What's New in the “New Deal” for Fragile States?
The December 2011 high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan, South Korea outlined a strategy to improve the way the international community works in fragile states in what was dubbed the "New Deal." Frustrated by the minimal impact and questionable sustainability of foreign assistance in countries like Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Timor-Leste, participants at this conference identified ten areas for improvement including: enhanced predictability of aid flows, a renewed focus on governance support, increased targeted support for capacity building and the adoption of coordinated country-led fragility assessments. While most of the issues identified by the “New Deal” are reminiscent of previous initiatives (such as the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action), the desire to coordinate country-led joint fragility assessments is relatively new. This initiative requires the broad array of players involved in providing post-conflict support to agree on mechanisms that would harmonize their goals and processes. Ostensibly, recipient countries will not be overwhelmed by myriad development strategies/projects, duplication and waste would be minimized, and aid effectiveness would be enhanced.
But would this work? In a June 2012 workshop organized by World Vision in New York, a participant likened the challenges facing aid coordination in fragile states to herding cats. In his view, putting cat food in the middle of the room would focus the cats on a single issue. There are two problems with this analogy. First, it assumes that all cats like the same cat food. Second, it presumes that the converging cats would not fight over the food. Just like herding cats, designing and implementing joint fragility frameworks requires careful thought and a keen understanding of the motivations/incentives of the players involved.
While initiatives to improve aid coordination are not new, the move to institutionalize joint fragility assessments breaks new ground by attempting to combine results from many disciplines and by providing a framework designed to unify varied stakeholders towards national peacebuilding. For such an initiative to be effective, a number of hurdles must be overcome. For example, all stakeholders must agree on a common standard for analysis. This will be difficult. Bilateral donors are beholden to their taxpayers and legislatures. This means that their timeframes and objectives are driven more by foreign policy imperatives than by need in the recipient country. Granted, the two need not be inconsistent --- but they often are. This is different from multilateral organizations, who must account to their boards. Although they have slightly longer engagement horizons, they are often held hostage to rather inflexible statutes. NGOs are generally issues-driven and define their engagement along those parameters. Then you have private foundations and institutions. Trying to harmonize is clearly Sisyphean.
Much more attention should be paid to alignment. Ensuring that the various stakeholders are aligned with nationally-owned priorities, and are complementary would be more attainable and practical. There will be some silos. As long as everyone knows what is in each silo, when specific action will be taken and how the silos are all connected we could expect more impactful and sustainable outcomes in fragile states. This approach will necessitate a new way of doing business in fragile states. First, institutional arrangements should be made to establish an internationally-recognized convening authority. Recent inertia in post-disaster Haiti demonstrates that the current system does not work. Second, more efforts should be expended to start building public sector institutional capacity from day one. This is crucial for effective alignment. The knee-jerk tendency to create parallel institutional capacity undermines the state and has not been proven to be significantly more effective or less wasteful or corrupt. There will be teething problems, but the longer term benefits could be immense. Third, alternative financing mechanisms should be explored. A model that ensures a steady income stream from a pooled source (or sources) would be optimal. This will improve reliability in both timing and amount.