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Pledging in Geneva: How much aid, and for what?

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Nigel Roberts, Khalid Payenda, Eliza Urwin

This note is a follow-up to ‘Fragile Practice: Donor mistakes in war-to-peace transitions’, which summarises modern thinking on the causes of and remedies for organised violence. The paper points out that good-practice guidelines for donors in fragile and conflict-affected countries are well-known yet often ignored, and argues that there are two key reasons for this. The obvious one is that donors’ geostrategic interests frequently overwhelm developmental and public welfare concerns, and often undermine them. The second is less obvious: donors misunderstand or overlook the nature of the societies with which they are dealing, ascribing to them social norms and motivations prevalent in their own countries.

‘Fragile Practice’ suggests several generic remedies. The first is much greater immersion in the societies in which donors work, and shifting the locus of project design and oversight from home capitals out into local communities. The second is to support national strategies that target disruptive grievances, not solely economic growth and poverty alleviation, and fund thee strategies principally through government systems and budgets. The third is to find ways to provide long-term support to core national institutions, the consolidation of which takes decades. And the fourth is for donors to approach predatory corruption more intelligently, by helping improver public financial management systems and supporting citizen audits.

The paper also underlines the truism that the more successful ‘exits’ from destructive civil wars over the past 40 years have always relied on approaches that are ‘home-grown and nationally led: donors cannot substitute for these key ingredients, nor will them into being. This, however, has not stopped donors from trying’ (Roberts and Russell, 2020). ‘Fragile Practice’ was not specific to Afghanistan; this note is. As with the previous paper, our intended audience is the donor community, both in donor capitals and in Kabul. We planned to write it after intensive consultations with government, donors, analysts and civil society organisations in Afghanistan. However, the Covid-19 pandemic made this impossible, and the Overseas Development Institute instead facilitated a series of virtual encounters. The opinions provided to us were thoughtful and frank – and also non-attributable. We hope that those of you who helped us will find traces of your sound advice in this note.