Busan Outcome Document: Is it Enough for Fragile and Conflict-Affected States?

This is the third article in a series on the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The first article laid out why the HLF matters for conflict-affected and fragile states. Last week’s article described the various conflict and fragility events at Busan and what to expect from them. Next week we’ll take a look at what happened in Busan, whether it met expectations and how to maintain momentum moving forward.

The High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness kicked off yesterday in Busan, South Korea. Among the dignitaries in attendance are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Also in attendance will be roughly 2,000 delegates, including members of civil society and the private sector.

Work started months ago on drafting an outcome document to serve as the culmination of discussions and record of commitments. A fifth draft of this document was circulated on November 23rd, including a section on Situations of Conflict and Fragility (paragraph 24). If the current language of paragraph 24 remains as is, it will signal that donors and fragile and conflict-affected states themselves are ready to make the hard decisions needed to improve assistance in vulnerable contexts.

Key Conclusions

The current draft version of the outcome document specifically endorses the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. This means that donors and fragile and conflict-affected states themselves will be committing to prioritizing their efforts based on the five goals of legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations and revenues and services. They are further committing to monitor their adherence to these goals on the basis of jointly developed indicators.

These two tasks are challenging enough, but the New Deal goes further by specifying the ways in which transitions from fragility will be country led and measures needed to improve the effectiveness of assistance. These are no simple tasks. Developing a common vision in a country ripped apart by conflict is not only logistically and substantively challenging, it risks creating perceptions of winners and losers. The task will be further complicated by resource constraints, capacity limitations, and political interests. Also challenging will be managing the expectations of mutual accountability. Donors expect that recipient states will do more to curb corruption. Fragile and conflict-affected states expect that donors will do more to improve the predictability of aid and invest more in country systems.

These challenges are a result of real political contestations requiring significant political will, dedication and perseverance to overcome. This is precisely why the outcome document as it currently stands is potentially exciting. With Ministers signing the outcome document and Heads of State endorsing it, those working on these issues will have a major boost in terms of political will. Implementation will require the dedication and perseverance of development actors, finance and planning ministries, civil society and the private sector.


The Working Party on Aid Effectiveness has had overall responsibility for guiding the drafting of the outcome document through a relatively inclusive process over several months. It is not expected that the conflict and fragile states paragraph will not be significantly altered between now and the end of the HLF given the broad degree of consultations in the drafting process. This means that not only will donors and fragile and conflict-affected states themselves sign up to a new prioritization based on the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs), but also that they will commit to carrying out some pretty challenging institutional reforms.

Fragile and conflict affected states will face the task of developing of a common vision and coherent plan in a context where significant societal divides often exist and possibly where their own governing mandate is highly contested. This vision must be based upon inclusive dialogues between government and the population that, in order to be meaningful, will need to be well resourced and staffed, and done relatively quickly.

In many contexts with limited capacity, this will present real opportunity costs. We know from similar processes in other contexts that planning processes can be quite arduous and require significant time investments. We also know that without real government commitment and investment, any plans will eventually be rendered meaningless. Fragile and conflict-affected states will also need to carry out the extremely challenging task of demonstrating that they are working to tackle corruption. In environments where the formal economy is limited and where rule of law is almost non-existent, this requires more than just political will. It requires a society that buys into the notion that corruption is worth fighting and something they can affect. Such long-term thinking and belief in the state’s ability to follow through on promises is generally weakest in fragile and conflict-affected environment, yet without popular support corruption efforts are likely to be undermined.

On the part of donors, by signing the outcome document as it currently stands, they will be agreeing to take more of a back seat. Aid ministries will need to invest in staffing—and delegating authority to—field Missions so that direct relationships can be formed and maintained with host country counterparts. This will help to improve trust and goodwill, and can also enable the development of context-specific programs that work for both donors and recipient countries. Donors will also be committing to better manage their risks through processes such shared risk assessments, improved coordination, more use of pooled funding, and more accurate monitoring to determine what success means in fragile contexts.

While this may be something that development experts have already bought into, the politics of doing this in times of constrained budgets will make it hard in practice. Managing risks in a way that aligns with what fragile and conflict-affected states themselves articulate as priorities will make this even more challenging. Taxpayers in developed countries may be willing to invest in delivering nutritional supplements to food insecure areas of Somalia, for example, but will they be willing to see support to local governing councils to mediate access to land with al-Shabaab? The 2011 World Development Report tells us that transitioning away from conflict and fragility takes generations and requires sustained engagement. Will donor countries accept this and reform their systems and aid flows?

Assuming the outcome document is not significantly altered, the questions above and more will rise to the top in the coming months and years—and rightly so. No longer can the international community pretend that aid effectiveness is the same in Ghana as it is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are hard contexts and they deserve concerted energy and attention. The question coming out of Busan will be whether, having raised the hard questions, the international community is prepared to tackle them.