “soft power” strategy for China and India as they pursue larger strategic and commercial ambitions.
Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who coined the term, distinguishes “soft power”—which is “neither the carrot nor the stick”, but the ability to co-opt other States and “to obtain preferred outcomes through attraction”—from “hard power” involving coercion and payment.
Soft power, thus defined entails non-coercive tools of foreign policy and co-optive power aimed at getting “others to want what you want” and the “ability to attract people to our side without coercion”.
Nye suggests that a country’s soft power depends on three main sources: a culture attractive to others, political values, and foreign policy that exhibits legitimacy and moral authority. The SSC framework enables both China and India to engage with African countries using phrases such as “true friend”, “equal partner”, “mutual benefit” and “mutual respect”.
In doing so, they showcase their long history, culture (e.g. cinema, cuisine, yoga) and generosity (humanitarian assistance).
Africa is attracting renewed global interest and rivalry among major world powers. Indeed, some even claim that there is a “new scramble for Africa” involving not just China and India but also new and emerging powers who are all vying for the continent’s attention.
The key question for me is how African countries can use this growing interest to their advantage.