Predictions on the G7+ process

Peace & Security21 Sep 2013Seth Kaplan

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

Weakly institutionalized governments, divided populations, and ineffective accountability mechanisms—the problems fragile states face—are structural in nature and not easy to solve whoever is in charge of the process. But by providing a stronger role for local problem solving, the g7+ does offer a better roadmap going forward.

There are, however, three main risks with this whole endeavour:

1) Business will continue as usual, with resources still being allocated based on donor needs and not the priorities established by the g7+ countries. Donors are, for instance, likely to continue to prioritize security issues—which matter most to them—over everything else even though the g7+ clearly believes investments that energize local economies need to be given at least even billing (on the belief that it contributes to better security, etc.). They are also likely to emphasize bringing terrorists and international criminals to justice even when local leaders think reconciliation may matter more in some cases and expanding citizen access to justice is more essential.

2) Instead of focusing on improving processes—which is, in essence, what the g7+ principles call for and what the difficult and highly context specific problems that exist in fragile states require—donors will continue to emphasize outcomes primarily determined by themselves. This plays to the growing emphasis on results across the development field. But, history shows that locally driven political settlements and locally established institutional frameworks have a much better chance of success. Donor led efforts are, however, likely to bias political and institutional frameworks that they are comfortable with even if they do not meet local needs, as has happened in places such as Afghanistan, Somalia, the DRC, and so on. As Dominik Balthasar recently wrote in African Arguments, “the international community’s eagerness to maintain significant political leverage . . . reveals the complexities and caution around reducing foreign political influence.”

3) On the other hand, the g7+ countries may end up not delivering on their end of the bargain. Individual governments may not present a coherent plan for the future, may prefer to avoid setting benchmarks, or may not work hard enough on improving their own capacity to govern. They may continue business as usual and lose the fragile trust on which a stronger partnership depends.

In Somalia, for instance, the whole process is held back by the security concerns of donors—often led by warped priorities—and their template driven approach to dealing with fragile states as well as the country’s weak government and divided society. Neither has figured out how to take advantage of the country’s dynamic people in a way that advance the state.

Fitting local realities

Although the challenges that the g7+ face are broadly similar, the countries themselves are extremely diverse. Encompassing a wide range of states from around the world, it includes new countries (such as South Sudan and East Timor) and old (such as Haiti and Liberia); relatively stable entities (Togo) and those long immersed in conflict (Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo); countries rich in natural resources (such as East Timor and the DRC) as well as those without any (Burundi and Somalia); huge territories (the DRC) and tiny micro-states (East Timor and Guinea Bissau). As such, each has particular needs that only those long steeped in local realities will be able to grasp.

Fears over the last risk drive donor behavior. These are legitimate concerns. After all, donors cannot give the g7+ a blank check. Many of the countries involved have a less than stellar (to say the least) reputation regarding their governance. But unless adequate space is provided for local problem solving and institution building, fragile states will not solve their structural difficulties. That is why the whole g7+ initiative matters—the best hope for the least developed countries in the world is that they themselves find an appropriate path forward based on their better knowledge of local conditions and their ongoing need to work out their own political problems. The key is how to develop a framework that satisfies donor concerns regarding the use of their funds in a way that does not suffocate a legitimate locally driven political process.

Democracy and elections are no recipe for success

This is not to say that democracy as practiced in the West will necessarily produce a legitimate government . In many cases, this is because the process is flawed: weak institutions and deep inequities give powerful actors huge advantages over everyone else. Traditional elites may dominate politics (as in Pakistan), use their huge resources to undermine the process (as in Nigeria), or simply hijack the ballot box (as in Central Asia).

In other cases, elections can exacerbate conflict, as has happened in places such as Kenya and Egypt. In many African countries, ethnic politics sows divisions while creating incentives for winners to pay back their supporters in ways that aggravate subnational identities and social exclusion. The result is a winner take all mentality and a zero sum competition for the levers of power. In the Middle East, authoritarian political cultures have fostered a majoritarianism credo among winners that exposed the fault lines that plague countries. Instead of working to unite their peoples, leaders in Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq have repeatedly sought to advance their own agenda, undermining democracy in the process.

Given how long it takes to develop robust institutions and democratic political cultures, such countries need mechanisms that lock-in the legitimacy and representativeness of governments that go well beyond elections. Political, economic, and cultural Inclusiveness must be the highest priority in fragile states; it should drive all other processes.

Donors noticeably lack a framework for fixing fragile states. The OECD, for instance, shows little inclination in its policy papers to confront the society-conflicts that are at the root of the fragile states conundrum. The World Bank does not understand what holds back businesses there and often provides data that offers a misleading reading of their problems. Its governance indicators, for instance, do not fully reflect the capabilities of governments—many, such as China and Indonesia, with low scores have done tremendously well—and lead to a fixation on projects to improve results that may not matter. As such, they need to be extra sensitive that their own efforts do not undermine the New Deal in the countries that are prepared to deal with legitimate donor concerns about the use of aid money.

Inclusive decision-making

While some countries may have enlightened leadership—such as East Timor—others may have anything but. Therefore, while all may struggle with corruption and weak government, only some will deserve to be treated as full partners in tackling these problems. Ensuring that g7+ leaders represent an inclusive and broad constituency within their countries, and that non-governmental actors—whether NGOs, minority ethnic groups, regional players, or clan leaders—play a role in determining the choices governments make on their behalf, is part of the challenge of operating in sociopolitically complicated environments.

This may require working with governments to convene dialogues with a broad spectrum of societal leaders beyond those working at the top of states, though doing so will surely be highly sensitive if such a process undermines in any way the authority of politicians. It will also require encouraging inclusiveness rather than just elections, as is the case today. As the problems in Egypt, Iraq, and Nigeria clearly show, reaching out to opponents, and making an extra effort to ensure that as many as possible important groups and actors are included in decision-making—even if the process is informal and goes well beyond what constitutions call for—is crucial to the success of transitions and the creation of more institutionalized processes of government.

Contrast Tunisia and Egypt’s experience in the Arab Spring. In the former case, the major political forces came together quickly—or as Alfred Stepan has argued, well before the uprising—to work on the transition and even though the country has faced many problems since, they are still working together peacefully (if not always agreeably). After the first post-transition election, the winning party, the Islamist Ennahda Movement, invited the losers into a coalition to ensure broad support for what would follow. In Egypt, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military have been unable to cooperate with any of their opponents, leaving the country vulnerable to protracted instability and economic chaos, perhaps with another autocratic leader emerging at its end. Every group expects its sectarian and ideological agenda to dominate, making compromise difficult.

Will the g7+ do a better job encouraging the creation of legitimate, inclusive governments than has been the case in fragile states? It is too soon to tell, but at least its agenda is putting the right issues on the table. Legitimacy is more than elections. Successful transitions are more than just about political processes. Governing is more than just checking boxes from a standard list of to do items. Encouraging a more holistic, customized approach that gives economics, inclusiveness, and local problem solving their due will by itself be a significant step forward.