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DEVELOPMENT: Listen to Us, Fragile States Tell Donors

Matt Crook

DILI, Apr 8 2010 (IPS) - “Work with us, not against us” was the message for international donors that came out of the g7+ meeting of fragile states, which met in Dili this week to discuss how they can make better use of the foreign aid they get.

Fragile states must take the reins when it comes to ways development partners give them official development assistance, East Timor’s Minister of Finance Emilia Pires told IPS. “For us to better guide our development partners and to contribute to a better management of external aid, we have to take the leadership,” she said.

“We believe that we do this through establishing a long-term vision, which then should be translated into concrete national strategies in the country plans, which then the donors must adhere to, must align their programmes to, without working outside our plans,” she added.

Thursday’s meeting saw the g7+ of fragile states – Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, the Solomon Islands, Sierra Leone, Southern Sudan and East Timor – uncharacteristically break rank from donors for a closed-door, no-holds-barred discussion of where development partners have been going wrong with their billions of dollars.

“We need development partners to be transparent with their aid. Tell us exactly how much, how much you dispersed, when and where did the money go,” added Pires. “We want action. We are ready for the action. We will do our part and we want the development partners to also do their part.”

At the end of their one-day meeting, the g7+ agreed on four priorities that they think should be the focus of international support: good governance, economic development, social and human development, and security.

But Thursday’s brainstorming was just a prelude to what will come out of the ongoing International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding on Saturday, when those g7+ countries will deliver their statement to development partners.

“We believe that fragile states are characterised and classified through the lens of the developed rather than through the eyes of the developing,” said the g7+ countries in their statement Friday.

“Although we all accept international standards, the donor community must be aware of our conditions and needs,” continued the statement, which called for increased flexibility from donors to ensure aid does what it is supposed to.

Olivier Kamitatu, Democratic Republic of Congo’s minister of planning, said in an interview that this united front is a move towards concrete action. “We have overcome the monologue and decided to come together to share our experiences,” he said.

“We have understood that we have to look beyond our borders, beyond our oceans, and we have realised that we as fragile states share common values. We understand that we have a common vision, that it is important to speak with one voice when speaking with donor countries,” he added.

“The g7+ is going to become a forum, an institutionalised forum that will meet on a regular basis with a view to assessing the efforts made by our respective countries and to look at the dialogue,” added Kamitatu.

The final act to come out of the International Dialogue will be the signing of the Dili Declaration, which will provide a framework for the dialogue to shape future policy processes, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Among the keenest listeners on Friday and Saturday is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 mostly high- income nations that give the bulk of development aid.

Juana de Catheu from OECD’s International Network on Conflict and Fragility said developed countries are finally starting to realise that their assistance has not always been delivered in line with what fragile states actually need.

“We want to hear about their perspectives on statebuilding and peacebuilding, so this is basically the culmination of a series of national consultations where we already had these kinds of exchanges on peacebuilding and statebuilding issues, and we’ve been hit with a few home truths,” she told IPS.

“The first one is exclusion,” De Catheu said. “We are obsessed with the capital (cities), and we should be, in the immediate aftermath of crisis because this is where the systemic, structural issues are being addressed…. But over time we should be looking at what’s going on in the districts.”

This focus on a country’s capital has often led to populations in rural areas being neglected.

“Sierra Leone, for example, is going to be officially declared a post-conflict success by (U.N. Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon this year. This is all very nice, but if you talk to people in the districts, they tell you they haven’t seen the dividends of peace yet, and it’s been 10 years since the end of conflict,” she pointed out.

Thursday’s meeting was a “historic moment” for the g7+ countries because they had a rare opportunity to sit down without donor presence to exchange views on dealing with aid realities and what they think international partners should be doing differently, added de Catheu.

“There’s a lot of money going into fragile states, but we’re not leveraging the investment sufficiently well,” she said. “When the rubber hits the road, we still do things the way we used to.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao gave donors a snapshot of East Timor’s draft National Strategic Development Plan for the next 20 years, which outlined a fresh pledge to use more of the nation’s oil wealth to bolster economic growth and living conditions.

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