G7+: breaking from how things are done

Development Policy20 Sep 2013Seth Kaplan

In this two-fold post, guestblogger Seth Kaplan discusses perspectives on the g7+ processes since the endorsement of the New Deal by fragile states. In this first blog he looks at the New Deal’s emergence as part of the bottom-up statebuilding paradigm and in the second one he will provide predictions on the process. 

The g7+ group of 18 fragile and conflict-affected states has joined togetfragileher to share experiences and promote a new development framework in what are the most difficult of circumstances. This is a dramatic break from how things are done despite all the rhetoric concerning bottom up democratic processes.

Perceptions of fragile state building

Supported by the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, the g7+ group achieved a major breakthrough at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in November 2011— an agreement on a New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. A major part of this is a new orientation to the relationship with donors (see box). The whole process grows out of a frustration common among less developed countries: they feel that peacebuilding, statebuilding, and the various activities these encompass have been far too driven by donors, who have their own needs and generally prefer to work with templates and values that are familiar to them. As such, there is an acute awareness among leaders and populations in fragile states that aid priorities do not adequately respond to local priorities, interests, and traditions.

The New Deal: g7+ Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs)

The New Deal prioritizes what fragile states themselves think are the most important issues for  building peaceful and prosperous societies by identifying five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals. These are to be developed into a set of indicators—which emerge from country-level processes—to track progress globally and nationally.

  1. Legitimate politics – Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
  2. Security – Establish and strengthen people’s security
  3. Justice – Address injustices and increase people’s access to justice
  4. Economic foundations – Generate employment and improve livelihoods
  5. Revenues and services – Manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair service delivery

Changing perceptions

The New Deal priorities are meant to frame a country-led, inclusive way of setting national goals and establishing a national development plan. This, in turn, is meant to increase country-donor harmonization and donor co-ordination.

More than 40 countries and institutions have endorsed the New Deal, committing themselves to investing the required resources and political capital in more equal partnerships that will be more heavily driven by local needs and processes.

The substance of what the g7+ is articulating is not necessarily new. After all, many of the same issues have come up before, such as in the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report. It has long been recognized that fragile states have unique structural problems — caused by their sectarian divisions, weak governments, and histories of conflict — that require special attention. And at least since the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectivenessand the 2007 OECD-endorsed Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations, donors have committed—at least in theory—to reform the international aid architecture so that it better responds to the problems of fragility and conflict. Almost every report on improving the effectiveness of foreign aid nowadays calls on donors to customize their approaches to local context—paralleling what the g7+ is advocating.

What is new is that it is the recipient countries themselves who are arguing for these things. When donors forged ahead in developing indicators of progress in late 2011 without sufficient g7+ participation, there was immediate pushback around substance and process: countries did not want externally generated, expert-driven lists of measurements of progress. The g7+ is, in essence, asking for a much stronger role in ensuring that the goals that they think are important are prioritized in a way that meets their needs. Such an approach, if implemented properly, would allow for greater country ownership and more of a bottom-up, democratic process of goal setting. It would be a dramatic break from how things are done now despite all the rhetoric concerning these things.

Why past attempts have failed

Donor achievements in fragile states have been so modest because their approaches have not been sufficiently attuned to local needs. Many countries, such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are far from meeting the MDG goals by 2015. Not only do they prioritize the wrong things — such as focusing on social services such as healthcare while ignoring ethnic divisions and other structural challenges — but also they often implement programs in ways that do not provide a mechanism for local leaders to adapt projects to meet what are complex, difficult, and context specific problems. Too often, the power that comes with money and the knowledge about how international agencies operate has led donors—consciously or unconsciously—to act in ways that limit the ability of recipients to fully participate in decision-making.

Hybrid governing mechanisms

Past attempts to reform how aid is distributed did not translate into the large scale changes in how donors operate because the efforts were led by donors in a top-down fashion and did not address the power relationship that exists between them and recipient countries. As long as donors can dominate recipients, they are unlikely to change longstanding institutions and processes or let bottom-up forces have more of a determining role.

Bottom-up state building is thought to be especially important in fragile states for a number of reasons. First, each fragile state has its own unique set of problems that are best addressed by those most knowledgeable about the issues—local actors. Second, social divisions and weak institutions mean that top-down, centralized governments—which the standard template promotes—are ill-suited to local circumstances. If anything, they can exacerbate fault lines and increase conflict, as has been the case in Kenya, Somalia, the DRC, and Afghanistan. Third, Western institutions often clash with local traditions, requiring the development of hybrid governing mechanisms that can take advantage of the benefits of both. In the ideal situation, local norms and ways of doing things will be wedded to the authority and resources of the state to enhance the quality of public services (such as the rule of law, security, and schools).

National solutions for national problems

The g7+ is also important for what it can do beyond simply facilitating better aid. By giving local leaders a stronger role and encouraging national solutions for national problems, it offers the chance to increase societal cohesion, enhance self-respect, and contribute to national development. After all, strengthening the ability of states to formulate processes and frameworks that help them address and solve problems on their own is the key to overcoming the unique challenges each fragile state faces. Outsiders will always be limited in dealing with the political problems they face. Therefore the international community should see itself as facilitators, conveners, and technical advisers. They can catalyze local capacities for self-government, but cannot decide what the priorities and processes are. Donors should be working on enhancing environments, capabilities, and resources available locally as such, that countries can work out their own solutions. The New Deal offers a path towards this goal, but it will only work if donors are sensitive enough and countries are willing enough to commit themselves to their respective roles.