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Integrating donor efforts in fragile states – the possibility of the impossible?

In his recent keynote address at the 50 th anniversary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, World Bank (WB) President Robert Zoellick called for a ‘modernisation of multilateralism’ to meet the challenges of the present era, and for a new approach to dealing with fragile states. This new approach would focus on ‘securing development’ – pursuing security and development agendas to tackle the world’s most pressing issues of extreme poverty, state failure and civil war. Zoellick noted the tough development challenges facing fragile states and called for solutions that look beyond the ‘analytics of development’ to a framework that would build security, legitimacy, governance and economies. Fragile states are not just ‘harder cases’ of development but wholly different cases that require new thinking and a new integration of international tools and actors. Going forward, Zoellick identified ten areas, echoing Ghani and Lockhart, that need to be prioritised in fragile states:
  1. focusing on building legitimacy of the state,
  2. establishing the rule of law,
  3. strengthening security,
  4. ensuring local and national ownership of development,
  5. ensuring economic stability,
  6. developing a healthy private sector,
  7. paying attention to the political economy of a country,
  8. improving coordination among institutions and actors,
  9. paying attention to the regional context,
  10. ensuring long term commitment by donors.

Zoellick is indeed right to point out that fragile situations pose some of the toughest development challenges in the world today and that off the shelf solutions are unlikely to work. Recent work by ODI finds that, despite the growing focus on fragile states, there is only partial understanding amongst internatonal actors of the roots of fragility and the pathways to failure, collapse or, on a positive note, to turn-around (see the JICA report, ODI’s report on state building and the World Bank in fragile situations). Practice among international actors lags behind what experience tells us about the causes and symptoms of state failure. There are several reasons for this.

First, the efforts of international actors have been severely fragmented and poorly aligned, undermining engagement strategies for fragile states. Institutional turf battles between actors such as the UN and the WB have exacerbated the lack of direction in assisting fragile states through a transition process, while the proliferation of donor initiatives has placed additional burdens on the shoulders of already weakened governments and institutions.

Second, the complexity and breadth of the fragile states agenda calls for the involvement of a wide range of international and domestic actors with very different levels of agency and perceived legitimacy (in the eyes of the population) . The coordination and integration of these actors is a daunting task and while Zoellick is clear that an integrated solution is best, practical frameworks for tackling integration remain largely elusive. This is because, at its core, the adoption of such an agenda by international actors is highly political; impacting squarely on the relationship between foreign policy (security) and development. An illustration of this is the new doctrine of the United States (US) Armywhich states that its strategic focus in fragile states will be on nation-building, including both humanitarian and relief efforts. In this case incorporating nation-building into its work requires redesigning its approaches, methods and priorities; integrating its skills and expertise; and coordinating its activities with other government agencies, NGOs and international actors .

The challenge of realising an integrated solution for donor engagement in fragile states remains. The current situation could be improved by serious efforts to involve the main recipients of donor assistance in decisions about what securing development means for them and their country. Fusing the security and development agendas of donors around local initiatives would make the people the central focus in the fight against fragility and would be unlikely to undermine these already fragile states any further.

In his speech Zoellick hinted at this solution by noting that people are the most important element in fragile situations. They are the principal agents of recovery. People-based initiatives should, therefore, indicate what is needed at the local, regional and national level, and donors should make efforts to support those initiatives, rather than pursue their own agendas, to ensure their successful implementation. After all, the successful performance of national governments is what will ensure their legitimacy in the eyes of people, which is what really matters the most in the end. The challenge for international actors in securing development is then how to best integrate their agendas and efforts for the purpose of building local legitimacy and uplifting the lives of people in fragile situations.

 Timothy Othieno is a Research Fellow in ODI’s Politics and Governance Programme