TIES THAT BIND OP-ED
Colombian vice-president’s visit to South Africa spotlights the south-south agenda
As Francia Márquez begins her intensive three-day visit, we look at three areas that point to how a new phase of South-South cooperation could benefit both countries.
In August 2022, Francia Márquez became the first Afro-Colombian vice-president in the South American country and has openly advocated for a shift in international relations, with an emphasis on building bridges with African countries. She arrived in South Africa on Thursday night for an intensive three-day visit and will be visiting Kenya and Ethiopia thereafter.
The tour has been described as “a strategic decision that begins to settle a historical flaw in Colombian foreign policy”. For the first time, a Colombian vice-president is visiting the African continent in pursuit of building new commercial and diplomatic relationships.
The potential for bilateral cooperation between the two countries is largely untapped and a visit at this level creates the environment for the creation of a new South-South agenda. In addition to a more flexible visa regulatory framework and better diplomatic representation in both countries (the closest South African embassy is still only in Venezuela), there are three areas that point to how a new phase of South-South cooperation could benefit both countries.
The opportunity for cultural exchange is exciting and official discussions are expected to address higher education, sports, arts and culture. The topic of peace and reconciliation is not new, but it is likely to take centre stage during this trip. Colombia’s presidency has an agenda of an “absolute peace” following its historic peace accords that recently brought an end to one of the world’s longest-running civil conflicts.
Similarly, existing efforts to facilitate cultural exchange could be amplified. This month, MUICA, an African film festival, tours five Colombian cities. The festival punctuates a new agenda showcasing the dynamic African film industry to new audiences that have not engaged with the continent before.
The visit to South Africa includes some official government meetings as well as a gathering with business leaders to explore commercial opportunities. There are already some interesting links in place. In addition to Colombian coffee and South African rooibos tea being popular in both countries; it might surprise you to hear that a popular sweet in South Africa, Pin Pop, is manufactured by a Colombian company, which after realising its commercial success, decided to build a factory in Johannesburg. Similarly, in 2005, the then South African SABMiller acquired Colombia’s Bavaria, part of South America’s largest brewer.
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Bearing in mind the current import barriers to commodities like South African wine or Colombian textiles, new conversations about how some of the blockages could be addressed is critical to opening up these markets. Likewise the role of tourism in both countries can become a pillar for the relationship to deepen, for exchange and for new destinations to be promoted.
The parallels of the socioeconomic and political realities create a foundation for exchange at the city level. We have written about Bogota’s network of fresh produce markets in public spaces run by local government, and how it can show a different way of thinking about the urban food system in South African cities.
On the other hand, Bogota has a mountain range that is part of the city but rarely visited because it is not safe or clearly demarcated; and existing efforts to change that could be meaningfully supported and strengthened by looking at how people in South Africa use and look after natural assets in cities.
Experiments have taken place – some with large capital investments such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and others less costly but equally ambitious like Cape Town’s Open Streets, which was inspired by Bogota’s Ciclovia. They have not been a panacea, but have certainly drawn valuable lessons, and as both countries continue to rapidly urbanise, this kind of intelligence could be gathered and shared in ways that will benefit both countries as well as other cities across the Global South.
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Overall, there is an opportunity to create a new narrative that challenges public perception and the belief that the best solutions come from the Global North. A visit like this is the first step in building common ground and acknowledging the mutual benefit in building a relationship and learning from similar contexts. Nevertheless, as in all successful relationships, building trust will require time and continuous engagement. The path is long, but many of us are standing ready to support and contribute to those efforts. DM/MC
Marcela Guerrero Casas and Dustin Kramer are co-founders of Local South. Located between Cape Town and Bogotá, they work across some of the central and common issues facing African and Latin American cities today, while using dynamic and locally driven approaches that help build bridges across the Global South.