Against the Odds : Talking Your Way Out of Conflict and Fragility?

Today’s post from Erwin van Veen of the OECD-DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility is the first of several we’ll publishing in connection with the Fourth High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan on 29 November- 1 December

Violent conflict wastes lives and sets development into reverse. Past investment is reduced to rubble and institutions are destroyed that took decades to build. Violence also casts a long shadow over the future. Helping countries to consolidate peace and build effective and legitimate states is essential to reduce these devastating effects and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Sadly, current ways of working in situations of conflict and fragility are ineffective and, despite significant investment, the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, results are limited.  Why is that?

Three main problems prevent progress. First, in their engagement, neither international nor national actors focus rigorously on key peace- and statebuilding goals. Second, national actors are often not given a full role and responsibility to lead their own transitions out of fragility. Finally, domestic and foreign resources are frequently mobilized in ways that do not effectively strengthen trust and increase capacities, which are critical to building peaceful states.

The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (ID) is a high-level conversation between the major donors, international development organizations (like the United Nations and World Bank) and around 15 states in situations of conflict and fragility (dubbed the “g7+”). Its aim is to identify, agree on and deliver three changes that respond to these problems:

  • Agree and use five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) to guide work in fragile states. These goals represent the key enablers for managing conflict and transiting out of fragility. They are, first of all, to foster inclusive political settlements. Second, to establish security for people. Third, to address injustices as possible and to increase people’s access to justice. Fourth, to generate employment and improve livelihoods. Fifth, to manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair service delivery.
  • Ensure that transitions out of fragility are led by national authorities through country compacts, country-led fragility assessments, national plans and inclusive political dialogue.
  • Provide aid and use domestic resources more effectively by increasing transparency, predictability of funding, tolerance to risks and use of country systems.

Effectively delivering these three changes requires overcoming major challenges. To start with, the PSGs will have to be endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly if they are to guide political focus, action and resources globally. Yet, the 2010 MDG review summit demonstrated that resistance in the UN against recognizing violence and insecurity as critical barriers to development is alive and well. Apart from almost dismissing the daily needs and struggles of millions of people for basic safety and justice, this also means that a strong political effort is required to realize the prize of UN engagement.

Country-led transitions out of fragility will work well where national authorities are legitimate, effective and functional. Unfortunately, they often aren’t. So, it will matter how these transitions are led and how priorities are established. The challenge for the g7+ is to convince their people and, through the International Dialogue international partners, that they can lead in a reasonably inclusive and increasingly legitimate manner. Trust can be built by establishing clear processes for setting priorities, agreeing early on confidence-building measures that are hard to reverse, enabling engagement and monitoring by civil society and peer review by fellow g7+ countries.

Providing aid and using domestic resources more effectively faces a double challenge. Donors and international organizations need to start by meeting their unfulfilled commitments to reduce aid volatility and improve the quality of their engagement. Failure to deliver this risks a serious loss of credibility. National authorities need to focus domestic resources more in line with PSG priorities and be willing to take innovative, exceptional and temporary measures to quickly raise the quality of their administration and their fiduciary capabilities to manage money.

The International Dialogue will agree an agenda for change at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. Its true test will lie in continuing the dialogue to deliver its “new deal”.

Useful links

OECD work on peacebuilding, statebuilding and security

Nobel Peace Prize: Fighting for the victims

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Emilia Pires, Timor Leste Minister of Finance and co-chair of the International Dialogue in Monrovia

I saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-laureate of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Liberia’s capital Monrovia earlier in the year at this conference on peacebuilding and statebuilding. She shares the prize with another Liberian, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni journalist Tawakul Karman.

The Nobel committee honoured them in recognition of what they’ve done of course, but also to draw attention to the place of women more generally in conflict and post-conflict situations. Talking to women at the Monrovia conference, I understood the reality behind the jargon I at least tended to dismiss in development reports about the need for “gender mainstreaming”.

What that means is this for instance. Your husband or son goes off, maybe for years, to fight. When he comes back, he’s psychotic, ready to kill the neighbours, or even you or the children, over some trivial disagreement.  He might have become an alcoholic or a drug addict.  And it’s up to you to cope. No help from the numerous programmes for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration for former combatants.

And while the men were off fighting, women looked after not only their own homes and families, but the refugees as well.  In the case of Liberia, that meant not only people fleeing the Liberian civil war, but thousands from neighbouring countries too. Again, with little or no help.

The Nobel prize draws attention to the fact that women and girls are often the main victims of war. At the start of the year, The Economist published a table showing the number of women raped during conflicts, including over 500,000 in Rwanda in 1994 and 20,000 in Bosnia in 1992-95. These figures are probably underestimates, given the lack of means to collect data and the shame and blame attached to being raped. You may remember the case of the Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

Rape and violence against women and girls aren’t the only problems peacebuilding has to tackle. Writing in The Guardian, OECD’s Donata Garrasi, Co-ordinator of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, put it like this.

Imagine your children cannot go to school because of fear of being attacked and that the only people who’ll protect you from an armed gang are the members of another armed gang.

Imagine living in a country with a wealth of natural resources, but you are poor and unemployed.

Imagine most teachers, doctors, judges have fled the country.

Imagine your country receives lots of international assistance, but results are nowhere to be seen.

The Monrovia conference was a step towards finding the answers. Closing that meeting, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pointed out that: “The challenges are huge, but they’re not bigger than the challenges we’ve faced in the past”.

Useful links

International engagement in fragile states: can’t we do better?

OECD work on conflict and fragility

OECD work on gender


Goodbye conflict, welcome development?

Today’s post is contributed by Donata Garrasi of the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate and Co-ordinator of the International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

Have the populations of fragile states and countries affected by conflict benefited from the money, effort and time devoted to peacebuilding and statebuilding?

The most reassuring finding from the 2010 Human Security Report is that high-intensity wars, those that kill at least 1000 people a year, have declined by 78% since 1988, while long-term trends indicate reductions in the risks of both international and civil wars (although Libya, Yemen and Syria show that these risks are still significant).

The World Bank’s latest World Development Report agrees that although war is less of a problem now than in the 20th century, insecurity has become a primary development challenge. One-and-a-half billion people live in areas affected by fragility, conflict, or large-scale, organised criminal violence and no low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.

New threats—organised crime and trafficking, civil unrest due to global economic shocks, terrorism—have supplemented wars.

So what can be done to say “goodbye conflict, welcome development” as the slogan of the g7+ group of fragile countries hopes?

The second global meeting of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding being held in Monrovia, Liberia on 15-16 June gives conflict-affected states a common voice in their discussions with international partners, and for the first time, these states themselves will make commitments on the concrete steps they’ll take to change things.

Two outcomes are targeted. First, a new agreement on peacebuilding and statebuilding priorities is required. Second, a commitment on how to realise these is needed.

Security, justice, and jobs are priorities for conflict-affected communities. Without security and the assurance that people can go about their daily lives in safety, the rest is meaningless.

People on the ground can all tell stories about money being spent on a bridge they cannot even cross for fear of being attacked.

For many young men, joining an armed group may be the most attractive job available, or the only one, if they want to feed their family. A Somali pirate for instance can earn from $12,000 to $150,000 from a successful hijack according to a report in the Financial Times, compared with $500 a year for the average citizen.

It’s not that these countries are inherently poor, but too often wealth from natural resources or other activities benefits only a few people, and there are also problems with how international assistance is provided.

The OECD reports that 30% of Official Development Assistance goes to fragile and conflict-affected countries, but what does this mean in practice?

Bella Bird, co-chair of the International Dialogue, points out that “International partners tend to expect too much too soon from still very weak national institutions; take a short-term perspective; avoid risk; and apply complex systems. At the same time, national governments in fragile countries have often tended to promise too much to their constituents or exclude large parts of society, which can fuel dissatisfaction and lead to further unrest”.

The result can be that trust in national institutions is so low that donors set up parallel systems to deliver programmes, but although “high risk leads to high return” as Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance from Timor Leste reminds international partners in her country, donors find it hard to justify to their taxpayers investing in high-risk environments.

In Monrovia, participants will be looking for innovation, for changing the rules of the game of “how business is done in fragile countries”.

Conflict affected states themselves know what works best and the best way of analysing and tackling problems. Even though historical, economic, cultural and political situations vary widely, they can learn from each other.

The most fruitful dialogue will be among them, and leadership has to come from within affected countries and communities.

With leadership comes responsibility. Participants will be urged to make binding, verifiable commitments on practical steps to achieving common goals.

The first of these has to be to accept dialogue. Dialogue among national actors to identify priorities to build peace and develop a vision on how to move “from fragility to stability”.

Dialogue between national and international partners to reach a consensus on what needs to be done in fragile and conflict affected contexts to help end the cycle of violence.

To begin making peace, you don’t need to forgive and you almost certainly won’t forget the injustices that led to conflict, but you do need to make a commitment, and be realistic about the time the whole process will take.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

Does peacebuilding bring peace?

How much do you think it would cost to achieve the Millennium Development Goals? Among other things, that would mean cutting extreme poverty by half in 2015 compared with 1990, achieving universal primary education, and cutting the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters.

In 2002, the World Bank came up with a figure of an extra $40-$60 billion a year in foreign aid. Let’s assume that prices have doubled since then, and it would now cost $120 billion.

That’s a gigantic sum of money, but it’s peanuts compared to a figure in the 2011 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI): military expenditure in 2010 increased by 1.3% in real terms to reach $1630 billion. The top three arms dealers each had sales of around $33 billion.

SIPRI gives some encouraging figures, noting that two peace operations closed in 2010, making it the second consecutive year in which the total number of operations fell.

However, that still leaves 52 multilateral peace operations and the total number of personnel deployed increased by 20% between 2009 and 2010, to reach 262 842, mainly due to the increase in NATO troops in Afghanistan from 84,146 in 2009 to 131,730 in 2010.

That too is expensive. A report by the US Congressional Research Service states that between 2009 and 2010, average Department of Defense spending for Afghanistan alone grew from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month (Afghanistan’s GDP in 2010 was $15.6 billion at the official exchange rate).

Is all this multilateral peacekeeping money well spent? SIRPI seems to have some doubts, arguing that operations are “increasingly contested by host countries and challenged in their efficacy by a combination of overstretch and weak political support”.

Next week, the second global meeting of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding being held in Monrovia, Liberia will discuss these issues and take a hard look at the role of governments, aid donors and civil society in building sustainable peace and developing capable and accountable states.

We’ll be covering the meeting for Insights blog, and hoping to get answers to three questions:

Have the populations of fragile states and countries affected by conflict benefited from the money, effort and time devoted to peacebuilding and statebuilding these past years?

Are they any nearer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals?

What lessons can these states and the international community as a whole learn from recent experiences, both positive and negative?

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility