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The g7 who? Fragile states set the agenda for aid effectiveness

Written by Lisa Denney


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been held up for nearly 15 years as the benchmark for judging progress in developing countries. Yet no fragile state is on track to achieve a single MDG. This has led to increasing recognition among some in the international development community that fragile states – often the poorest and most conflict-affected of developing countries – confront challenges that the MDG framework is not well equipped to address. For one, the MDGs are premised on the assumption that some kind of functioning and effective state is already in place, but this cannot be taken for granted in fragile settings.

As the g7+ – a grouping formed in 2010 of 17 of the world’s most fragile and conflict-affected countries – has pointed out, the MDGs do not adequately take account of their very particular development needs. In response, the g7+, through the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, is calling for a ‘New Aid Deal’. This new deal is based on the recognition that a set of more realistic interim goals is needed in fragile states. The Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) that have emerged as a result focus on the state, security, justice, jobs and resources. By first achieving these goals, the g7+ suggests, fragile states will be better placed to work towards the MDGs, alongside other, more stable developing countries.

The g7+ is leading calls for country ownership of the development agenda. Both the Paris Declaration (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008) of course emphasise the centrality of country ownership. This time around, however, the conventionally weakest and most marginalised voices in the development community are speaking up for themselves and, importantly, they are articulating some very specific changes in the way that aid should be delivered.  The proposed ‘New Aid Deal’ is not about donors ‘giving’ fragile states a better deal – but about fragile states demanding a better deal.

In this way, the g7+  is emerging as the dark horse setting the fragile states agenda of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to take place in Busan in November-December 2011. Their efforts were given a boost last week with the announcement of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, as Nobel Peace Laureate. This is the second Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to a g7+ country leader, with José Ramos Horta, President of Timor-Leste, awarded the Prize in 1996. Such high calibre g7+ leaders will be meeting in Juba, South Sudan, next week to discuss their proposals for Busan and set the agenda for development effectiveness in the future.

In some ways, the issues that the g7+ is articulating are not particularly new – many in the international development community have been critical of the MDGs for their over-ambitious goals and for not taking account of some of the more fundamental underlying difficulties faced by the world’s weakest states, especially in relation to conflict and fundamental state capacity. The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report also points to security, justice and jobs as priority areas for action in fragile states, and almost every evaluation of an aid project closes with an appeal for greater country focus and tailoring to context. Through the Paris Agenda, the Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States, and other agreements, donors have already committed – at least in theory – to many of the changes in donor behaviour that the g7+ is advocating (for example ‘doing no harm’ by, among other things, not poaching government staff for donor programmes). So the substance of the New Deal is not unfamiliar to those involved in development effectiveness debates. The challenge will be whether the g7+ will be able to address these issues in a more innovative and effective way than has been done to date. The g7+ is made up, for instance, of a diverse group of states – ranging from Haiti, to Afghanistan, to South Sudan to Timor-Leste – each facing a variety of challenges, which underscore the complex and multifaceted nature of fragility that the g7+is attempting to address.

What is new about the New Aid Deal, however, is that, for this first time, it is fragile states themselves articulating the challenges that they face and putting forward an agenda for change in aid practice. This initiative by itself is unlikely to be a panacea to the development challenges of fragile states. Those challenges remain as complex, difficult and context specific as they have always been. Yet the arrival of the g7+ to the aid effectiveness party is a widely welcomed development, as was apparent by their reception at a recent ODI event on ‘A new aid deal for fragile states’. Its emergence has helped to create a new momentum for improved aid practice. Critically, the g7+’s presence and voice is beginning to help shift the locus of aid debates to its appropriate setting – that of fragile and conflict-affected states themselves. The challenge now is to capitalise on this new voice and ensure that it is translated into changed practices on the ground.