Sunday, January 4, 2015

The New Deal... At Half Time, by Yannick Hingorani

The New Deal Monitoring Report 2014 was endorsed by the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in October 2014.  The Report is the first effort to take stock of progress (and challenges) with respect to implementing the principles of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. 

Over 40 countries and organizations endorsed the New Deal in 2011.  They agreed to a trial period, ending in December 2015 during which time national governments, donors and civil society would seek to change not only their ways of working, but also what they sought to achieve together. 

So, what progress has been made since the New Deal’s endorsement?  The Monitoring Report highlights three areas of progress.  First, dialogue among leaders in a number of capitals around the world has given a stronger common voice to war-torn, aid-dependent governments at global meetings. 

In Somalia, the New Deal has helped to shape dialogue and partnership between Somalis and the donor community – and to keep it on the international agenda more forcefully.  The combination of volatile politics, insecurity, and weak institutions can easily lead to disjointed and fragmented donor support.  So far, it appears that the New Deal has helped to integrate issues and efforts than would otherwise be the case. 

The governments of the Comoros Islands, DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste all started a conversation with their populations on what puts them at risk of violent conflict.  While results are mixed and the quality of fragility assessments varies, they have stimulated a dialogue where none previously existed on such sensitive topics. 

However, conflict in South Sudan – and some responses to government approaches displayed last year by the populations in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak – remind us of the sheer magnitude of the challenge lying before us to promote positive state-society dynamics.  This could take a generation to achieve.

Second, the donors reported a wide range of activities to make aid more globally transparent.  While this is a good start, g7+ countries remind us of the need to ensure aid transparency, locally.  Aid information needs to be translated into local formats and systems, which are ideally part of local planning / budgeting processes.

Third, the donors have increasingly put their money into one “pot” instead of financing separate, stand-alone projects in g7+ countries.  Pooled funds help national authorities to get a fuller picture of how much aid money they may count on to meet their spending priorities.  Such a fuller picture is crucial to effective national planning, as well as to improving public trust in government.  Pooled funding of official development assistance in g7+ countries increased from 10.5% in 2011 to 23.6% in 2013. 

Such progress notwithstanding, there are indications that we are not seeing the “paradigm shift” called for in the New Deal.  For this to happen, national plans and international resources need to be structured around the five peace-building and state-building goals.  We are not there yet; and this can take years.  That being said, there are three challenges that could be met with concrete action by the end of the trial period. 

First, politics can be brought back to the New Deal.  The engagement of top political leaders in both g7+ and donor countries is crucial to drive the agenda for change at the policy, institutional, and even staffing levels.  Ministers of finance / planning might also consider whether there is a need to reach out to line ministries and civil society to agree on a way forward.
Likewise, leaders should consider agreeing on a few flagship initiatives that go far and deep enough to fix some real problems in specific countries. The New Deal needs more examples of collective action that can set the narrative and bolster momentum across varying country contexts. In doing so, development officials may need to reach out to foreign affairs and defense colleagues. Paradoxically, the New Deal is dangerously close to becoming its own “silo” within the world of development cooperation.

Second, national authorities, donors and civil society need to come together around core priorities… in a political sense. At present, too many “priorities” set by technocrats are chasing too few resources in most fragile states, despite good progress made in producing national plans and negotiating compacts.

Core priorities need to reflect a workable compromise between the interests and agendas of local power-holders whose cooperation is essential to advancing transition and avoiding a relapse into violent conflict. Such political dialogue and consensus building doesn’t have to be the reserve of “peace talks” and “peace accords”. Internationally-supported transitions need to take into account the messy reality of country politics in an active and ongoing way.

Third, the use of country systems needs to be viewed more as a default approach to providing international assistance. This doesn’t mean direct budget support necessarily. Rather, donors, NGOs and private firms need to be “incentivized” to seek out opportunities for using country systems, even in areas that may be counter-intuitive and risky. Together, stakeholders and partners should agree on what parts of the “country systems” can be used practically, where risks can be shared and mitigated effectively. For all three, dialogue at top levels will need to bolster collective action not only to achieve feasible results, but also inspiring examples to emulate post-2015.

Yannick Hingorani
Peace and Conflict Advisor

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