This month the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, published its Annual Report for 2011 on the Global Programme on the Rule of Law, a key work strand for the agency. It argues that the way local people see their own governments and the actions of donors is the most important factor in reducing poverty and building peace.
Building on last year’s World Development Report by the World Bank – which we thought was a “game changer”, the UNDP concludes that development is impossible without tackling criminality, insecurity and impunity and establishing stability through the rule of law.
International Alert has consistently argued that the nature of local institutions is key to establishing stability and the rule of law in fragile countries. Put simply, if those institutions are not seen as being legitimate by the communities they are there to serve, they risk perpetuating a sense of injustice or other grievances that have given rise to and driven the conflict. The report observes that a
“…sense of perceived injustice – rather than poverty per se – drives conflict.”
What is needed, the UNDP report’s authors argue, is a new social contract between state and citizen and for development to be seen in those terms. Again, Alert has long placed the relationship between a government and its people at the heart of successful programming, as for example in our Programming Framework and our 2010 report on aid effectiveness Working with the Grain to Change the Grain.
There is much to be welcomed in the UNDP report, as a contribution to changing the terms of the debate about the most effective ways in which to promote development in conflict-affected and fragile areas. It comes not only in the wake of similar conclusions from the World Bank but also the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding between donor countries and fragile states.
Speaking recently the Finance Minister of Timor-Leste, herself a co-Chair of that Dialogue, explained that aid can sometimes undermine legitimacy in fragile states:
"The fact is, we in fragile states rarely know how donor aid is spent. Donors often bypass the state agenda to pursue their own agendas, delivering services directly to our people, at times, without our knowledge and often without our consent.
This not only causes fragmentation and proliferation in development but also weakens any legitimacy we as representatives of and for the people have in building viable institutions or leading a national vision and inclusive agenda for peace. This way of business must change."
Of course legitimacy is a more complex issue than that, since governments of fragile countries already lack a degree of legitimacy almost by definition – since it is one of the factors which contribute to fragility.
The UNDP report describes how the agency will be collaborating on the development of a new conflict analysis tool arising out of that Dialogue, which will:
“…serve as a national prioritisation and implementation framework. UNDP is actively supporting the development of this tool which should contribute to donors and development agencies providing coherent support through programming and financing based on agreed principles.”
The report highlights the challenge faced by international agencies of forging an effective intervention from outside which contributes to law and order locally, enabling conflicts to be managed without violence, and creating the stable environment necessary for development without undermining the legitimacy of the institutions that need either to be created or reformed. The difficulty for outsiders is how to develop and deliver solutions which can work within, and help improve the political context and system of the country concerned.
Part of the answer, the report says, is to involve communities, civil society and informal structures as well as governments, in the design and delivery of external support. Without this involvement, backed up by a full understanding of the historic and political context, the intervention is unlikely to succeed. But with it, the right institutions can achieve greater legitimacy and therefore begin to build resilience against further outbreaks of violence, for example in response to external shocks generated by climate change or economic factors. As the report rightly says:
“Representative and inclusive institutions contribute to resilience and legitimacy.”
The critical contribution of these institutions is to provide the means by which conflicts can be managed.
“When people cannot manage their disputes peaceably through a legitimate process, it increases the likelihood of future conflict and violence.”
Calling for longer term engagements in post conflict environments, the UNDP underlines the importance of understanding the local political economy in the design of interventions. It describes the role of transitional justice systems as being a key foundation stone of stability, and points out that they are also:
“...inherently political processes and are central to re-establishing the relationship between state and society, and the overall peacebuilding process.”
Unless systems are designed from the bottom-up, based on local circumstances, the report warns of legal frameworks emerging which do not command local people’s confidence:
“The rules of the game matter. Institutionalised discrimination – unfair and discriminatory treatment of individuals and groups of people – embedded in law, policy and administrative practice – drives conflict.”
The UNDP has made a useful contribution in publishing this report. It is well researched, comprehensively set out and evidence-based. The conclusions make difficult reading for anyone advocating a ‘business as usual’ approach to development, where the debate too often centres on how much aid is spent, rather than how it is spent.
With the question of how overseas development assistance is framed and measured after 2015 beginning to take shape, for example with the establishment of a High Level Panel of world leaders in May 2012, this report is a welcome addition to a debate that has, until relatively recently, avoided complexity in favour of a technocratic view of development that could be measured in kilometres of road or numbers of schools and hospitals alone. The reality of that approach for the 1.5 billion people living in the shadow of conflict is summed up in the UNDP report by a quote from Joost Andriesson of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
“It has become evident that the Millennium Development Goals are unlikely to be met in conflict-affected and fragile situations. Sustainable security, development and economic growth can only be achieved, if and when countries have the capacity to secure people’s physical safety and to uphold the rule of law. In fragile situations this entails prevention of violence and consolidation of peace and stability…
A new approach is required, as presented in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the World Bank’s World Development Report for 2011.”
For more information about our work on aid effectiveness in conflict-affected and fragile states please click here.