Q&A: AfDB has a new way of assessing fragile states

The African Development Bank building in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Photo by: AfDB / CC BY-NC-SA

ABIDJAN — A new diagnostic tool launched at the African Development Bank last month hopes to provide analysis of fragile states on the continent, assessing their resilience through a multirisk approach to better identify where and how to intervene.

The country risk and fragility assessment tool, or CRFA, aims to offer country-level insight on seven criteria, ranging from safety and security to social cohesion, political inclusiveness, and climate change. The bank says it could improve dialogue between member states and AfDB, contribute to national and international research efforts, help anticipate crises, and increase the effectiveness of the bank’s in-country work.

Sibry Tapsoba, director of the transition support coordination office, told Devex the tool would help “better target” resources as development aid falls. Roughly 20 countries in Africa are listed as “transition” countries, or fragile states, with an estimated 1 in 3 people on the continent living in fragility, Tapsoba told journalists during the tool’s launch.

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In 2014, then-AfDB President Donald Kaberuka launched a resilience-building strategy on the understanding that conflict and fragility posed the greatest challenge to Africa’s growth prospects.

In the recent past, only Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, and now Ethiopia, have rebounded from fragility into economic advancement. Meanwhile, political tensions and battles for natural resources continue to drive fragility in countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

Devex spoke to Tapsoba to learn more.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why was CRFA created and what does it hope to achieve?

My office’s mandate is to respond better to situations in countries called “fragile states” by other partners — or “countries in transition,” here at the bank. We believe that to provide a good treatment for any situation we need a fantastic diagnostic. It is a simple, reliable, and efficient application tool that allows us to measure the pressures and capacities in every single country.

Let’s take Niger, for instance. When it is said that Niger is fragile, you may think that all of Niger is fragile — when it’s not. Applying CRFA allows you to understand that maybe Niger has a lot of capacities in managing the environment, for example, but has weaknesses in social cohesion; or it has a lot of challenges and difficulties in controlling the population, but a lot of capacity in its economics and growth.

We no longer say that a country is fragile. Instead, we say that countries are in fragile situations in such-and-such dimension. That's what makes the tool appropriate for effective and clear responses to the situations on the ground.

Former AfDB president Kaberuka established a fragility and resilience-building agenda for 2014-2019. Why is now the right time to launch this tool?

“We no longer say that a country is fragile. Instead, we say that countries are in fragile situations in such-and-such dimension.”

Why now? The situation on the ground is not changing. Development aid is reducing and we think there is a lot that can be done to improve efficiency in the use of those resources; we need to be able to better target, better identify, which was the issue with the different tools we had before.

We will be using another tool to complement it, which is the “fragility lens.” CRFA is a quantitative analysis that gives us data that no one can dispute and then we can use the fragility lens to examine the nuances in many situations, for instance, where there is a political element that is very complicated to understand.

Can you go into more detail about how this tool works?

The tool will rely heavily on the data collected. We are still doing the testing and because it is a statistical tool, the data is collected from many sources as a cross-reference to make sure we are using the most appropriate information.

We are doing a lot of work with the entire bank — economists, country managers — and we will be training them in statistics so that data collection becomes more credible ... and to reach a position where access to data is no longer an issue.

What are the seven dimensions used at AfDB to assess resilience and fragility?

The first dimension is political inclusivity which, for us, is so important — whether or not political decisions are left to populations, and the need for inclusion in the political system, is key. The second dimension is security; the third is justice, whether or not there is a justice system that functions in the country; the fourth is the economy; the fifth is social cohesion.

Then we assess based on the “regional contagion effect,” or spillover effect. For example, look at what happened in Libya and how it contaminated the countries around it, particularly in the Sahel region. We never took that into account in the previous assessments. And the last dimension is climate change. Many transition countries, particularly in the Sahel, are harshly impacted by climate change and drought.

"Look at what happened in Libya and how it contaminated the countries around it, particularly in the Sahel region. We never took that into account in previous assessments [of resilience]"

When it comes to transitional states, what does the AfDB mean by “helping countries to build resilience and capacities”?

We are very good at doing the analysis and ... writing good reports on the factors that are driving fragility. What we are not good at is providing the solutions, and more importantly, helping to increase the capacity of communities, of countries, of regions. That's what the African Development Bank is achieving with this tool.

We think we understand some of the root causes of fragility and now have approaches that can help countries address those, and therefore build their resilience so communities ... are capable of [standing on their own]. This is what we want to do …. [Rather than] donors, it has to be led by the communities.

About the author

  • Christin roby

    Christin Roby

    Christin Roby is the West Africa Correspondent for Devex. Based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, she covers global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her Master of Science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.