Happy 164th Independence Day, Liberia!

Liberia is the only country in the world to have gained its independence not from a colonial power, but from an NGO. Imagine the implications this has in terms of statebuilding?”
Hon. Amara Konneh, Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs

After claiming independence from the American Colonization Society in 1847, it sometimes seems that modern Liberia is battling to re-claim its independence from being an “NGO Republic”.
During the war’s 14 years, in the absence of a strong legitimate central government to report to, international NGOs were the ones calling the shots; their emergency relief services much needed by a population fleeing their burning villages and pillaged homes. Continue reading

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Favorite Quotes from the International Dialogue Forum

A collection of remarks made by participants at last week’s high-level International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding that I found to be thought-provoking.
See previous post for what the Dialogue is all about.

Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance, Timor Leste:

  • In response to donors’ concerns about corruption: If we put in place all the auditing measures recommended by donors, we won’t even be able to spend the money that’s given to us. That’s what’s happening in Afghanistan today. We must first relax the rules, to let the money flow into the economy.
    Donors should be a little more patient with us, and give us time to learn things step by step. First, learn how to spend the money. Second, learn how to spend it well. Third, link our budget to performance. Speaking of performance budgeting – I just found out that most developed countries don’t even have that!
  • To development partners: You don’t trust us! What happens if we stop being fragile? Does it mean you guys lose your jobs? Isn’t there a conflict of interest here? I don’t blame you – I, too, was a consultant one day.
  • In response to concerns that the expression “fragile states” is stigmatizing: I like the word fragile. Fragility is beautiful; it is real. My Ministry of Finance is fragile. That’s why I’m asking you to take good care of it. Don’t put too much pressure on it, or it will break. Like this glass. (holding up a glass of water)

Brian Atwood, Chair, OECD Development Assistance Committee, and former USAID Administrator:

Brian Atwood and Bella Bird

  • Developing countries played the aid game for a very long time, serving donors very well – without always serving their populations. This created dependency. Today, developing countries have stopped playing the aid game, insisting that donors align their strategies to their priorities. Development has changed, but it has not changed enough. You must insist that you want to take control of your own destiny. Tell the world what you need. Progress needs to be measured against what you need to achieve.
  • We often ignore the needs of fragile states until they become news stories. And aid usually ends as soon as the country leaves the front-page. It doesn’t do enough to create a transition to development stages. We leave too soon, before helping solve the problems that created conflict in the first place.
  • The donors sitting in this room know that what you are asking for is right. What they don’t know is whether they can generate political will at home to do what is right. You need to help them. When you can speak as one nation it is difficult to hear you. But when you speak collectively you are and will be heard. I can’t promise you every donor will change one day to the next. But what you are asking is not only realistic; it is also in the interest of every nation on the face of this earth. Peer pressure will produce political will. Speak collectively on behalf of your nations. We will listen – eventually.

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Why the MDGs are still useful

Last week was the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit. Back in 2000, the international community agreed to end hunger, send more kids to school, keep mothers and their babies healthy, and stop HIV/AIDS from becoming a death sentence – all by 2015.  We now know that, at the due date, most countries will have failed to meet most of these goals. But those who focus on our failure to reach the targeted numbers are missing the point.

Many complain that the MDGs are just one-size-fits-all goals that do not even tell us how to achieve them. But that is precisely what is significant about them. The very fact that 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations succeeded in agreeing on a set of goals to make the world a better place for the most vulnerable is a historic achievement in its own right.

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