Prioritizing Innovative Governance Partnerships
*This essay is one of six included in the August 3-4, 2011 eSeminar, Revisiting Strategies for Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Assessing the Findings of the 2011 World Development Report
Innovative Governance Partnerships, Not Institution Building Are the Key to Helping Countries out of Conflict
Wars are fought over political issues, not institutional ones. The 2011 World Development Report’s focus on institution-building misses the point in conflict countries by offering technical solutions to primarily political problems. The report supports the World Bank’s central modus operandi – assisting States at a technical level. Its central message that legitimate government institutions need to be strengthened, in order to prevent conflict, rests on the assumption that the State in question is at least moving toward becoming a Weberian bureaucracy, and its institutions are beginning to protect the country’s citizenry. This was an appropriate assumption for the Bank to make in the post-World War II environment in which it was founded, when the United States and its allies provided strong political backing at the highest levels for the reconstruction of Europe and the linking of its citizenry to the State through democratic government.In many conflict-prone countries today, the situation differs starkly. From Sudan to Cambodia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the State has become a vehicle for private enrichment and predation against its population, instead of protecting its people against threats. In such cases, government officials and military officers use the State for their own personal benefit, with few to no checks and balances in place to ensure they would be prosecuted for theft of State resources or war crimes against their own populations. In eastern Congo, for example, Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes including massacring 800 people at a time and in control of a large illicit minerals smuggling operation, is deputy commander of a major internationally-backed government military operation. Ntaganda and similar army and police officers have senior backers within the State, and human rights groups within Congo cite that the personal predation has worsened since Congo’s last election.
In such cases, straightforward support to the government – “strengthening legitimate institutions to provide citizen security, justice, and jobs” – is the wrong solution. The individuals in control of these shell agencies severely manipulate the institutions for their own ends, misallocating donor funds and further strengthening their power vis-à-vis groups or leaders that threaten them – freqently popular movements, human rights NGOs, or democratic leaders. This has occurred for years in the fragile, post-war state of Cambodia. Donors continue to endorse the Hun Sen regime’s proposals and increase aid despite the government’s lack of follow-through on prosecuting corrupt officials, for example those involved in a multi-million dollar illegal logging business. In these and similar situations, donor agencies frequently gloss over accountability mechanisms, focusing instead on a disbursement-only approach to get more aid out to developing countries and meet donor targets. This approach only exacerbates conflict and corruption.
Real-world solutions exist for such situtations but require innovation and senior political muscle. Two examples that can have an impact on the calculations of greed-driven leaders within fractured states are mixed international-local courts that prosecute corruption and/or war crimes cases or joint certification systems for resources that have independent monitoring. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which involved both local and international judges, is one successful instance in which the individuals most responsible for war and economic crimes were brought to justice. A similar initiative is being piloted in the DRC today but on a lower level. On the natural resources side, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has helped governance reform in Nigeria, Azerbaijan, and provided a window for reform in Equatorial Guinea.
Such initiatives require not only careful crafting so that a nation’s sovereignty is not infringed upon but also senior political backing and regular attention from politically relevant donor countries, so that the courts do not turn into witchhunt trials for local politicians trying to snuff out their enemies. The appointment of senior-level special envoys from donors are one way of accomplishing this, for instance the late Richard Holbrooke for Afghanistan/Pakistan or Special Court prosecutor David Crane, who had the ear of the Bush administration on West Africa. Similarly, the Obama administration should today appoint a high-level envoy to the Great Lakes of Africa region, in order to spur the mixed courts and conflict minerals certification initiatives.
The WDR gives several constructive recommendations, including increasing donor flexibility and offering better approaches in delivering post-conflict aid to deliver quicker results for war-weary populations. But if the Bank and its board member donor countries do not learn the lessons of accountability and begin to focus on mixed governance partnerships, we will continue to pour money into war-torn countries and even worsen the problems we came to solve.
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