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Forgotten No More: Aid to Fragile States Is a Duty Not an Option

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© Dasan Bobo / World Bank

In Ethiopia, where poverty was reduced by half in the past 20 years—economists often speak of the Ethiopian miracle— I met women farmers who had managed to turn a dry hill into productive land. I talked to a group of landless youth who had used climate-smart agriculture to restore degraded fields and received land tenure in exchange. I met some women entrepreneurs who received microloans and embarked on a journey from nothing to business ownership. I visited Wukro, a small town in Northern Ethiopia, where labor-intensive cobblestone paving projects had generated jobs for thousands while beautifying the city and lowering the crime rate.

Ethiopia has a long way to go on its road to prosperity—a state of emergency remains in effect due to social unrest in some part of the country, and the threat of food insecurity still looms—but in once-inhospitable places, greenery and opportunities now bloom. Ethiopia is a country that has shown incredible resilience in the face of harsh climate shocks. It is heartening to see that climate smart investments are paying off.

Countries like CAR deserve everything we can do

CAR occupies a special place in my heart. For too long, this landlocked nation of 5 million people, once famous for its diamonds, was forgotten by all. It took the 2013 tragedy of epic proportions, fueled by sectarian violence, for the world to recognize that ignoring a country’s descent into hell was not an option. The international community stepped up to the plate and did its part. French forces and the UN Blue Helmets stabilized the nation.

Most important, the people of CAR took their destiny into their own hands by democratically electing a president and a national assembly. A donor conference organized in Brussels in November 2016 was a resounding success. A record $2.2 billion was pledged, including $500 million from the World Bank. Fresh outbursts of violence against civilians and UN peacekeepers, in recent days are strong reminders that only long-term development can halt the cycle of fragility. One quarter of the population is still displaced. Almost half the population is still in need of humanitarian aid. But poverty is not a fate. In Ethiopia, I saw safety nets and entrepreneurship as a way out of poverty.

Faustin Touadera, president of the Central African Republic, took me to Bambari, in the central region, a city that embodies the nation’s future. There I saw devastation, but also huge signs of hope. The population’s need for the most basic services is staggering. But Bambari was recently declared a weapons-free zone. I chatted with families who have barely enough to eat but are hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) with grace and dignity. I visited a camp where IDPs ask for no more than a roof and a chance to live a better life. I went to a hospital that has seen better days but does its best to provide basic care. I saw big smiles on the faces of people now making a living through a cash-for-work program.

I must admit that I am incredibly proud to see the work the World Bank is doing in CAR. It’s about helping former combatants find meaning in a life with no weapons. It’s about building social cohesion by helping host communities affected by displacement. It’s about connecting markets and people by reopening roads, bringing electricity to Bangui and reviving agriculture in a country with 37 million acres of arable land and people who go hungry. It’s about bringing water, health and education to disenfranchised parts of the country.

None of this could be done without the help of other partners, in particular the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the UN peacekeeping force. Working in conflict-affected countries, under the protection of Blue Helmets, is not an easy task. But there won’t be development without peace. Nor can there be peace without development.

CAR is one of the few countries in the world where the number of people living in extreme poverty continues to rise. Only development can change the trajectory of one of the world’s most fragile countries—but massive investment will be required. I went there recently on my fourth visit. We know from research that it takes years to rebuild a country following decades of conflict. It also takes conviction and perseverance. The international community must step up and deliver the resources it committed in Brussels last November. The private sector must be bold and take a long term perspective.

The Central African Republic deserves and will get a better future. As the country sets out on the road to reconstruction and peace, our help is more crucial than ever. But it will take all of us.

This was originally published in French in LeMonde.


Kristalina Georgieva

Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

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