Retroliberalism Prashad (2012)’s differentiation between Southern politics ‘from

Retroliberalism and the rise of the
South ‘from above’

This
section will utilise Murray and Overton (2016)’s concept of ‘retroliberalism’
and Vijay Prashad (2012)’s differentiation between Southern politics ‘from
above’ versus ‘from below’ to posit a frame of reference within which to look
at the apparent destabilisation of the North–South model and the enthusiastic
portrayal of South–South relationships as a superior alternative for
development cooperation mechanisms.

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Murray
and Overton (2016) coined the term ‘retroliberalism’ to describe an approach to
aid and development that has evolved in response to the reconfigurations of
global economy and governance mentioned in the Introduction of this paper, to the
reverberations of the global financial collapse of the late 2000s, and to the
consolidation of the ‘beyond aid’ agenda (Janus, Klingebiel & Paulo 2015)
which posits, among other things, that aid in isolation cannot work well enough
and that private investment is needed for development to occur. This variant
retains the key principles of neoliberalism while fusing elements of classical
liberalism and the modernisation doctrine. In short, the retroliberal regime
places a greater emphasis on economic growth, wealth creation and enhancing
industrial productivity rather than on need and deprivation per se, with greater integration between
foreign aid and other policy areas such as trade and investment, a more
directive state, and growing visibility for the private sector. Critically,
this approach is marked by more “articulation of donor self-interest in aid” (Murray
& Overton 2016, p. 431) which occurs in step with a downgrading of poverty
alleviation as a guiding principle. Such a shift has been couched under the
breezy banner of “shared prosperity” (Murray & Overton 2016, p. 431), which
in effect serves to empower certain agents to co-opt development efforts for
the purposes of accelerating their own accumulation, to the detriment of large
sections of the population.

Extending
this discussion to the realm of SSDC, the catchphrase of “shared prosperity”
(Murray & Overton 2016, p. 431) clearly echoes the narrative of equality
and mutuality that permeates the rhetoric surrounding South–South ties. As
Prashad (2012) explains, assertions of win-win outcomes are too often grounded
in a one-dimensional construction of the ‘national interest’ of all parties
involved, which obfuscates not only internal injustices and disputes ‘from
below’ but also the contentious and evolving conceptualisation of ‘development’,
while also side-lining concerns with equity between cooperation partners in
favour of the growth imperative. As it applies to my case study which will be
explored on the next section of this paper, this means to say that while ‘modernising’
agriculture will bring benefits to some, it will also impose (significant)
costs on others, particularly on small farmers and the very poorest. Even so, the
uneven social and economic impacts are usually swept under the very ornate rug
of ‘Third World solidarity’, whereby the most powerful Southern players are
singled out as “locomotives of the South” (Prashad 2012, p. 5) and endorsed as
official interpreters of the long-standing struggles of the have-nots seeking
liberation from Western imperialism and dominance. As one might suspect,
however, the reality is not as rosy, and SSDC should neither be romanticized nor
seen as a panacea. This insight links very directly to Prashad (2012)’s idea
that the South’s “condition of abject economic and political servitude” (p. 12)
was articulated by the North and reinforced by connivant policymakers and the
upper classes in the Third World: in other words, the ‘haves’ of the South for
whom the neoliberal promise holds practical use. In this respect, the author
distinguishes between a South that operates ‘from below’, i.e. the position of
ordinary taxpayers, grassroots social movements and the most marginalised
sections within Southern economies, and Southern politics ‘from above’, i.e.
the position of the wealthy, corporate elites and governmental bodies.

 

3. ProSAVANA

In
order to substantiate the claim that Brazil’s South–South development
cooperation model is merely an instantiation of retroliberalism and therefore
does not seek to overturn the existing aid structures, this section will
examine the extent to which the Brazilian cooperation practices in the
Mozambican agricultural sector diverge from the noble rhetoric that elites
involved in the programme’s formulation and implementation claim to endorse.
For the purpose of this investigation, I have relied on:

i)          Document analysis: review of
governmental reports from the websites of the Brazilian Presidency and the
Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE); media and press releases from websites
of ProSAVANA, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), the
Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), the technical advisory unit Fundação
Getulio Vargas (FGV Projetos), the Japan International Cooperation Agency
(JICA), the Government of the Republic of Mozambique (GRM), and Mozambique’s
National Union of Peasants (UNAC) press; leaked statements of self-advocates
and scholarly articles; and

ii)         Scrutinisation of secondary literature,
namely transcripts of interviews collected by previous academic research with
Brazilian, Japanese and Mozambican subjects involved in the programme at some
capacity.

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