Pertinah Nlukombe teaches at Ithemba Institute of Technology in Soweto. Photo: Ylva Sahlstrand, Sida.

From top-down to flexible cooperation


Sweden and many other donor countries focus too strongly on supranational unions and intergovernmental regional organisations in their development support to Africa. More resources should instead go to flexible constellations and networks involving regional actors from both the public and the private sector, as well as civil society. This advice is given by Professor Fredrik Söderbaum and his associates Hanna Skansholm and Therese Brolin.

In a new policy note, researchers Söderbaum, Skansholm and Brolin, argue that the Swedish government’s regional strategy for development cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa has a too strong emphasis on intergovernmental organisations, like the African Union (AU) and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs). 

“The Swedish strategies for development cooperation with Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa define their objectives in terms of development results. But for sub-Saharan Africa, the objectives are instead defined in terms of capacity-building for intergovernmental organisations. There seems to be a confusion of ends and means”, says Fredrik Söderbaum, Professor in Global Studies in Gothenburg and alumni researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute.

The intergovernmental regional organisations are often politicised, top-down and occasionally even manipulated to serve narrow regime interests at the expense of broader national and public interests. The authors’ advice to Swedish policy-makers is to replace the focus on intergovernmental organisations with a focus on long-term development and poverty reduction through more flexible regional development cooperation.

“Swedish development support must venture beyond the exaggerated focus on intergovernmental communities in favour of more multidimensional regional support involving actors from both the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, in more flexible and functional constellations and networks. They are often better placed to achieve results”, Söderbaum says.

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