Ministers Pires and Friis Bach: Fragile States Not Too Fragile to Engage in Post-2015 Development Agenda

Development partner countries would not have engaged with fragile states ten years ago, said Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development and Cooperation of Denmark, though since then, thinking has shifted dramatically because of the New Deal for Engagement of Fragile States.

“We [now] say we need to engage in fragile states, because that is where the most vulnerable people are, and the problems of these countries are spreading to the rest of the world,” said Minister Friis Bach.

The minister was joined in this Global Observatory interview by his co-chair on the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste.

Minister Pires said, “The New Deal, when it was launched, it was a turning point, because it brings fragile states to the same table as development partners. If you go back in the past, like to the Paris Declaration, we were not there to speak; now, we are there.”

Minister Pires said the Milllennium Development Goals was missing goals for peacebuilding and statebuilding, which are crucial for fragile states. "You actually needed some instruments, some tools, and one of them was the peace, stability in those countries, because these countries are often in conflict. So, without peace, you couldn’t really do much at work; how can teachers go to school, and how can children go to school for teachers to teach them if there’s no peace, there’s no security."

Minister Friis Bach said development partners are now working in countries that were previously avoided, such as Afghanistan and Somalia. “Ten years ago, we [Denmark] wouldn’t even have thought about going to Somalia. But now we are there, and we give our contribution to the new legitimate government. So, impact on the ground is slowly starting to materialize. Countries are starting to move out of fragility, and hopefully peace and prosperity will now come together.”

However, Minister Friis Bach said, “I also know that if the New Deal is not reflected in the post-2015 development agenda, we will continue to work in silos internationally, globally; in the UN, in many development partner countries, we still work in silos of implementation, and have security on one side and development and governance issues in other parts of our organization.”

“We need to break down the silos, and here, the post-2015 development agenda must reflect this,” he said.

The interview was conducted by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript:

Maureen Quinn: We’re very pleased today to have the two co-chairs of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste, and Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development and Cooperation of Denmark, and I am Maureen Quinn, the Director of Programs at IPI.

In 2011, Timor-Leste and Denmark were two of the 41 members of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding to endorse the New Deal for Engagement of Fragile States. The New Deal has been hailed as a breakthrough that offers a new development paradigm to address the specific challenges faced by fragile and conflict-affected states. Where does the New Deal stand today, what has been accomplished since it was signed in Busan, and what challenges remain?

Emilia Pires: Where does it stand today? Well, the New Deal has made its way into many of our development partners’ policy documents, same thing as many of people in the civil society, multilateral agencies, including the private sector, recently.

Right now, we have about 7 countries—fragile states—implementing the New Deal on the ground. The New Deal has three very important elements: the peacebuilding-statebuilding goals, and the focus which is a pathway led by the fragile states themselves out of fragility, and trust principles, which have influences in trying to change the donors' behaviors while engaging in fragile states.

We also in the International Dialogue, we've got working groups working on how to translate these principles and policies into operational guides so that we can implement them better on the ground. For example, we've worked on indicators, so that we can measure ourselves; we are now working on indicators for focus and trust; we've done it for the peacebuilding-statebuilding goals; we are also working on guidelines, so that we all have the same kind of interpretation.

Christian Friis Bach: I think a lot has been achieved in the past years. If you go back 10 years, many development partners, us richer countries would have said, "Don’t engage in fragile states because it's too difficult;" we would have said, "Don’t work through state institutions in fragile states because they are very weak;" and we would have said, "It's very dangerous to discuss security and development at the same time, keep it apart."

And today, on all three accounts, we say exactly the opposite. And that's the achievement of the New Deal. We say we need to engage in fragile states because that is where the most vulnerable people are, and the problems of these countries are spreading to the rest of the world. We have to engage through state institutions because they are weak, and build them, and strengthen them to deliver social contract between the state and its people. And we need to rethink our approach to security/development, because it comes as a package, and without security, no development. And here, concrete steps have been achieved now; the New Deal and this agenda is really becoming broadly shared, and now engagement in the principles of the New Deal is really taking off.

The first compacts have been signed; take Afghanistan, the Tokyo mutual accountability framework is a compact between the development community and Afghanistan saying: if you deliver, then we will deliver. And in Denmark, we give 50% of our aid now on budget through state institutions in Afghanistan; 80% is aligned, and we have managed their right to deliver both schools and education, and a both functioning Ministry of Education as well. That's the basic idea behind the New Deal.

Somalia is coming in. Denmark, we have given now a concrete contribution to the new government, a legitimate government in Somalia; we wouldn’t have done that 5 years ago; 10 years ago, we wouldn’t even have thought about going to Somalia. But now we are there, and we give our contribution to the new legitimate government. So, impact on the ground is slowly starting to materialize. Countries are starting to move out of fragility, and hopefully peace and prosperity will now come together.

MQ: So, Minister Pires, this is a two-part question for you. How has the New Deal affected south-south cooperation in peacebuilding and statebuilding. Are states and societies affected by conflict and fragility now making their voices heard?

EP: The New Deal has given us space to bring everybody together in country. I can speak for Timor-Leste, for example: we brought not only the civil society, but the private sector, the people in the districts, in the rural areas coming together when we did our fragility assessment. So, it was not just government officials sitting in the national headquarters saying, "Alright before we didn’t even do that at all, it was the development partners who did it on us." Now, we are actually doing it with our own people, with different stakeholders saying, "Where do we think our country is, what are our problems." So, all this has kind of contributed to us to have the same kind of understanding of where we are, which was missing in the past. And therefore, we are now owning our problem and finding the solutions ourselves.

Then, in terms of south-south, we also formed the group that we call the g7+ which is now made of 18 nations. What we do there is we share our own experiences with each other, so you could say we are fragile to fragile; not just learning from our development partners—which sometimes the gap is bigger—because they are developed already, and we are still at the bottom of the ladder of development. And now we are actually saying some of us that have done some successful things, be that in security area, be that in the justice area, or in revenue correction, we share with the others. So, it's been very interesting and very positive because normally you think, "Ah you're so fragile, what have you got to share with somebody else." But it’s actually very effective, because we don’t have an agenda, and so the trust is there immediately.

The New Deal when it was launched, it was a turning point, because it brings fragile states to the same table as development partners. If you go back in the past like the Paris Declaration, we were not there to speak; now we are there. And we are saying about the challenges we faced, our perspective on how aid is working or not working in our countries. So, our development partners are hearing that, and then they tell us also what their constraints are, their challenges are. So, together we try to find the answer to make it more effective on the ground.

MQ: So now for you, Minister Friis Bach. What has changed to donor approaches to development in fragile context? Did Busan produce more transparency?

FB: Busan definitely produced more transparency, and it has helped to produce more trust and it has helped to produce more focus on how we engage in fragile states, and all of those elements are necessary.

Donors are changing their behavior; we are working more and more aligned to national priorities, supporting national leadership, working through national institutions, and through the state. Steps are being taken, but there's still a long way to go, there's still a lot of uncertainty amongst the donor society.

We are still not risk-willing enough; we don’t dare to take the risk of working through state institutions, governments, in fragile countries. But my point is that the risk of engaging may be high, the risk of working through government institutions and the state in fragile countries is definitely high. Things can go wrong, and we know many of these countries have high levels of corruption, and lack of implementation capacity. But the risk of not doing it is much higher, because if you cannot build the viable state in fragile countries, you can just forget about peace and security and development, and all of it. We have to build the social contract between the state and the people, align the state to build the schools and the health clinics so that the people starts to support the state, and you create a social contract in a society that is absolutely essential to pull people and countries out of fragility.

MQ: So, once again, this is for both of you, and so we'd appreciate your thoughts on the post-2015 development agenda. The New Deal proposes the new set of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals to fill a gap in the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) paradigm, which largely failed to target the particular challenges of violence and conflict. How should the needs of conflict-affected states be addressed in the post-2015 development framework, and how can the New Deal inform this agenda?

EP: As I've said, most of the fragile states will not meet any of the MDGs goals, and that was a worry, not only for the fragile states, but for our development partners as well. And so in our conversation, we identified the gap, and that to deliver on the MDGs, you actually needed some instruments, some tools, and one of them was the peace, stability in those countries, because these countries are often in conflict. So, without peace, you couldn’t really do much at work; how can teachers go to school, and how can children go to school for teachers to teach them if there’s no peace, there’s no security. Therefore, peace was one main component.

And the other component was the institutions to deliver our services. And you didn’t have the institutions, or if you did, the institutions are very weak and they could not deliver it. So, this is why the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals came about. And therefore, the post-2015 development agenda needs to be aware of that, because otherwise we're going to be living behind again; that’s 1.5 billion people that were left behind during the MDGs time.

FB: If the post-2015 development agenda does not incorporate the crucial vision embodied in the New Deal—peacebuilding and statebuilding—I fear it will become irrelevant in many fragile countries. Because that is the crucial agenda promoted nationally, locally in fragile countries, knowing how peace, security, development, and prosperity come together.

I also know that if the New Deal is not reflected in the post-2015 development agenda, we will continue to work in silos internationally, globally; in the UN, in many development partner countries, we still work in silos of implementation; have security on one side and development and governance issues in other parts of our organization. We need to break down the silos, and here, the post-2015 development agenda must reflect this, and push us to break down the silos between peace and security, and development and institutions, and that’s exactly the inspiration we get out of the New Deal. So, we definitely will push for a strong conclusion of peacebuilding-statebuilding elements in the post-2015 development agenda.

MQ: Thank you for joining us on the Global Observatory here at the International Peace Institute.



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