newdeal-pThe New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States has some of the most challenged countries in the world in its pilot group of seven – Afghanistan, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Timor-Leste. No-one could accuse it of accepting as guinea pigs only those who are bound to succeed. As such, its progress is intensely important to everyone hoping for a more peaceful world.

Much of the focus to date has been on the high level meetings, that wandering caravan that moves from Accra to Busan to Dili, and now meeting in Washington DC. Senior politicians from rich and less rich countries meet to review progress, and keep the development of the New Deal moving forward. It’s good to see the Alliance for Peacebuilding and Cordaid hosting side meetings that bring the perspectives of civil society in Afghanistan, South Sudan and DR Congo to the table.

But perhaps the emphasis on the high level meetings distracts from the very important locally led work that is now starting in the pilot countries. Each country that has put itself forward for the pilot group is to conduct a fragility assessment that will look at the country’s progress in five areas, referred to as the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs):

  • PSG 1: Legitimate Politics - Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
  • PSG 2: Security- Establish and strengthen people's security
  • PSG 3: Justice- Address injustices and increase people's access to justice
  • PSG 4: Economic Foundation– Generate employment and improve livelihoods
  • PSG 5: Revenue and Services - Manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair services delivery.
The fragility assessment in Timor-Leste was based around the following questions (for more on methodology see
  1. Where we are now, if compared with past situation?
  2. What are the challenges that we all need to pay attention?
  3. What needs to be done to improve?
  4. Where are we in Fragility Stages and how we define our situation in stages?
  5. How do we know whether we made any progress or not in the future? 
This enables each of the PSG areas to be marked as being in one of five states:
  1. Crisis
  2. Rebuild reform
  3. Transition
  4. Transformation
  5. Resilience
First to complete their report is Timor-Leste. It’s good to see recognition in it of the value both of a strong political opposition party, and of the role of civil society in key areas of provision such as justice. It reads like an honest assessment, and if not all the actions are SMART, they at least provide a sense of direction. Sierra Leone is following on, building on experience of other similar approaches, such as the Africa Peer Review Mechanism.

I’m left with two questions, however. First, the essence and value of this project is that the fragility assessments are locally led, and will provide a strong locally led input on conflict and fragility into Poverty Reduction Strategic Papers (PRSPs). But exposure to some of the countries in the pilot phase makes me wonder whether they have either the will or the capacity to reflect on the quality of their performance in some key areas, or to be as willing as Timor Leste to acknowledge the value of strong political opposition and active civil society in improving their performance.

The second question is prompted by rereading the admirably frank INCAF report ‘International Engagement in Fragile States - Can’t we do better? (pdf)’. Here we see that, out of ten principles for effective engagement, aid giving countries were, in 2011, on track for one, somewhat on track for a second, four are partly off track and another four completely off track.

It would be good, perhaps, if the performance of aid giving and aid receiving countries, in relation to fragile and conflict affected states, could be integrated, so that progress on both sides could easily be compared. Because it takes two to tango – and it would be a pity if the effort put in by one side was held back by the lack of progress on the other.