An article by Tracy Mamoun, Digital Communications Officer at Southern Voice.

As COVID-19 became a pandemic, the universal nature of the crisis put the focus on inequalities within countries. With this focus shifting towards recovery, growing gaps between countries need to become a priority. Otherwise, we could enable long-lasting impacts on global governance and the multilateral system.

A look at local challenges

As early as March 2020, at Southern Voice, we began compiling and organising the research our 59-member think tanks were conducting in response to the pandemic’s challenges. The common challenges we observed after two years of COVID-19 won’t be much of a surprise.

Intra-country disparities were exacerbated while new pockets of vulnerability emergedInformal workers, whose activities were limited by movement restrictions, largely fell between the cracks of social protection structures. Many women whose jobs had not already been cut had to leave the workforce to look after the household and its various dependents. Migrants and their families faced significant hardship as their status gave them little overall protection, whether sanitary or economic. Yet, while these common trends are essential to note, it is even more critical to understand that:

1) exclusion, whether it is defined along racial, gendered, sexual, religious, geographic, or other lines, looks different wherever it exists and

2) those excluded generally lacked access to a multitude of fundamental rights (justice, healthcare, education, decent work opportunities, social protection, etc.) that significantly impacted their ability to cope with the crisis.

Across the Global South, rapid digitalisation created two separate – and unequal – tracks. While the 4th Industrial Revolution has been underway for some time, movement restrictions imposed to control the spread of the virus precipitated the transition of many activities into the digital space. This particularly affected the spheres of work and education. In both cases, disparities in IT infrastructure, electrical access, access to devices, affordability of internet rates and more meant that while one segment of the population was able to carry on with some relative, albeit altered, normalcy, the other stayed behind, incurring learning, financial, and psychosocial losses. As it is, the situation leaves many developing countries facing the grave threat of an increasingly unequal future.

Global crisis, global response?

Perhaps even more harshly than it revealed internal disparities, the pandemic highlighted an uneven capacity to face crises. This disparity was particularly striking in the “every country for itself” race to get the vaccine. It left disadvantaged economies of the Global South grappling for doses of any available option while wealthier nations stockpiled more than they needed.

Our network member Prof. Robert Nantchouang (Nkafu Policy Institute, Cameroun), recently stressed that “the pandemic has exposed the illusion of strong North-South cooperation in the area of global development.” As we recover from the crisis with the aim to #BuildBackBetter, we, therefore, both have an obligation and opportunity to rethink our multilateral system. But how do we do that?

Strategising “better”

  1. Evidence revealed that local action often efficiently addressed local challenges. While balancing globalisation and sovereignty remains a test across all spheres of development, we believe that responsibility for the design and implementation of solutions to local challenges should remain with the State. With this view, a priority for the international community may be enabling continuity of governance, from the global to local level, through effective and flexible systems.
  2. As part of a new social contract, several global systemic concerns, many of which were highlighted further by the crisis, need to be tackled together as a global community. These include global supply chains, migration patterns and climate action. The priority there becomes ensuring equitable global governance so that global solutions to global problems may respond to the various challenges of different local contexts – and not exacerbate an already too-unevenly distributed burden.
  3. Additionally, to enable a strong, balanced international cooperation system, efforts should support regional integration – which is, for example, on top of the agenda for the African continent as it heads towards its recovery.

At a recent Southern Voice research workshop, one participant suggested that international development partners focus further on supporting the implementation, and evaluation, of locally-run pilot programmes based on local knowledge. Our think tanks’ work, compiled these past two years, is a testament to the breadth of context-sensitive, efficient solutions that emerged in the face of the crisis.

In all this, we also see an essential role for our development partners in the Global North. Much investment is still needed to support, both financially and in terms of capacity building, the ability of local-to-regional-level actors across the Global South to effectively determine their own paths to a sustainable tomorrow. The three points articulated above map out some avenues for such an investment in our shared future.

Click here to access the article on the Southern Voice website.