President Bio and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discuss State Fragility Report

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 July 2018:

Former president of Liberia – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was in Freetown, Sierra Leone yesterday, 23 July 2018,  where she held talks with president Julius Maada Bio about how best to implement the recommendations of the recently published ‘State Fragility’ report by the International Growth Center (IGC).

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the only woman to have won the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Award for achievement in African leadership, arrived in Freetown with Jonathan Leape, Executive Director of the IGC.

The  Commission  on  State  Fragility,  Growth  and  Development  was established under the auspices of the International Growth Centre  (IGC)  in  March  2017  to  guide  policy  to  address  state  fragility.  The Commission is chaired by David  Cameron –  Former  UK  Prime  Minister.

In April 2018, the Commission published its report: ‘Escaping the Fragility Trap’. According to the report, “the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs)  set  the  mission  to  eradicate  extreme  poverty  by  2030.  Yet nearly a  third  of  the  way  towards  that  deadline,  almost  900  million  people  are  still  living  on less  than  two  dollars  a  day  and,  in  too  many  of  the  world’s  poorest  countries, progress  is  completely  stuck”.

It explains that: “A  great  many  of  these  countries  are  what  are  often  called  ‘fragile  states’.  They  are  blighted  by  conflict  and  corruption.  Their  governments  lack  the  legitimacy  and  capacity  to  deliver  the  jobs,  public  services,  and  opportunities  their  people  need.  The  latest  estimates  suggest  that  by  2030,  half  of  the  world’s  poor  will  live  in  countries  that  are  fragile.

The  report  sets  out  the  characteristics  of  fragility,  including  the  lack  of  basic  security,  inadequate  government  capacity,  the  absence  of  a  properly  functioning  private  sector,  and  the  presence  of  divided  societies.

The Commission says that its  findings  are  clear:  “If international  assistance,  aid,  and  – crucially  –  economic  development  are  to  help  make  our  world  safer  and  more  prosperous,  we  need  to  address  what  we  call  the  ‘syndrome’  of  fragility.

“At  the  moment,  we  are  failing  to  do  so.  Indeed,  some  of  the  things  developed  countries,  non-governmental  organisations  (NGOs),  and  donors  have  done  have  arguably  made  matters  worse.  After  decades  of  aid,  many  of  these  countries  are  as  poor  as  they  ever  were  –  some  even  poorer.

“The  solutions  to  such  fragility,  the  Commission  concludes,  will  be  largely  domestic.  That  may  be  slow  and  tough,  but  it  is  likely  to  be  more  lasting.  Homegrown  solutions  and  locally  negotiated  coalitions  of  governments,  businesses,  and  civil  society  are  the  things  that  will  make  well-designed  international  support  more  likely  to  be  effective.

“That  is  why  this  report  argues  that  international  actors  –  donor  countries,  aid  agencies,  the  International  Monetary  Fund  (IMF),  the  United  Nations  (UN),  development  finance  institutions,  security  forces,  and  NGOs  –  need  to  do  things  differently,  learning  from  the  mistakes  that  have  been  made  and  the  evidence  that  has  been  collected  over  the  years.

“Above  all,  they  must  stop  setting  out  long  lists  of  unachievable  objectives  and  unrealistic  timetables,  and  start  working   with  governments  rather  than   around  governments.  Domestic actors  –  governments,  political  parties,  media,  and  civil  society  –  need  to  do  things  differently,  too.

“This emphasis  on  greater  national  respect  and  responsibility  will  only  work  if  they  set  out  their  national  priorities  –  about  where  they  are  going  as  a  country  and  who  they  want  to  be.  Owning those  priorities,  learning  from  mistakes,  combatting  corruption,  and  demonstrating  accountability  are  all  crucial,” says the report.

The team visiting Sierra Leone, told president Bio that Sierra Leone and Liberia are vulnerable to fragility and instability. They said that if proper care was not taken to consolidate a lasting peace in the Mano River Union basin, the situation might lead to serious problems in future.

“Sierra Leone and Liberia share similar features about this fragility. This is the reason why the International Growth Center has drawn the attention of the two countries to quickly look into the recommendations in the report and find ways to address issues around political and economic growth in the two countries,” Leape warned.

President Bio thanked the team visiting and told them of his government’s plans to work very hard and go beyond the foundation he inherited.

“I have carefully looked at the report and the recommendations proffered there in and we are trying to forge beyond the foundation that we met to make serious efforts at dealing with issues raised in the report,” President Bio assured.

In its report, the Commission says that its recommendations “amount to a new  approach  to  state fragility  and  international  aid.  It looks in detail  about  whether  there  should  be  more  realism  about  what can  be  achieved  by  states  that  have  suffered  from  decades  of  conflict  and  failure.

“Simple  steps  that  bring  jobs  and  security  matter  more  than,  for  instance,  setting  new  national  targets  for  tackling  inequality  and  climate  change.  When it comes  to  priorities,  isn’t  it  vital  that  countries  are  able  to  set  these  themselves?

“The  aim  of  international  assistance  should  be  to  help  fragile  states  to  build  legitimate  and  capable  institutions,  rather  than  undermine  them.  When it comes  to  the  conditions  we  attach  to  our  aid,  wouldn’t  it  be  better  if  they  were  linked  to  ensuring  that  money  was  properly  spent  and  not  embezzled,  rather  than  being  tied  to  particular  policies? The authors of the report ask.

These are the recommendations of the report:

International Actors: Help build government that is subject to checks and balances and works for common purpose; Help build domestic security, including through a phase of international and regional security; Capitalise on pivotal moments

Domestic Actors: Establish limited and purposive long-term goals; In the short-term, look for quick wins

International actors: Focus on economic governance, not policies;  Use aid to support private investment for job creation; Adopt distinctive IFI policies for fragile states; Use international means of building resilience.

Domestic actors: Build institutions to support the private economy;Invest in urban infrastructure for energy and connectivity; Use domestic means of building resilience

You can read both the ‘Escaping the Fragility Trap’ and the ‘Causes of Underlying Fragility and Instability in Sierra Leone ‘Reports here:

Sierra Leone – The underlying causes of fragility and instability

Escaping the Fragility Trap

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