Subject: Fragile Nations Speak Their Peace

The Guardian Weekly

Fragile Nations Speak Their Peace

Matt Crook investigates why the Millennium Development Goals are failing to be met and how aid recipients are now telling donors how to make their dollars work better

Friday May 7th 2010

With the Millennium Development Goals slipping from the grasp of donor countries and fragile states, a big effort is being made to bring together all parties involved so they can thrash out why billions of dollars in aid money hasn’t yielded the expected results.

This came to a head in Timor-Leste recently when the capital, Dili, hosted a meeting between a number of members of the newly formed g7+ of fragile states ­ among them Timor-Leste, Burundi, Chad, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Solomon Islands, Sierra Leone and southern Sudan ­ to pool their ideas.

These countries came up with a statement that was central to the discussions between developing nations and donors at the international dialogue. The central point was simple: how better to address the many shortcomings in the way donor dollars are used to aid post-conflict countries and then help them to rebuild.

Juana de Catheu, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s International Network on Conflict and Fragility, said the meetings were “not business as usual” because fragile states told international partners exactly what they needed. “It’s really crucially important that the impulse comes from the fragile states themselves because if it’s donors saying ‘Oh we should be behaving better’, it’s not going anywhere, but if you have the clients, it’s much more powerful.”

In 2007, $37.2bn of official development assistance was allocated to fragile and conflict-affected states, yet 35 countries considered fragile in 1979 were still fragile as of last year.

One nation on the road to recovery is Timor-Leste, which was occupied by the Indonesian military between 1975 and 1999, leading to about 200,000 deaths. In 2006, street clashes in the capital escalated and led to 150,000 people being displaced from their homes. It’s only now, eight years after formal independence, that the country is experiencing prolonged period peace.

Last month, at an annual meeting of Timor-Leste’s development partners, prime minister Xanana Gusmão spoke of a disconnect between his country and donors arising from the latter dictating play. “We feel sad for the results in building our state, a fragile state in a post-conflict country that is the poorest in the region,” he said.

Brian Hanley, country director in Indonesia for Search for Common Ground, an organisation focused on issues related to global conflict, said: “It’s right to control the donor dollars from the government perspective, and we need to encourage that. But there are some things that the Timorese government has limitations on. They’re no experts at peace-building, frankly.”

One of the meeting’s key messages was efforts to reach the millennium goals by 2015 ­ eight international targets, including reducing poverty and child mortality ­ are way off course. The group of nations that has fallen behind accounts for more than a billion people and suffers half the world’s infant mortality

In Timor-Leste, $8.8bn of aid, including more than $3bn in military spending, has been allocated to the nation over the last decade. However, the finance minister, Emilia Pires, pointed out that poverty rose by almost 50% between 2001 and 2007. “Is that the result we wanted?” she asked. “The bottom line is that the results need to be agreed between us. But then let me do it my way because I know better the context where we are working, because you don’t know.”

The fragile states drew up a Dili declaration, which outlines commitments to improve the way aid is delivered. Sarah Noble, head of external relations for Interpeace, said the declaration was well-founded because it was borne out of a rare discussion between all the players. “There was an opportunity for countries that are facing fragility or are coming out of conflict to really sit down and talk among themselves and share their experiences ,” she said.

Olivier Kamitatu, minister of planning from Congo, summed up the frustration of fragile states. “How many poverty-reduction plans have we drawn up?” he asked. “How many assessments have we made of the Millennium Development Goals, which over time seem to become increasingly inaccessible?”

Noble said the balance is beginning to shift to address concerns, but there is still much work to be done. “Moving forward, it depends on the political will of all the people involved. It depends on resources and funding to allow partners to continue to meet with one another ­ but it created a momentum.”

The wheels are now in motion to change the way the developed world provides assistance to fragile states. However, for this to be achieved, all parties must listen. This will be vital in the lead up to a review of the millennium goals in New York in September. “The best teacher is the student who has just learned,” is how Pires, Timor-Leste’s finance minister, put it.


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