Yesterday an exciting panel of committed global experts and international leaders spoke compellingly about the extreme problems faced by countries affected by fragility and conflict, and what can be done. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Managing Director of the World Bank) asked probing questions to the panel of Paul Collier (The Bottom Billion, and Wars, Guns and Votes), Donald Kaberuka (President of the African Development Bank, former Finance Minister of Rwanda), and George Soros (Open Society Institute, Soros Foundation).
I will write a more systematic summary paper later; here I am just trying to capture some memorable points that struck me from the lively discussion and debate.
On the one hand a sense of optimism, that the problems of fragile states can be addressed, the world is much more aware of these problems, and fragility is not a permanent condition, although it will require much more money and greater accountability, as well as strong leadership in the countries themselves.
On the other hand the recognition that helping countries move out of fragility and conflict is a long-term and thankless task, the dynamics of these countries often put them in a downward spiral, and it is essential to take advantage of windows of opportunity when they arise – whether at the end of a conflict or when there is political change (because once the windows are gone they are gone), and then have staying power. Deterioration can occur quickly, whereas rebuilding takes years and decades. Important not to lose hope.
Don’t bypass the state but rather use aid to help these countries build institutions, was a key message of the seminar.
More money for fragile and conflict affected countries (although it is tiny in relation to what has been spent on the global financial and economic crisis) needs to be accompanied by greater accountability. There are promising ideas, some of which have begun to be put into practice, that need to be scaled up and taken farther.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has been very important, and other major investing countries need to get engaged and come into international frameworks like EITI. Co-signature on projects, by the recipient country government and the donor / international agency involved, may be a promising way to ensure greater accountability while not bypassing the state.
Natural resources potentially can be of great benefit by bringing in money to pay for better services and infrastructure, but in fragile states they can fuel poor governance, corruption, and conflict. EITI plus-plus can “follow the money” and ensure good governance in the use of natural resources.
Another key message was the need to go beyond the MDGs in fragile states and focus on basics like security and jobs (especially for young men and ex-combatants) and getting basic services functioning.
When the basics of security and some government functionality are restored, it is important to encourage the private sector to come in and put economic growth on a robust, sustainable basis.