Fragile States: the Defining Challenge of Our Time
The recent launch of the first European Report on Development (ERD) ushered in a re-think in how the European Union (EU) should engage in fragile situations in Africa. The report focuses on the destabilizing effects of the global financial crisis on African countries and the way forward. The report emphasises the importance of the EU's engagement in African states in the midst of the crisis to avoid serious consequences for Africa, Europe and the world. In this regard, the report stresses the need for the EU to keep up, if not bolster, their aid commitments to developing countries since fragile and other states are bound to feel the effects of the financial crisis well after other countries recover. The continued focus on African fragile states particularly is undoubtedly of utmost necessity given the complex and multidimensional nature of their fragility. For example, reduced aid flows would lead to some states experiencing sharp declines in income levels, an increased inability to pay civil service employees and security forces, as well as a diminished capacity of the state to provide basic goods and services. The danger of such developments leading to social unrest or even conflict should not be underestimated. Besides the direct effects of the financial crisis, some African states have been dealing with droughts and the resulting increases in food prices. Combined with high fuel prices this has meant that an increasing number of Africans are unable to afford either foodstuffs or fuel to cater for their basic needs. This situation has led to public unrest over the past year in Cameroon, Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Niger. In view of this meagre situation it is refreshing to observe that the EU's report favors the increasing use of local solutions to local problems as the most effective means of meeting some of Africa's endemic challenges, including the building of resilient states. Local knowledge is also critical to understanding the root causes of state fragility and finding effective solutions, which will be able to stand the test of time. This approach inevitably empowers African states to find tangible solutions and build their capacity to deal with their unique problems, thus increasing the governments' legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The challenge here is undoubtedly convincing donors to restrain themselves from directing state building processes in fragile states in line with their national interests and detrimental to local processes in recipient countries. Donors in this regard can continue supporting local processes by providing the necessary assistance required. This will be a challenge for donors given that national interests and strategic/security considerations are an integral part of many donors' assistance to fragile states. What still remains an important aspect of EU policy in developing countries, and fragile states in particular, is €˜securing development' €“ pursuing security and development agendas to tackle the world's most pressing issues of extreme poverty, state failure and civil war. This approach calls for the harmonization of the security and development fields at the policy and implementation levels, between the EU and other donors on one side and recipient countries on the other. Although the EU has made significant progress towards developing such an approach, which is " €¦at the core of the EU's distinctive foreign policy €¦," this approach will not be easily achieved if security is not part if an overall engagement policy that includes " €¦political reconciliation, good governance, institutional reform €¦ as well as investments in the economy €¦" Robert Zoellick, the World Bank President, echoed similar sentiments at an International Institute of Security Studies conference in September 2008, when he observed that in pursuing an integrated approach to fragile states there was a need to arrive at solutions that went beyond the same old €˜analytics of development' and included a multidimensional framework based on security, legitimacy, governance and economics. However, to ensure a successful implementation of any integrated approach international actors/donors will have to align their engagement strategies. The perennial problem of such alignments is that practical frameworks for tackling integration remain largely elusive. This is because the adoption of such a framework by international actors is highly political, impacting squarely on the relationship between foreign /security and development policies. Therefore, the integration of donors' efforts for the purpose of €˜securing development' in fragile states remains one of the main challenges for international actors at present. To shed some more light on this issue, an ongoing GMF project aspires to examine two key related problems. Firstly, the project seeks to determine the extent to which the integration of disciplines, approaches within and between government departments is evident in the policies and practice of the US, Canada, the UK, and other EU states and the European Commission, regarding their engagement in peace-building activities in fragile environments such as Somalia and Sudan; and secondly, the project seeks to establish what opportunities and challenges for transatlantic cooperation have been created as a result pursuing an integrated approach i.e., intra-governmental coordination vis-Ã -vis inter-governmental cooperation. Preliminary findings of the project show that there is some level of coordination of policies and approaches within and between these transatlantic partners although this relationship has experienced occasional tensions. These tensions include the need to pursue unilateral policies to satisfy national interests in lieu of a multilateral approach; tensions within government departments as they jostle for prominence in determining a country's foreign policy; and tensions as a result of the €˜clash of cultures' within government departments as regards how to approach particular issues. These tensions appear to be the key obstacle to realizing an integrated approach towards fragile states. At the same time the analysis shows that considerable efforts are being made to harmonize policies within and between the governments of transatlantic partners. Taking account of all the above mentioned positive developments, the recent Halifax International Security Forum organised by the GMF is another welcomed addition to donors' efforts to improve the effectiveness of their engagement in fragile states. The scheduled debates about the security and development nexus, the implications of the economic crisis on fragile states, and the challenge of working with allies and partners in fragile environments are both relevant and necessary since poverty and fragility have cost the world too many lives already. In the end, addressing poverty and fragility inevitably becomes the defining challenge of our time! Timothy Othieno is an independent consultant based in London, UK.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.