Tuesday 23 April 2013

New Deal Postscript: Time for action

Last week I wrote about real concerns over the future of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, ahead of a meeting on the fringes of the World Bank’s Spring Meetings in Washington. It seemed as if despite best intentions, innovative thinking and early momentum old habits were creeping back in to even this new model of doing development.

On the ground relations between local civil society and their national governments were being stymied while meetings were increasingly being dominated by power politics, rather than collective visioning of a better future which dealt with the complex drivers of conflict and instability. Despite this, we were still seeing a series of communiques and declarations proclaiming the bright new future that the New Deal was delivering; it had begun to look like nobody could spot the elephant in the room.

So, how did they do in DC?

Well they have a sense of humour these policy elites, as I understand the room was informed that the communique was final, not for debate and could we all applaud it please. A ripple of polite acclamation ensued as eager eyes scanned the detail, haggled over behind closed doors hours earlier. 

It was, as ever, a compromise and probably the best they could do. It clings to the idea that the New Deal has already been transformative:
“the New Deal has had significant impact in influencing the discourse and policies of international and national partners, at both global and at country levels”
But introduces a welcome note of humility:
“The initial progress and results achieved in the implementation of the New Deal in a number of self-nominated pilot countries give grounds for optimism and provide the basis for increased efforts”.
Grounds for optimism. I can live with that. But then it gets a bit better:
“We now urge g7+ governments, bilateral and multilateral development partners, civil society, and the broader international community to step up their efforts to translate New Deal commitments into concrete changes in behaviour and practice, in support to country-owned and country-led priorities, and consistent with national law and internationally agreed principles”.
Note concrete changes changes required – not delivered – required. And:
“Development partners are encouraged to implement policy and operational reforms to align with the New Deal, in particular the TRUST commitments. Efforts to manage risks, increase the use of country systems - with appropriate financial management in place and consistent with national laws and internationally agreed principles - and to support the building of national capacities, including of civil society, for example, should be enhanced”.
Not perfect, but attention to building civil society capacity also good.

Much of this was not in the original draft communique, and reflects the fact that some of the hard truths told to power at this meeting were at least heard and reflected upon. Attention to actually changing policies and practices, and embedding local consultation with communities in the business of development and governance, receives a welcome shot in the arm.

So the meeting seems to have made a positive contribution. But a communique is only ever a communique. And the acid test for the New Deal, surely, is what now happens on the ground, particularly in those countries currently piloting its implementation.

Civil society, at national and international level, has a vital role to play in monitoring and assisting that process, with governments and donors held to account for what they do next. A positive focus on that, rather than shouting about what we don’t like in the latest communique might be the most productive strategy to follow.

There’s a lot riding on how the New Deal works in practice, and not only for the G7+, or other countries nominally classed as “fragile”. Experience since 2000 teaches that building participatory relationships between communities and those that seek to govern them goes to the heart of whether development itself works; get that wrong, and the poorest stay poor while the vulnerable remain so.

Get that right, on the other hand, not just in rhetoric but in reality, in the run up to 2015 and we might be looking at a fundamental and positive re-casting of international development itself as the rest of the world takes notice.

High stakes indeed.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Global elite address conflict

Heads will be collectively scratched in Washington on Friday at a mystery. Why do the world's elites not spot an emperor with no clothes on?

As the great and the good gather for the Spring Meetings of the World Bank they will also be mulling over what the international development agenda could or should look like after the expiry of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). They are not short of ideas, as we saw in London when the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons established by the UN Secretary General were subjected to a two hour mass lobby.

Tony Blair recently said "to decide is to divide" and there is no doubting the difficulty of making the priority call on a long list of vital issues to include in the next global set of targets to measure how the world is doing by its most vulnerable and poorest citizens.

Yet there is one subject, almost uniquely, that both the elite and the development lobby agree on: we have to do something about conflict. A quick look at the MDG league table reveals the stark reality that the poorest and most vulnerable have been left behind by the old way of doing things, with no conflict affected country set to meet a single MDG.

It's not difficult to see why. Conflict is political but the MDGs are technical. Conflict takes generations to tackle, but the MDGs set a 15 year deadline. In short conflict goes to the heart of the relationship between the governing class and the governed. And that raises all sorts of tricky questions. Best stick with counting the schools we've built. Even if the children can't get to them for fear of kidnap.

And, worryingly, the emerging post 2015 consensus seems to be repeating the mistake if you judge by recent communiques, speeches and statements.What seems obvious - a development goal on peace - is being quietly side-stepped.

Last year the chief author of the MDGs, Mark Malloch-Brown, told me that for the next generation of development goals to tackle the political, long term and tricky issues of governance would be the achievement of a generation. And those countries affected by conflict agree, with the G7+ group of nations having formed a new partnership with donors called the New Deal for Engagement with Fragile States, or the New Deal for short. It sets out a new partnership for doing development, based on transparency, local ownership, accountability and trust.

The good news is that the New Deal learns the lessons from the MDGs. It establishes that:
  • Peace and security are essential for broader progress on development, and that this should be explicitly acknowledged in the post-MDG framework;
  • That transitioning out of fragility is a long political process that requires country leadership and ownership; 
  • That fragile countries need to set the priorities for the way aid in which aid is spent in their countries while; 
  • Mutual accountability mechanisms need to established between donor and recipients based on transparency and trust. 
Led by East Timor and a group of fragile states from across the world the New Deal was hailed at the time. Ban Ki Moon said the New Deal was a
"...significant – and welcome – contribution to a more equitable and productive partnership between fragile states and their development partners"
While US Secretary of State Clinton was equally impressed:
"The New Deal for Fragile States, which [the g7+] have developed from the very beginning, is an exciting and fresh approach that has the chance to deliver real results."
UN Post 2015 Consultation for Africa
The problem is, it hasn't. At least not yet. Implementation has been slow and meetings designed to steer its implementation have started to be characterised by a lack of willingness by governments to engage local civil society while at the international level there seems to be a conspicuous lack of reference to the New Deal in almost any post 2015 debate. While I was at the UN Global Thematic Consultation on Conflict, Fragility and Disaster in Liberia last year, President Sirleaf had to make a personal intervention before it was put on the agenda at all. Powerpoints were hurriedly updated over dinner.

Are we in danger of repeating the same mistakes of 2000?

Amid the enthusiasm at the new way of working represented by the New Deal we knew this point would come. Power politics was always going to take centre stage. Muscles flexed and quiet words had.

The meeting on the 19th is a chance to air those issues and get the New Deal back to being centre stage. It's not perfect, and this is also a chance to discuss its shortcomings. Questions to be posed to participants, which will include Jim Yong Kim President of the World Bank, Rajiv Shah the Director of USAID, Helen Clark Head of the United Nations Development Programme,  Judy Cheng-Hopkins Director of the UN Peace Building Support Office and  Klaus Rudischauser Deputy Director General, Development and Cooperation at the European Commission include:
  • What are some of the key achievements, opportunities and challenges to deliver change through the New Deal at the country level?
  • What can the New Deal and the International Dialogue contribute to redefine the new development agenda?
  • How can states and societies affected by conflict and fragility best make their voices heard, taking a lead role in shaping such an agenda?
  • What does it take to implement the New Deal?
Difficult questions, all. But with a participant list consisting of the global policy making elite, who themselves will be joined by Ministers from across the world, including fragile states, Friday will be the time to ask them. If you're in Washington, go along. The event, billed as "The New Deal: Achieving better results and shaping the global agenda", will take place at the Willard Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW between 1400-1600. There may be sandwiches.

You have to hope the answers coming back from the panel inspire more confidence than many of us trying our best to support this process feel at the moment. 1.5 billion people depend on them. The emperor must be clothed. 

Sunday 14 April 2013

Rebels & Army talk across the battlefield

Extraordinary scenes captured here by Free Syrian Army forces of a dialogue between a defected Sergeant, who identifies himself as such complete with his unit, and an unidentified Army soldier a few yards away. The subject of discussion starts with what the Army soldier says was the killing of a relative by the rebels, but soon moves on to the nature of the Syria they are both fighting for.

What's incredibly sad is that they both pretty much want the same thing, a multi ethnic Syria based on freedom from fear. And then they start negotiating another defection. Such is the irony of war.