Cedric de Coning’s article yesterday, “Can the New Deal Live Up To Its Promise to Significantly Shift Agency to the Local?” reminds us that the New Deal is meant to be a “game changer” in the way countries and organisations undertake development cooperation in fragile states. The New Deal calls for national ownership over the development process, involving “country solutions” to the challenges of peacebuilding and statebuilding. However, in fragile states, national ownership cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be built up, and this may require significant time and resources. It is not just about what countries and organisations do, but also how they go about doing it. The process counts.
As de Coning points out, a government – particularly one with weak and fragmented institutions – needs time to mobilise the required expertise to undertake many of the initiatives called for by the New Deal, like conducting fragility assessments, setting clear national priorities, and forging relevant indicators to measure progress against them. Through such initiatives, the government may be better able to not only “own” the development process, but also to make it more inclusive of local stakeholders, e.g. civil society, traditional leaders, local businesses, etc.
National ownership is predicated on such an inclusive process. Yet, it is also a complex undertaking that requires a minimum level of institutional capacity and resources. This is where international partners can help. To do so, they need to avoid the temptation to substitute local partners in favour of speeding up – or having undue influence over – the process on the ground. For example, the real value of a fragility assessment is not only to have a report for feeding into policy making and programme design. It is also about stimulating an on-going dialogue at several levels in a war-torn society, particularly as a way to help reset state-society relations.
De Coning rightly notes that the New Deal should not be seen as a blueprint involving a rigid sequencing of steps with each one being a “one-off exercise”. Rather, it describes a dynamic, iterative peacebuilding and statebuilding process in which a widening range of stakeholders have the opportunity to participate. Dialogue, participation and inclusiveness lie at the heart of the New Deal, given that “transitions” and “post-conflict reconstruction” are essentially a renegotiation of the social, political and even economic order in a country. This is no mean feat since it will inexorably affect a complex web of existing obligations, interests and agendas. There are bound to be “winners” and “losers”.
In fragile states, local politics can be volatile and international engagement may entail high risks. But the risk of non-engagement may be even higher. Therefore, international partners should be prepared for possible setbacks but find new ways to continue their engagement regardless. For donors, this requires political sensitivity, programme flexibility, and openness to striking up new partnerships. This may require some major reforms of donor policies and practices, including institutional incentives, for adapting programming and financing operations to the need for strengthening, and increasing the use of, country systems and forging new partnerships.
Compacts can help governments, donors, civil society and other partners to agree on core priorities and set up new partnerships. They can promote political dialogue, new partnerships, and pooling resources in a broader effort to build national ownership and ensure mutual accountability for taking forward agreed priorities.
In September 2013, donors pledged $2.7 billion in support of the Somali Compact. While not perfect, the Compact is a good start to a long conversation among national stakeholders (e.g. the government, regional authorities, civil society, and local businesses) on how they can best work together on shared goals such as a functioning federal state, and how international partners can best support their efforts in this direction. As Coning states, however, the Compact could be periodically reviewed and revised. This would require further dialogue and participation of local stakeholders. If fragility assessments are designed and managed as an on-going process, they can contribute significantly to the review and revision of the Somali Compact. Multi-level political dialogue among national stakeholders, and with international partners, is also necessary to improve the focus of the Compact over time. While this may involve some hard choices, it can also strengthen national ownership over it, and contribute to the renegotiation of the social and political order over time in Somalia. This is a tall order, but a necessary one.