This week’s high level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, could see a radical and welcome shift in the approach to aid for fragile and conflict-affected states, establishing peace as a key foundation for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. But after Busan, will the agenda be defined in a way that ensures ordinary people enjoy greater security and more peace, asks Larry Attree?
Over 1.5 billion people live in states affected by conflict and fragility. These states are also the ones furthest from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In recognition of this, ‘A New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’ will be unveiled and endorsed at next week’s international aid summit. This New Deal will affirm agreement on a set of five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals, marking a new international consensus that progress on the MDGs in fragile states is impossible without first achieving peace and security.
The proposed goals include fostering inclusive and legitimate politics, establishing and strengthening people's security and justice, promoting employment and livelihoods, and ensuring fairer social service delivery and better financial management.
With the agreement that aid in fragile states should focus more explicitly on achieving peace, the outcomes of Busan could be the first step towards ensuring conflict, security and justice issues – which have been missing from the current MDG agenda – are at last brought into discussions about what follows the MDGs from 2015.
The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS), which is made up of governments from conflict-affected states (the G7+), donor governments and multilateral agencies, has been working on this New Deal since it was established under the Accra Agenda for Action in 2008. Its biggest achievement is the strong leadership shown by G7+ countries in crafting and committing themselves to take forward the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals.
But there are still a number of challenges ahead. The New Deal is a compromise between stakeholders whose agendas differ, so how its vaguer passages are interpreted in practice will really define it. For example, while the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals are a good broad framework, everyone involved needs to make sure that the right indicators and targets are developed to monitor the progress of states.
If the New Deal is to support peace rather than simply legitimise the use of aid for ‘train and equip’ style programmes, these indicators must not focus only on the capacity of state institutions, but on how they behave. Most importantly, they should focus on the results that matter to people living in conflict-affected countries: less exposure to violence, greater confidence in their safety, access to justice, services and livelihoods, and political freedom and inclusion.
The right indicators will be particularly important because G7+ countries have made a strong push for donor governments to provide more aid through country systems, building their capacities and reducing aid volatility. These are worthy aims, but have been difficult to accommodate given donors’ significant concern over the risks of corruption and financial mismanagement (as highlighted, for example, by the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s report published on 22 November). Civil society has also argued that giving aid through country systems in fragile states risks in some cases reinforcing conflict dynamics – as states may be party to a conflict, have questionable legitimacy, or a poor record on human rights.
The New Deal has partially addressed these concerns: it promises joint assessments of the risks of working in fragile situations, and joint mechanisms to manage these risks. It also states that donors will increase the proportion of aid delivered through country systems based on measures and targets agreed at country level. Much will now depend on whether these country-specific measures and targets offer a genuine framework to monitor whether the state is making progress towards an inclusive and positive peace. Where country level commitment and progress is not satisfactory, donors will need to funnel more aid through other channels – to meet immediate humanitarian needs and support a range of actors across society to demand and shape the state they want to live in.
Much will also depend on how the New Deal commitment to work to ‘one national vision and one plan’ is interpreted in practice. Imposing overarching national plans and visions can drive and magnify conflict – as has been seen all too painfully in Darfur, South Sudan, Somalia, Yugoslavia and Timor L’Este, among many other places in recent decades.
If affected countries are to lead their transitions to peace successfully, they will need to ensure that the fragility assessments and dialogue processes they carry out are genuinely inclusive and sensitive to the local context. Assessments will also need to be independent enough to bring in a range of perspectives – including those of marginal groups – and keep the most sensitive issues on the table.
The IDPS hopes that agreement on a New Deal next week will lead to a number of fragile and conflict-affected countries piloting the proposals. This could mark real progress in the way development is approached in conflict contexts. At present, however, dialogue has not penetrated far beneath the international level. The next step will require concerted outreach in two directions: across the governments of pilot countries, to get a strong consensus on the need for progress on peacebuilding and statebuilding goals; and across society, so that non-state actors can help shape and uphold a progressive agenda for peace.
If we are to achieve lasting results in conflict settings, it is critically important to empower local communities to articulate their own peace and security needs – and to ensure they have a role in monitoring national and donor governments’ progress in delivering their commitments. Commitments in the New Deal (to multi-stakeholder review of donor-government compacts, consultation of citizens on how aid and domestic resources are used, and measures to understand the views of people on results achieved) all give strong grounds for optimism.
Real success going forward will depend on the extent to which the New Deal becomes a deal not just between national governments and international donors, but between them and the people living in conflict-affected societies – giving them genuine ownership of development and peacebuilding processes.
Larry Attree is a Conflict and Security Adviser at Saferworld. He has participated in the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding as a civil society representative throughout 2010-11, and is coordinating civil society advocacy on conflict and fragility in Busan within the Better Aid global civil society platform.