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A New Deal for Fragile States

PARIS – Today, roughly one-quarter of the world’s population lives in conflict-affected and fragile states. Despite vast sums of money spent aiding such states over the last 50 years, armed conflict and violence continue to blight the lives of millions of people around the world. International and national partners must radically change the way they engage such states.

I experienced firsthand the need for a new approach in 2004 in Sri Lanka. Within the first two months of the devastating tsunami that struck that December, close to 50 heads of state and foreign ministers visited the island. Each came with their own programs, their own civil-society organizations, and their own television crews. Few came with any deep understanding of the dynamics of the political conflict between militant Tamils and the Sri Lankan state. Big mistakes were made, fueling further violence.

Our major challenge today is to move away from the model of partnership according to which priorities, policies, and funding needs are determined in donor capitals and development partners’ headquarters. Conflict-affected states need to be able to determine their own destinies.

We should establish models of post-conflict transition like the one advocated by the g7+, a group of eighteen fragile states. The model is simple: Countries assess their own situation, using tools that they develop and that are appropriate to the context, in order to formulate a vision and a plan to consolidate peace and achieve prosperity.

This may sound like pie in the sky, but we have already tasted it in Africa, where Sierra Leone’s Agenda for Prosperity 2013-2017 and the Liberia Vision 2030 exemplify the potential of such programs. Progress on meeting national priorities such as peace consolidation, expanding access to justice, or increasing security is monitored locally. Using local systems and capacities, it turns out, can strengthen them.

The “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States,” which builds on a series of international commitments regarding aid and development, and was endorsed at the at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea in 2011, proposes just such a model. It enshrines what matters most in building peaceful states and societies: commitments – the Peace- and State-building Goals – to improve how national and international partners engage in conflict-affected and fragile contexts.

The New Deal recognizes what the history of peace-building teaches us: national leadership and ownership of agendas are key to achieving visible and sustainable results. As Kosti Manibe Ngai, South Sudan’s finance minister, has put it, “Nothing about us without us.”

In many conversations with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, we have discussed setting out a short list of clear priorities for the new state. But such goals are meaningful only if a fragile state’s partners are ready to accept the lead from a capital like Juba rather than from their own headquarters.

More than 40 countries and institutions have endorsed the New Deal way of working, committing themselves to building better partnerships – and to investing the required resources and political capital. This is why the New Deal model is innovative; it creates political support around issues that need to be addressed if countries are to make the transition from conflict and fragility to peace and stability.

Supporting inclusive political dialogue and ensuring that conflict is resolved through peaceful means are the highest priorities, as are security, access to justice, and a dynamic private sector that generates sufficient job opportunities. Moreover, many fragile states are rich in natural resources, and must establish transparent resource management – aimed at curbing corruption and controlling illicit flows of money and goods – in order to raise the revenues needed to deliver services.

A focus on these processes would ensure that fragile states take the lead and the responsibility. As partners, we must accept this national leadership. After Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010, the country was dubbed “the republic of NGOs.” Unable to create conditions in which Haitians themselves could take the lead in rebuilding their country, Haiti’s external partners undermined the establishment of a functioning internal governance system.

So, how can we translate our commitments and priorities into better lives for people who are affected by conflict and fragility?

OECD countries need to lead by example and meet the commitments that they have made. Our partners, through groupings like the g7+, must continue to demand the changes in policies and practices that have been promised.

We also must plan to change for the long term. As the Millennium Development Goals’ 2015 end date approaches, promotion of peace, security, and non-violent conflict resolution continues to be vitally important, and must be fully integrated into any future development agenda.

Recently, the members of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, the high-level political forum that produced the New Deal, met in Washington, DC, to assess our progress in changing how we work and in implementing the New Deal commitments. They agreed to the Washington Communiqué, which urges development partners, g7+ countries, and civil-society organizations to intensify their efforts to use the New Deal to deliver concrete results on the ground, and calls for a post-2015 development agenda that recognizes the universal importance of peace- and state-building.

Ultimately, our progress depends on the resolve of everyone to transform the lives of the 1.5 billion people whose lives are marred by violence, conflict, and insecurity.

Read more from our "Visionary Voices" series