Why Busan Matters for Fragile States

This is the first article in a series on the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The second article takes an in-depth look at the specific sessions being planned for conflict affected and fragile states.

Heads of state, ministers, parliamentarians, civil society groups, and private sector leaders will be gathering from November 29th—December 1st, 2011 in Busan, South Korea for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF). Organizers are expecting from delegates a demonstration of interest in making development assistance more effective. Broadly speaking, Busan represents a significant step forward in bringing more actors “under the tent” of aid effectiveness, as its final Outcome Document is expected to be endorsed by leaders from China, India, and other non-OECD countries that have emerged as major players in global development.

It similarly serves as a key touchstone ahead of the 2015 Millennium Development Goal completion date. For a group of fragile and conflict-affected states, the so-called g7+, Busan represents a moment when they will articulate with a collective voice their own priorities as articulated through five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals (PSGs); how they propose to reach them; and what they need from their donor partners. This collective articulation of priorities has never been seen before for this group of states and represents a real shift in a new and exciting direction.


To understand the task at hand it’s important to take a step back and see how far we’ve come. The first HLF was held in Rome in 2003 and was motivated by a desire to better understand why aid was not delivering hoped-for results and to increase efforts to deliver on the MDGs. Two years later, delegates gathered in Paris at the second HLF. Paris expanded the dialogue by including both donors and recipient countries. This concentrated attention on the development of mutual commitments—on ownership, alignment, harmonization, results and mutual accountability—whereby donors and recipients of aid could hold each other accountable. It also set up a system of joint monitoring to better ensure accountability.

Three years after Paris, the third HLF was moved from donor capitals to Accra, Ghana where the tent was opened even more to include civil society groups. Accra was an opportunity to demonstrate renewed commitment to the Paris Declaration as well as to deepen investment in three areas in particular: ownership, partnerships and delivering results.

2015—the MDG completion date—is fast approaching, and there is still a long way to go. Busan will be the last high-level forum before 2015, and is seen as a key touchstone to check progress and ramp up efforts in achieving these revolutionary global commitments.

The first day of the Forum will focus on evidence of what has and has not worked; evidence which will feed into new global commitments to be articulated during the second and third day. Busan also represents an opportunity for the international aid community to better articulate and understand the ways in which the world has changed since the first HLF—including the financial crises, food security and climate challenges—and the implications for overall development assistance. As was done in Paris and Accra, Busan will further enlarge the tent through including the private sector and encouraging more discussion around south-south cooperation and nontraditional (non-OECD) donors.

Why does this matter for Fragile and Conflict-Affected States?

While Paris was a high-water mark for international aid effectiveness, it also sparked a collective stock-taking on whether and how these commitments would apply in states experiencing ongoing or recurrent violent conflict, states with severe government capacity deficits and/or states where the linkage between the state and its citizens is so weak as to be effectively non-existent. How could these countries develop their own strategies to improve their institutions, for example, when staffing shortages meant Ministries were barely functioning? How could donors align if no strategy existed?

Realizing these challenges led in part to the development of the Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations (“Fragile States Principles”), which were approved by OECD Ministers in 2007. Adherence to the Principles has been monitored twice, with the most recent monitoring report coming out this past summer. Although the monitoring process is not perfect, the overall findings are still troubling as they essentially point to tepid—and in some cases backwards—progress. According to these results, donors have not done enough to change the way they do business to better respond to the unique challenges faced by fragile and conflict-affected states.

These results are even more discouraging when one considers the implications: 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected countries. These countries are also the category of states that are furthest away in terms of MDG achievement, falling between 40-60% behind other low-income states in hitting their goals. And while the international community spends roughly 30% of its official development assistance (ODA) on fragile states, results are often the most elusive, and demonstrating value for money a continuous challenge.

Following the signing of the Fragile States Principles in 2007, Accra went some way towards increasing attention to these issues. Most importantly, Accra called for donors and fragile states themselves to come together through a focused dialogue on how to best address the challenges of peacebuilding and statebuilding. From this was born the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (the “Dialogue”), which now constitutes over 17 fragile states, OECD member states, multilateral organizations, and civil society. The Dialogue has opened up the space for the voice of fragile states themselves to be heard, and for critical conversations to take place in trusted environments.

Seven fragile states came together at the first global meeting of the Dialogue in Dili in April 2010 and dubbed themselves the “g7+.” Since that time, the group has grown to seventeen. While no one wants the distinction of belonging to this club, those who have been most active (Timor-Leste, Liberia, DRC, South Sudan) have really used it as an opportunity to learn from one another and to engage constructively and collectively—demonstrating the power of unified action—in pushing for change in their interaction with donors. This is the first time that a coalition of fragile and conflict-affected states has come together to articulate why they need a different approach and how to make changes real on the ground.

At the second global meeting in Monrovia in June 2011, Dialogue participants agreed to a Roadmap laying out five goals that should drive partnerships in fragile and conflict affected states. These goals are seen as foundational in laying the framework for MDG achievement and include: legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations, and revenues and services.

So far, the response from the donor side has been encouraging. First the United Kingdom, and now the Netherlands, have co-chaired the Dialogue with significant investment from their respective governments. The second global meeting had broad representation from across the donor community. Unfortunately, Monrovia illustrated to some extent the differential roles of those participating in this process. Many of the fragile states had ministerial representation at Monrovia, while for donor countries it was generally department heads. Busan is an opportunity to correct this imbalance. The organizers have worked hard to get fragile states on to the main agenda as one of the ministerial sessions in Busan. This should provide the space to highlight the work done to date and, more importantly, to get high-level political agreement on the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs).

Agreeing to the PSGs at the political level with the full force of the international community backing them represents a real game-changer. Right now, some countries are preparing to volunteer themselves as “first-starters” in an effort to demonstrate how organizing around these objectives makes an impact. Close monitoring of this process is imperative, and we should all be watching very closely to see what happens. A demonstration of real progress in these states could have massive implications for the way we do business. Stay tuned!