Can the New Deal Live Up To its Promise to Significantly Shift Agency to the Local?

The New Deal is more than an important step forward – it is a potential game changer. Until recently, peacebuilding has been something done mostly by the international community. Now, the New Deal aims to empower societies recovering from conflict to steer their own peacebuilding processes. Unsurprisingly it will have to overcome serious challenges and deep-seated vested interests to make headway, and thus far progress has been mixed. What do we need to do to ensure it lives up to its promise?

On a recent visit to Mogadishu I was reminded again of the overwhelmingly complex set of challenges facing the government and people of Somalia, and their regional and international partners. The legitimacy of the government is challenged and its capacity to deliver is weak. At the same time, this government represents the best chance the people of Somalia have had in decades to benefit from some level of stability, rule of law and provision of basic services.

If it is to succeed, the government will have to go beyond liberating territory with the help of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It will need to deliver order, justice and livelihood opportunities that out-perform those offered by Al-Shabaab. In a country that is clan-based, governance needs to be hyper-local. Physical security may be imposed, but sustainable stability has to emerge and be maintained by local communities, supported by the Federal Government. Consequently, a strong federal-local partnership needs to be forged.

At the same time, the international community has to face its own demons. Despite efforts at fostering coherence and aligning international support behind government owned plans, dozens of international partners and organizations are still by enlarge each pursuing their own national or organizational interests. The result is predictably self-destructive: an international community that, despite its stated principles, is unwilling to give its local partners the space they need to take full ownership of their own project. In the process the international community ends up contributing to the very fragility it was meant to address. These challenges are not new and the consequences are not unknown, but they have proven to be more structural, inherent and resilient than our theories of change assumed.

A new initiative has been underway since 2011, and it now focuses on the specific development challenges and opportunities faced by countries affected by conflict and fragility. It seeks to transform the way international assistance to these countries is managed by placing the countries themselves in the driving seat when it comes to determining what causes their fragility, setting their own priorities, planning their own paths to resilience and managing the relationship with their international partners. The New Deal was agreed in 2011 in Busan, Korea – at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness – by donors and self-identified fragile countries that have organized themselves into a grouping called the g7+ . The donors and g7+ countries come together in the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding.

The New Deal is a mutual pact. The g7+ countries take the lead in doing their own Fragility Assessments and based on these, develop their own Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) and indicators. In turn, donors align their support behind the agreed PSGs and offer improved predictability and transparency in the assistance they provide. Together, they enter into a Compact that serves as a strategic framework for the government and its international partners.

The New Deal is more than an important step forward – it is a potential game changer. It has the potential to address most of the local ownership and aid coordination challenges I have highlighted above. It acknowledges that local agency is a pre-condition for sustainable peace, it has identified specific mechanisms that serve as vehicles for realizing local ownership, as well as for aligning international support behind these locally-led peacebuilding processes.

Nonetheless, implementing the New Deal has proved challenging. As the Somalia case so clearly demonstrates, early in the recovery process these societies typically lack the individual expertise and institutional capacity to fully engage in the Fragility Assessment and the other New Deal processes they are meant to lead. Yet these governments and donors are under pressure to complete these processes as soon as possible because they serve as precursors for the Compact. Significant aid can only flow once these assessments, goal setting and planning have been done. Because of this time pressure, consultants and other external actors are often brought in to overcome the capacity gap; and while they they do their best, the result is just not as homegrown and locally owned as the New Deal intended.

The fact that the New Deal Compact has to be in place before significant assistance can be disbursed has unintended consequences: most importantly, it reduces the compact to a resource mobilization tool, when it should be the vehicle for a genuine, locally owned vision and plan for peacebuilding and statebuilding. If the emphasis is on resources, it makes sense for the ministry of planning to bring in external experts to help it get the Fragility Assessment, Peace and Statebuilding Goals (PSG) and Compact in place as soon as possible. However, if the ambition is truly to shift agency to the local, then the programming needs to reflect the upfront investment needed to build local capacity and the time and patience needed for meaningful political engagement at all levels.

In order for the New Deal to live up to its full promise, solutions has to be found for the dilemma caused by this time-capacity deficit: the New Deal compact should not be a once-off exercise. It should be regularly revisited, and each time there should be a target for significantly increasing input from local expertise. Likewise, Fragility Assessments should be an iterative process, closely linked perhaps to the monitoring of the PSG indicators. The PSGs, their indicators and the Compact need to be regularly reviewed and adapted. The goal should be to progressively build capacity to manage these New Deal processes with local expertise. Similarly, if initially the process has to be rapid and small, it should be expanded over time so that within a few years it can be much more participatory, representative and inclusive. The New Deal should thus include a clear programme for building-up and phasing-in local expertise, so that it can result in a real shift in agency from the international to the local, underpinned by a significant increase in local capacity to manage and staff the processes needed to operationalize the New Deal.

In doing so, we will have to be sensitive to the inherent tension in the act of building local capacity from the outside. Too much external intervention undermines the ability of a society to self-organise because it inhibits the feedback local institutions need to learn and adapt, and it builds dependence. There is a threshold beyond which influence becomes interference and where it starts to add to fragility. This threshold is much lower than widely acknowledged. Consequently, many external actors make the mistake of interfering too much and end-up undermining the ability of local systems to self-organise. We need a code of conduct that will help international actors to self-regulate their tendency to overreach.

The most distinguishing feature of the New Deal is that it recognizes that peacebuilding has to be essentially local. However, for the New Deal to move from an aspiration to a reality there would have to be a significant shift in agency from the international to the local. Achieving this will require nothing less than a paradigm-shift in the way so-called fragile states, international organizations and international development partners understand their respective roles and responsibilities in peacebuilding.

Published by OECD Insights on 14 July: http://oecdinsights.org/2014/07/14/can-the-new-deal-for-fragile-states-live-up-to-its-promise-to-significantly-shift-agency-to-the-local/

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