Breaking the Cycle of Fragility: A High Level Panel Offers Suggestions

April 11, 2014


World Bank Africa Region Vice President Makhtar Diop (l) with African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka (c) and UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Elliasson (r)

  • A high-level panel discussion during the 2014 World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings focused on ending conflict and promoting peace in African countries
  • The topic was the main focus of a report launched recently by the African Development Bank (AfDB)
  • Panelists, including AfDB President Donald Kaberuka, said partnerships, education and managing revenues are key to promoting stability

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2014—The extraordinary pace of change across Africa has accelerated not only the transformation of the continent, improving the lives and livelihoods of Africans, but it has highlighted the fact that all countries are vulnerable to fragility.

“Fragile states are not a ghetto group of countries or just a certain category or island of countries. Fragility is a risk inherent in the development process itself,” President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Donald Kaberuka, told a packed-to-capacity auditorium on April 10th at World Bank Group headquarters in Washington, DC.

Mr. Kaberuka was speaking at an event on the sidelines of the ongoing World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings convened to discuss the findings of “Ending Conflict and Building Peace in Africa: A Call to Action”; an AfDB-sponsored report authored by a high level panel of experts led by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The report was first launched at the African Union summit in January 2014.

“Money alone is not a solution to this problem,” Mr. Kaberuka added, pointing out that development agencies like the AfDB are “navigating without radar” or compass unless they develop a deeper understanding of the political economy of their member countries.

“How come we did not see these things coming?” he asked, citing the breakdown into armed conflict in South Sudan on the same day the AfDB approved a $25 million loan for a power project in that country and his Bank’s failure to accurately predict the descent into hell of the Central African Republic.

“Countries have shown that it is possible to move from fragility to high growth and high performance. This has been demonstrated in Africa,” said World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Makhtar Diop, who also spoke at the April 10th event.

Diop pointed to Rwanda as proof that resolving fragility “works best where you have great leaders” and where the climate change aspects, gender and regional dimensions of fragility and conflict are not overlooked.

“Purely technocratic approaches” to resolving fragility have failed, Mr. Diop said, emphasizing that solutions have tended to be found where there is “an alignment of the political process and the economic process” and where resolving conflicts and fostering peace is understood as being “an art, not a science”.

“We have to be better at prevention”, said Jan Eliasson, a Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, whose presentation challenged development partners to “work and think horizontally” by fostering “peace, security, development, justice and human rights” at the same time under a formula which he described as “Rights Upfront”.

" Countries have shown that it is possible to move from fragility to high growth and high performance. "
Makhtar Diop

Makhtar Diop

World Bank's Vice President for the Africa Region

Partnerships, education, managing natural resources

Applauding the partnership evident in the November 2013 joint visit to Sahel countries by the World Bank, the U.N., the AfDB, and other donors, Mr. Eliasson urged development partners to be more attentive whenever governments fail to deliver – justice, development, jobs, etc. – as this often leads radicals to lose belief in the state as countries degenerate into violence; rights violations; then ethnic cleansing; then mass atrocities; etc.

Managing revenues from natural resources well, avoiding “oil wars” and building inclusive societies are key to mitigating fragility, said Pekka Haavisto, the Minister of International Development for Finland.

During a visit once to Mogadishu, Somalia, Mr. Haavisto said he asked a group of youngsters what they would like to become when they grow up only to hear them all shout back that they would like to become pirates. Questioned further, the kids explained: “Piracy is our only option. There are no opportunities. There are no jobs”.

“We need to take education very seriously,” Mr. Haavisto told development partners on the panel.

The Finance Minister from Timor-Leste, Emilia Pires, spoke of the urgent need for countries to follow the right steps to outlining and agreeing on a compact on how to address fragility and conflict. She stressed the need to ensure that politics is inclusive; that security is guaranteed for all; that justice and rule of law are sacrosanct; that job creation, especially for youth, is a priority; and that revenue from natural resources is used to deliver maximum development impact for all.

Ms. Pires urged donors to ensure they agree with governments and that they don’t end up in a situation where governments blame donors and donors blame governments. She explained how on one such occasion she found herself dealing with donors: “Everybody was speaking English; we just did not understand each other”.

Speaking on behalf of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Finance Minister for Liberia Amara Konneh, invited development partners to support Africa’s efforts in finding “more effective responses to youth employment”; to define a transformation agenda beyond the MDGs along shared values; and to work with every country, realizing that (i) every country is vulnerable; (ii) there is no one size fits all prescription; (iii) fragility is a product of dynamic socio, economic and political upheaval.

The line-up of panelists was completed by Sarah Cliffe, the UN Special Advisor and Assistant Secretary General for Civilian Capacities; Callisto Madavo, a visiting professor to the African Studies Program at Georgetown University and a former Vice President of the Africa Region of the World Bank; and Joel Hellman, the Director for Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries at the World Bank.

According to the World Bank’s “2011 World Development Report” (WDR 2011), some 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence.

Much in line with the findings of “Ending Conflict and Building Peace in Africa: A Call to Action”, the WDR 2011 called for bringing security and development together to break the cycles of fragility and violence.