Friday, 1 March 2013

When the fragile speak: can they help to build a new vision for development?

By Ricardo Santos

This blog is all about narratives. It is, specially, about a new narrative that keeps on pushing, keeps on making itself heard, even if under the radar. This is a narrative that, as it stands, seeks to break the “development paradigm”, similar to what the BRICS and Rising Powers seem to be seeking. And, yet, as we shall see, some of the same old failures appear to be creeping in.

The narrative is one of hope, that “we can turn potential tragedy into inspirational progress” and comes from the least likely of sources. It comes from a group that embodies that which is well established as the worst case scenario for development. This is the group for which there has been no hope of achieving a single Millennium Development Goal (MDG): the “Fragile States”. That hope, of course, could only have come from a group led by a country that knows desperate causes and got to know that those can actually be won, a nation born after 25 years of an internationally dismissed struggle for independence, Timor-Leste.

The G7+ group of Fragile and Conflict Afflicted Countries, under Timorese leadership, met from the 26th to 28th of February to add their voice in the setting-up of the post-2015 Development Agenda. The Dili International Conference was entitled “Development for All: Stop Conflict, Build States and Eradicate Poverty”. The title, in itself, sought to represent the sequence of steps the G7+ countries determined were needed to reach the MDGs targets. They propose that as pre-requisites to reaching the MDGs, fragile and conflict afflicted countries need, to meet a set of conditions not accounted for when the MDGs were originally conceived.

Last time, as president Xanana Gusmão said in the closing speech, the MDGs were an exercise of goodwill from the “North” towards the “South” but which, as they were being designed, left out the voices of the very countries those goals were intended to help. In the process, the G7+ countries experienced the frustration of being measured against objectives they felt unable to meet before a set of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals (PSGs) were first achieved. These goals were presented in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States considered as one of the few successes of the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

The statement of the Dili Consensus, signed yesterday (the 28 of February 2013), brings new challenges, not only to the donor community but to the governments of those that endorsed it. As it proclaims, if it is to address the reality of fragility, the post-2015 agenda needs to “seek to enhance the social contract by promoting integrated action in four major areas not adequately treated in the MDGs: inclusive economic growth, state effectiveness, peace and justice, and climate change and environmental management”. The goals on health, education, women’s empowerment and global partnership “should remain with refinements”. It is not, in itself, a radical derivation from the current objectives. In fact, it undertones the need to address inequality, irrespective of growth, as these are countries where inclusive growth needs to happen.

These should also be seen as commitments the G7+ governments have now made towards important targets of governance, including abiding to “universal principles of respect for human rights, fairness, justice and peace”. In these commitments, they demand the right to be the ones in the driving seat. As they proclaim “[o]ur national development frameworks must reflect our national priorities and circumstances. They should be aligned with, but not subordinate to, global goals.” The legitimate right they proclaim, to determine the priorities of their own development has to come with the responsibility and accountability, towards their own people first, but also towards all those that, for the sake of those same people, may choose to cooperate as Development Partners.

Under a philosophy of development as a path to be shared and reflected by those that are traveling it, not as a gift bestowed by those who have it to those that don’t, the G7+ contributes decisively to a different narrative with may have a powerful influence in changing the paradigms. It is, in itself a new sort of South-South cooperation, quite different to the North-South one that still dominates. It is one, however, very much within the framing of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, which has been championed, in statements more that in action, by the OECD-DAC countries.

That is, however, criticized and shunned by the BRICS as a donor-driven set of guidelines. They propose themselves to be the advocates of a different kind of cooperation, a South-South cooperation. It is, however, a sign that old ways are still in place, when we see the BRICS outside of the G7+ process and OECD-DAC countries placing themselves as preferred partners, namely in the fragility assessments already being piloted. Not only have none of the BRICS endorsed the New Deal, but not one of them was represented in the Dili Conference. Failure for these two groups to engage may weaken both in setting-up the “new development paradigm” that both groups are so keen to promote. Yet, there seems to be much more in common between their perspectives than not.