Last week I had the chance to attend the g7+ high-level International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in Monrovia.
The g7+ (not to be confounded with the G7) is a group of fragile countries (including Liberia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and others) advocating the placement of peacebuilding and statebuilding at the core of international development.
g7+ countries are hoping that by presenting a unified voice, their special needs as fragile states would be better heard by the international community at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness scheduled for November 2011 in Busan, South Korea. The countries started the dialogue in Dili, Timor Leste, last April 2010 after frustrations from being sidelined at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) talks. The MDGs do not include security issues, which alienates many aid-receiving countries. That meeting gave birth to the Dili Declaration, a call to action that identifies seven peacebuilding and statebuilding goals for fragile states.
The dialogue last week was a fascinating and sometimes contentious engagement between g7+ nations and development partners, on how partners can support fragile states better, and how fragile states can ‘help partners help them’. Representatives from the civil society (including women’s groups) were also at the table.
The forum was chaired by two impressive women. From the g7+ side, Emilia Pires, Timor Leste’s outspoken Minister of Finance. And from the donors’ side, the firm Bella Bird, head of Governance and Fragile States Department, DfID
The President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, gave the closing speech.
On the outset, g7+ countries don’t have much in common – apart from being fragile and prone to renewed conflict. What they do share though is a set of common challenges when dealing with the aid industry. Here are some of them:
- It is important for development partners to act rapidly right after a peace agreement, but it is equally (if not more) important to sustain that support for sustainable peace. Balancing the tradeoff of rapid delivery and more sustainable delivery requires a mix of contextual, flexible, risk-tolerant aid instruments that meet country-specific priorities.
- Aid remains supply-driven, risk-averse, and fragmented. It still creates structures that are parallel to those of the public sector, distorting employment markets along the way.
- Recovery plans are often too comprehensive and ambitious, ill-adapted to the constraints of a disaster-recovering country.
- Humanitarian action is overused as a result of risk avoidance. Half of all humanitarian aid is way beyond life-saving. While it delivers, it does not build capacity, bypasses state structures, and is not cost-effective.
- Getting more aid through country systems produces development outcomes better aligned to national priorities but also builds the state’s legitimacy and its capacity for auditing, reporting, managing, etc. Sometimes we focus too much on donors risks rather than risks to citizens and to the country (after all, g7+ countries endure the significant risk of stop-and-go disbursement patterns).
- Pulled funding and multidonor trust funds have a better track record than other aid instruments in terms of alignment with national priorities. Transparent, predictable funding cannot be emphasized enough.
Development partners agreed that the gap between what is said and what is done needs to be reduced. But they also expressed that the demands of the g7+ will be hard to implement. They will require a shift in thinking, in skills, and in the way aid is delivery. Donors also face a tough audience at home where aid is criticized for perpetuating corruption and having little measurable impact.
Fragile countries are typically very aid-dependent. They often see their nationalist and developmental aspirations overshadowed by unequal power relations, leaving governments more preoccupied with being accountable to aid donors than to their own citizens.
If international aid is to be effective, g7+ countries must lead their own development agendas and define their own priorities.
In short, change is not going to be easy (as reviews of progress against the Paris declaration show) and it is up to developing countries to continue pushing for it.
Hopefully, by creating a collective vision, the g7+ will be able to harness a collective success at Busan.