Opinion: How to reform aid in pursuit of stability

People gather by the wreckage of an armored vehicle belonging to separatist fighters, burnt during the recent clashes in Ataq, Yemen. Photo by: REUTERS / Ali Owidha

Conflicts, fragility, and extreme poverty have evolved as global challenges and their impacts are felt beyond borders in a relatively short span of time. 

The tens of millions of refugees fleeing their countries due to war and famine and pouring into Europe is one such impact that has been felt globally. Billions of dollars are spent annually to respond to the consequences of these crises in the form of humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance. 

Earlier this year the leaders of the “most advanced” economies gathered in Biarritz, France for the 45th summit of the G-7 where they issued an eight-point declaration featuring commitments to help countries in fragile situations become resilient and stable states. The G-7 reiterated its recognition of the principles of the “New Deal” and support to fragile-fragile cooperation, a peer-learning exercise among the g7+, an intergovernmental group of 20 conflict-affected countries. Commitment by G-7 to collectively address fragility will naturally raise expectations across the globe.

G-7 has been criticized and referred to as having made less or no impact in addressing issues of a common nature. However, I believe that is an opportunity for the group and its members to claim how relevant it can be in the contemporary era where the fate of multilateralism and global governance are challenged on every front. This will depend on how the aforementioned commitments are translated into policy and actions. This is where I offer some optimism and suggestions on how to take the commitment forward:

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First, a stable, capable, and well-equipped legitimate state is indispensable to ensure long-term stability. The prevailing models of engagement in fragile situations, which have been based on the assumption that the state and its apparatus are incapable or unwilling to run the affairs of countries, have often undermined states’ role. 

The very definition of fragile states offered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development implies imposing alternative and parallel-state institutions, which weakens the social contract that holds countries together. The result of such policies is that the duty of delivering services to the citizens in these countries is outsourced to peacekeeping, humanitarian, and development actors with the result being parallel institutions and fragmentation. As a result, rebuilding and strengthening of the state has either been off the agenda of donors or is projectized as ad hoc capacity-building projects that span a few years. 

Next, the existing aid system is often blamed for being ineffective and perpetuating dependency of developing countries. Instead of appreciating local solutions to local problems, donor aid  encourages dependency on flimsy imported ideas. Although the national strategies or development objectives in the recipient countries are featured in the preambles of the aid projects, the deliverables of such activities are often pre-defined in the capitals of the donor countries.

Against this backdrop, g7+ has advocated for a “nothing about us without us” policy and the G7 declaration committing “to promoting local ownership and solutions when tackling the main drivers of fragility” underpins this principle.

Countries in fragile situations should own the responsibility and the solutions to pursue resilience with donors in a supporting role. Such a shift will require trust and mutual accountability between donors and the so-called “fragile countries”. The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding can best serve as the forum to negotiate and agree on rules of engagement. 

Finally, cooperation between countries in fragile situations is one of the flagship programs of g7+, including facilitating peer learning among member countries about peace and state-building and the documentation of success stories. Based on the principles of volunteerism and solidarity, the exchange has included facilitating dialogue and reconciliation, and financial and technical assistance among the member countries. Such support has proven effective and relevant. 

g7+ has established a council of eminent persons that aims at facilitating dialogue and can potentially act as a mediator. The initiative has already attracted a lot of attention and support from traditional donors and has the potential of playing an even more crucial role. G-7 members should support this initiative to address some of the existing conflicts around the world. In addition, g7+ can be a good counterpart to G-7 in providing an evidence base for needed reforms in the development cooperation system. 

Addressing fragility, pursuing peace and state-building has gotten a lot of traction over the past decade and a half. In particular, the inclusion of a goal on peace, justice, and effective institutions in the global agenda 2030 was an important milestone and an assertion of the nexus between peace and global prosperity. Investment in pursuing stability in fragile countries is an investment in global peace if not a guarantee.        

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Habib Ur Rehman Mayar

    Habib Ur Rehman Mayar is deputy general secretary of the g7+ Secretariat based in Dili, Timor-Leste. He has served in the Secretariat since 2013 and leads on policy and advocacy for better engagement in fragile situation. He advises the chair of g7+ on matters concerning peacebuilding and statebuilding and at WB/IMF, UN, IDPS (International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding), and other related international forums to provide g7+ perspective on the related issues.