This research article was originally posted on SAGE journals.
State fragility as a global challenge and global efforts to tackle it
The last decade has observed an increased number of violent conflicts that have further resulted in the loss of human lives and a level of displaced people not seen since World War II. According the latest peace index of 2017, the economic cost of violence in 2016 was US$14.3 trillion or 12.6 % of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). The containment of violence in 2012 alone costs US$9.46 trillion or 11% of world’s GDP. The recent study on Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict conducted jointly by the World Bank (WB) (2018) and the United Nations (UN) considered conflict as the biggest obstacle to development. Recognizing the central role that states play in development, the study emphasized the need to prevent conflict as well as inclusive investment in development, in order to ensure resilience.
Wars, conflict, and natural disasters leave behind a legacy of state fragility that characterizes among others, social disintegration, weak institutions, broken service delivery, and ruined infrastructure. Bringing all this back to a normal situation takes decades and huge investment. Nearly 1.4 billion people live in countries that have been in conflict recently and that still suffer from the legacy. Lasting peace is an indispensable need of these people who constitute nearly one third of the world population.
Established in 2010, the g7+ is a voluntary inter-governmental organization of 20 countries that have been affected by conflict and fragility. The main objective of the g7+ is to build peaceful societies through promoting country-led dialogue, sharing experiences, and advocating for reforms to the way that the international community engages in conflict-affected states. Progress in social and development targets in these countries have been far below average. These crises have not only reversed development gains in these countries if there were any but have also had a heavy human toll. Dealing with periods of instability, g7+ members have learned lessons and gained experiences that have rarely been documented or acknowledged. These lessons have proved useful for peers within the g7+ group. The g7+ Foundation has been established to document the stories by both leaders and citizens that can be used to share with other countries.
Despite the stigma of fragility that is associated with the identity of these countries, their people and state institutions demonstrate remarkable resilience as they survive in the face of tremendous challenges caused by conflicts and fragility. This contradicts the perception of passivity that many in the global community have of these countries when it comes to defining their vision and national strategy for development. In other words, they have often been subject to policies (humanitarian, security, and development) that are formed with little or no consideration of their context and ownership. Intervention in the areas of security, humanitarian, and development has been merely reactive to the consequences of fragility rather than solution to the root causes.
However, agreement on the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile Situations, by the g7+, development assistance committee donors, and civil society groups, offered a new opportunity for the so-called fragile states to decide their own destiny with international support. The New Deal, which was endorsed in Busan in 2011, is the first internationally agreed framework that recognizes the indispensable nexus of peace, effective state institutions, and development – a phenomenon that has recently found a central space in international discourse on peace, security, and development. The New Deal principles and the lived experiences of the g7+ countries were the reference point for the g7+ and its partners to advocate for a stand-alone goal on peace, justice, and effective institutions within the Agenda 2030 – the adoption of which is considered as the most inclusive global agenda since the establishment of the UN.
The New Deal has changed the narrative on fragility. The principles of the New Deal were based on the practical experiences of countries that have been able to break the vicious circle of conflict and fragility. Recognition of the unique context and ownership of the countries over their challenges and solution thereof are at core of the successful realization of the New Deal principles. The International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) has been a unique platform that has facilitated a frank and in-depth dialogue among the g7+, donors, and civil society groups on the specific challenges facing countries in fragile situations. With the establishment of the IDPS, the so-called ‘fragile countries’ are expected to manifest their priorities at the global level.
Agreement on the New Deal was a ground-breaking event that created considerable expectations for the long-waited reforms in the development and peacebuilding architecture of international, regional, and national actors. The adoption of SDG16 within the Agenda 2030, the twin resolutions (2282-2016) of the UN General Assembly, and Security Council, respectively, the sustaining peace agenda and the recent launch of the above-mentioned study by the WB and UN, confirm the relevance of the New Deal principles. In fact, its principles are expected to help in advancing the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) at country level in countries affected by conflict and fragility. While the SDGs are a universal agenda, its implementation is local, particularly in conflict-affected countries, and hence, the New Deal has a role to play. However, the full potential of the New Deal principles has not yet been realized. There could and should be more obvious results in effective peacebuilding, statebuilding, and development cooperation. As the independent evaluation of the New Deal study observed, political processes have been missing to identify ‘what needs to happen and how’, since it was expected to bring about transformative change in the behavior of development and humanitarian actors (Hearn, 2016). The study further suggests that the g7+ has become an influential voice on the global stage. Hence, there has been an unprecedented opportunity to lift the profile of the principles of the New Deal.
The adaption of the global frameworks related to peacebuilding and statebuilding (some of which were mentioned above) seems to have started bringing together peacebuilding, humanitarian, development, and even private investment actors in regard to fragility and conflict prevention. This has shown the need to tackle fragility at its roots, which of course will require radical reform in the way these actors have worked so far. This will require close coordination and joint actions. However, the tendency of actors to get carried away by a new framework at the cost of fully working out what they have committed to has hindered progress in realizing the aspirations of the New Deal. Emerging themes change global discourse in the same was that a news story will remain in the headlines until replaced by something new. For example, after the launch of the New Deal, there was a lot of energy around it. There was equal inspiration on the sides of donors and g7+ countries. But as time passed by, we see progress only on the technical aspect of the New Deal as is found by its first Monitoring Report in 2014 (IDPS, 2014). In other words, it seems to be falling out of fashion, whereas it has a pioneering role in the international system and policies related to conflict and fragility. I am afraid that this might become a global norm of endorsing a new framework and agreeing on principles without attempting to realize the potential of what we have committed to. Thus, the IDPS is in need of consolidating its potential and be utilized for political dialogue rather than purely technical discussion among the g7+, donors, and civil society.
Need for realization of the New Deal principles
We are all terrified by the prospect that more than half of the world’s poorest people will be living in fragile and conflict-affected countries by the end of 2030, the timeline set to achieve the SDGs. The downfall in the global economic outlook, coupled by the breakout of emerging conflicts, is a warning that we may run out of resources to respond to the consequences of these conflicts. Hence, there are no more options left except tackling the conflicts at their roots so that all people can live in peace and prosperity. There is a need to shift from a reactive approach to a more pro-active one, meaning pursuing long-lasting solutions.
First, it is clear that building sustainable peace and stopping human suffering is an urgent priority for all nations. Given the contagious nature of conflict and violence, it is a collective responsibility. The current refugee crisis that has been the result of conflict and fragility has affected Europe is enough to show that crisis in one part of the world will have impact beyond the boundaries of its origin. We might be able to contain the immediate impact of violence, but we cannot tackle the root cause without addressing the grievances that drive these conflicts. Pursuing country-led dialogue and reconciliation is the most affordable option to address those grievances. If the UN is serious about making its ‘sustaining peace agenda’ a reality, it should facilitate and support all possible tracks of diplomacy to stop ongoind wars and conflicts first. There are countries and champions of peace whose experience can inspire us. Despite meager resources, the g7+ group has identified its own champions of peace to promote dialogue and reconciliation through peer-learning and ‘fragile-to-fragile cooperation’.
Second, sustaining peace requires strong and capable state institutions to deliver basic services (such as security, justice, and social protection) to their citizens. The delivery of these services is the ultimate responsibility of the states themselves. States need to assume this responsibility, which may further manifest their legitimacy – crucial for sustaining peace. Those countries that were fortunate enough to have their own resources at their discretion such as Timor-Leste, for example, were able to consolidate peace. If Timor-Leste had to only rely on foreign aid to settle the IDPs (internally displaced people) during the 2006 crisis, it would have taken much longer to resettle the IDPs given the tendency of international actors not to vest ownership into hands of the leaders and people of conflict affected countries to manage the aid provided. The New Deal demands investment in the foundation of the state as articulated within the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals. While country context and ownership is a determining factor of successful transition, countries emerging from immediate conflict need resources at their discretion. Donors do provide aid to these countries, but the plans to allocate it are made in their capitals rather than in the capital of the recipient countries. Yes, those plans made by donors seem to be aligned with broader and global objectives of eradicating poverty, but that alignment rarely happens at the operational level where the National stakeholders can monitor whether the objectives of their National strategies have been achieved or not. A recent study by Oxfam on aid effectiveness in Afghanistan found that alignment of donors’ from a donor’s perspective, alignment is achieved by spending money in sectors that fall within National Priorit Programs, through whicever mechanism they see fit, whereas the government identifies alignment as spending in ways that can easily monitor and attribute to their priority needs, essentially through their institutions and procedures (March 2018). Countries need to identify their national vision, a ‘one vision’ that could be agreed upon by all stakeholders.
Third, one of several challenges that countries affected by conflict and fragility face is fragmentation at every level. This fragmentation is widened further by uncoordinated, misaligned, and parallel projects and programs by donors. The use of project implementation units (PIUs) established to implement donors’ projects is a synonym for ‘government’ within a government. Each PIU is managed outside the structure of the relevant ministry. One of the immediate impacts of such arrangements is the distortion of salaries, and brain drain of capacity. For example, in Sierra Leone, there were 295 projects in the ministry of finance, agriculture, and health using PIUs in 2014 (Independent Evaluation Group, 2014: 50). One can imagine how difficult it can be for the government to consolidate one strategic direction in the presence of several other plans run by different actors.
In addition, a huge portion of aid is channeled outside the government system and national budget. According to the New Deal monitoring report of 2014, there has not been significant progress in honoring the commitment to using the existing country system. Budget support as a percentage of official development assistance in 21 fragile states fell from 3.5% to 1.5%. Bypassing the national budget when delivering aid means that governments and their parliaments have little or no control on the spending of the aid money. In other words, it undermines accountability and transparency. The preamble of many aid programs in conflict-affected countries promise to build state capacity, but fragmented, uncoordinated, misaligned, and unharmonized aid projects with short-sighted goals perpetuate aid dependency in these countries.
Fourth, investment in infrastructure (both physical and soft) has a leveraging impact on the potential of countries to reduce aid dependency. According to the WB’s (2011) World Development Report 2011, Conflict, Security, and Development, a lack of economic opportunities and high unemployment are key sources of fragility. Private companies create 90% of jobs worldwide. However, challenges facing private sector development in conflict affected countries include, among others, a lack of security, lack of sufficient infrastructure, and risks associated with the perceived corruption. The only industry that has attracted investment is the extractives and telecom sector. Nevertheless, in many countries, these constitute a tiny portion of overall GDP. Multi-lateral institutions usually have a ‘demand-driven’ approach to supporting the private sector. The stigma and perception of associated risks scares away potential investors. Given the significant potential for conflict-affected countries to attract private investment (local and foreign), help is needed to create a market for investment rather than waiting for one to emerge. Infrastructure is needed to connect these countries to regional and international markets. While policies to bring about investment climate reforms are not always easy for the governments of conflict-affected countries to implement, donors should help governments to overcome the most critical problems that get in the way of increased investment. Such kinds of support is really an investment in prevention.
Given the complexity of challenges of fragile situations that require flexible tools and resources, the above suggestions may seem like a wish list. However, the unanimous adaption of Agenda 2030, followed by an unprecedented level of support to the sustaining peace agenda of the UN Secretary General, can be a reason for optimism. We have options to tackle fragility and stop and/or avoid conflicts. Alongside the benefits of globalization, such as the widespread uptake of technology, transport, and regional integration, we are also facing the increasing interconnection and contagious nature of conflicts and crisis. In other words, they are no longer a problem limited to one particular country or territory but have become a shared challenge. This has been evident in the recent influx of refugees into Europe. History has taught us that whenever a challenge has become global, then no single country, rich or poor, well-armed or unarmed, and big or small, can tackle it alone. This is a hard reality we have to face. Thus, I hope that we are united in tackling conflicts and fragility from their roots and helping to build peace, resilience, and hence, enjoy ‘shared prosperity’.
About the Author
Habib Ur Rehman Mayar is Deputy General Secretary of the g7+ Secretariat and Executive Director of g7+ Foundation. He has served in the Secretariat since 2013 and leads on policy and advocacy for better engagement in fragile situations. Mr Mayar was Head of the Aid Coordination Unit in the Ministry of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, before joining the g7+ Secretariat. He was involved in discussions on the Paris Declaration, Accra Agenda for Action, and the Busan Partnership and participated in the negotiations on the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States.