Aiding recovery?: a few thoughts on post-conflict rehabilitation

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1 Aiding recovery?: a few thoughts on post-conflict rehabilitation Speaking notes for the meeting Living with the megapower: implications of the war on terrorism Royal Institute of International Affairs, 24 June 2003 Joanna Macrae Coordinator, Humanitarian Policy Group Overseas Development Institute In the aftermath of the Cold War there was a flurry of peace settlements as the superpowers suspended their differences and sought to put to an end a series of proxy wars. This peace dividend extended from Central America, to southern and eastern Africa and into SE Asia. A huge amount of political energy, military force and international aid was deployed in order to try to cement these processes. While the political context for rehabilitation is very different in Afghanistan and indeed in Iraq, there are perhaps some lessons that can be drawn from this experience as to how aid can be used most effectively to support post-conflict transition, and it is on this that I would like to draw. In doing so, I d like to make three main points: First, that in order to be effective, aid in these environments must be informed by an analysis of need and not be driven by political expediency. Second, that there remain real difficulties in terms of providing what has been called a constitution for decision-making, in other words deciding how decisions will be made regarding the shape and form that rehabilitation spending should take. Thirdly, there remain important questions regarding the extent to which there will be trade-offs between achieving quick and visible results and that of achieving sustainable interventions. 1

2 Underpinning these questions is an important, if obvious, observation. In many of the environments with which we are currently concerned with issues around rehabilitation, development aid actors have often been absent for a prolonged period of time. In Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, until early 2002 at least, the primary instrument for international aid engagement was that of humanitarian relief. Similarly, in Sudan, Somalia, DRC, even Angola, the International Financial Institutions and bilateral aid agencies have largely taken the back seat awaiting a phone call that the war is over and that business can be resumed as usual. There is an obvious and important reason for this. Since its inception, the development aid enterprise has been about building states, investing in institutions of governance and public services. Development aid therefore confronts a major problem in countries where the primary donors of aid do not wish to engage with the government of the recipient country, and indeed are actively working to dismantle it. In very rare cases, such as Somalia and Somaliland, the absence of an internationally recognised and/or unified central government has also acted as a fundamental block on delivery of development aid. In these environments where strict political conditionality is applied, humanitarian aid is often the primary form of international aid engagement. Historically, such aid has not been subject to political conditionality, being targeted not at the maintenance of a particular regime, but at the people of a country, and to enable them to survive by providing them with food, water and shelter. Humanitarian aid can therefore be seen as the aid instrument of last resort. It is also explicitly apolitical, or at least attempts to rise above both the partisan politics that characterise domestic conflicts and of geopolitics. Specifically, humanitarian aid aims to be impartial, in other words provided in accordance with need, not on the basis of political, racial or ethnic considerations. It is also neutral in its intent, in other words humanitarian actors do not assume a political position in relation to the justness or otherwise of a particular cause. Humanitarian actors do not try to resolve conflicts, they seek only to mitigate their effects. 2

3 One of the things that happens, then, in situations of post -conflict transition, is that two kinds of aid bump up against each other, which have very different objectives, mandates and operating rules. In this context, speak of a continuum with its implications of seamlessness is often misplaced as much in its ambition as in fact. What is at issue is less a process of smooth handover but a dramatic shift in the political meaning and purpose aid. In other words, a shift from a form of aid that is state-averse, to one that is state building, from one that is transitory to one that is to be sustained, from one that is palliative to a more curative model. The difficulty comes not only from defining when that political moment has come, but also who should define it, and when it becomes legitimate to shift from prioritising the survival of individuals to that of the survival of regimes. It is these dilemmas that I now want to consider. First, then, the idea that in order to be effective, aid in these environments must be informed by an analysis of need, and not be driven by political expediency. A key question for aid actors is, therefore, when should aid stop being driven by the demand to meet immediate survival needs, and start being concerned with issues about statebuilding? When does the purpose of aid shift from an expression of fundamental humanity to a desire to promote security? The answers to these questions has very obvious and significant implications in terms of who gets what, and on what basis public funds are allocated. For example, a decision may be taken to concentrate resources in a particular area of a country, with the de facto effect that others get less. This is what happened in Cambodia in the early 1990s, where a decision was taken by the US and the European Commission in particular to focus much effort on the NW of the country in order to encourage refugee return and so support the holding of elections and in particular enhance the chances of the non-communist parties. There are different ways of looking at this, of course. One view would be that such an approach takes account of the need to invest in a political process and ensure an even playing field. Aid can have, and should have, a political purpose which can and should be informed by the foreign policy positions of the donor countries. The difficulty comes, of course, from the fact that there is a finite pot and in the process of these political calculations others will not receive things (health, employment opportunities etc) that others do, and that these decisions are made on the grounds of 3

4 political, racial or ethnic preference. Such an approach is ethically challenging. I think too that there is a lack of empirical evidence regarding its effectiveness. We need to look really hard and test the assumption that this kind of politically driven aid process can and does yield real and sustained political dividends, not only that we think it does. In the context of Afghanistan now, I hear from colleagues that there is a situation where the aid programme is tightly linked not only to the process of reinforcing the interim administration but also of prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism. The line between aid, foreign and defence policy is now extremely blurred with integrated approaches to security. This approach raises questions in terms of aid effectiveness and accountability, about what compromises are being made and on what basis are claims being made/validated about security gains? Does the active exclusion of some groups from the benefits of aid Second, that there remain real difficulties in terms of providing what has been called a constitution for decision-making, in other words deciding how decisions will be made regarding the shape and form that rehabilitation spending should take. A distinct, but related set of questions comes from the fact that in these transitional environments is that they are just that transitional. In Afghanistan now, as in Cambodia and Ethiopia in 1991, there are transitional administrations who are drafting constitutions, managing the country in the interim, even if they don t effectively control it. The transition will be over only when the constitution has been finalised and ratified, elections held etc. In the meantime, the legitimacy of the administrations is contested certainly internally and to a degree internationally. In Iraq, of course, new heights of uncertainty have been reached in terms of the status of the interim administration and its duration. Added to this is the fact that the wheels of the aid bureaucracy grind slowly. In contrast to relief aid which works on very short project cycles and with relatively light procedures and empirical basis, resuming full scale developmental funding is a slow process, contingent upon resolving structural issues such as clearing debt arrears as well as complex procedural and tendering issues. 4

5 The tendency, therefore, is to stick with the highly decentralised, often privatized and projectised forms of decision-making in these environments that characterise relief operations. Because the central administration often lacks (or is seen to lack) both the legitimacy and the capacity to manage rehabilitation funds, funding tends to be channelled outside state institutions, through the UN, NGOS and, increasingly often through the private sector. This makes it very difficult to plan in a coordinated fashion. While the UN is often given a role in terms of coordination at field level, it often exerts very little power in terms of influencing decisions regarding aid allocations in donor capitals. There is a strong case for reviewing whether and how trust funds have helped to square the circle by establishing a more multilateral and sustained basis for decision-making regarding resource mobilisation and allocation. In this process the question regarding how accountability to recipient country populations is achieved is also likely to be worth asking. Thirdly, there remains the dilemma of balancing the need to achieve quick and visible results and that of achieving sustainable interventions. Rapid investment in infrastructure implies a responsibility to think about how this will be sustained in terms of salaries and other recurrent inputs. In the health sector in Cambodia, Uganda and Ethiopia dependency on external support to sustain increased levels of investment. Sustaining international support for social sector investment over a long period of time is likely to be important, therefore. In the health sector, what has happened in the past is that under the emergency/rehabilitation rubric there has been active support for funding salaries and providing free drugs. When a developmental label is applied this is often associated with introducing new conditions for populations accessing goods and services in particular the introduction of cost recovery mechanisms. This often takes place without a demonstrable change in the capacity of communities (or indeed governments) to pay for services. This would suggest a need to plan for extended horizons for investment, to ensure predictability of that investment. It would also suggest a need to think through whether the priority should be to enhance the accessibility of social services over time or financial sustainability of rehabilitation. Given that the provision of social services might be seen as a key function of states there might be good reasons to assume explicitly this burden as part of reinforcing the empirical sovereignty of these fragile states that is, if they are seen to be politically benign, of course! 5

6 In summary, the are important questions about what aid is for in these environments? Is it to provide a safety net to enable people to survive what is usually a very insecure and uncertain time? To what extent is the obligation of aid actors to be politically informed in order to ensure effective implementation, or is it to be driven by the political agenda of wider foreign policy? It is in these post-conflict environments where the politics of aid are particularly important, but where arguably it is least documented and perhaps least accountable. Understanding more about the implications and effectiveness of these choices will, therefore, be important for managing the future Iraqs and Afghanistans. This talk draws on Macrae J (2001) Aiding Recovery: the crisis of aid in chronic political emergencies. Zed Books. London and New York. The book may be ordered from 6

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