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Goodbye Conflict, Welcome Development

Leveraging its experience, Timor-Leste helps conflict-affected countries overcome fragility

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shakes hands with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) shakes hands with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak (R) during their meeting at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea.

With one out of five people living in a conflictaffected or fragile state, the world finally has a collective voice and platform to address the needs of these countries. Meet the g7+.

The g7+ represents 19 of these countries with a collective population of over 365 million people. These fragile countries ‰– characterized by factors such as political instability ‰– show a widening wealth gap between industrialized nations. One-third of people living in fragile states survive on less than $1.25 a day. Statistics show that roughly 70% of fragile states have seen conflict since 1989; 40% of these countries emerging from war will slide back into conflict in less than five years.

“It makes perfect sense,” said Francesca Bomboko from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “We speak the same language and can address the same issues.”

By providing a much-needed forum to address concerns and advocate before the international community, the g7+ promotes democracy, strong institutions and good governance in some of the world’s most fragile countries. The g7+ also is undertaking another major task: Transforming the way the world views these countries. Too often these nations fall victim to unfair and inaccurate reporting creating misconceptions that can be harmful and counter-productive.

“The g7+ is a unique platform, where we can share with each other and raise awareness,” said Afghanistan country representative Habib Mayar.

The Formation of the g7+

Timor-Leste is the chair, and Minister of Finance Emilia Pires has presided over the group since its inception. The idea for the g7+ came after a candid discussion with other countries. During the session, leaders of fragile states sat together with partner donor countries in Paris. Pires represented Timor-Leste, a country that saw the restoration of its independence in 2002 after a 24-year battle that left the country in ruins. She remembers being surprised when other countries, suffering from active conflicts, seemed reluctant to share their concerns openly.

Pires didn’t want to sugarcoat the very real challenges facing Timor-Leste. One by one she listed Timor-Leste’s fledgling democracy, lack of infrastructure and rural poverty as factors threatening her homeland.

“Everybody was speaking positively,” Pires said. “When it came to my turn, I said, ‰Û÷Well, I would like to speak as a person. I don’t want to speak as a minister of finance.’ I started to speak of all these challenges, like lack of donor coordination. I might have been complaining, but that is how I felt.”

After Pires finished, the mood shifted. Other countries, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and members representing what would become South Sudan, openly shared their concerns. Conflict. The constant worry of sliding back into conflict. Political instability. High unemployment. Fear. Despair.

“Everyone had very similar problems,” Pires said.

After that session, she realized that these countries, while many, had no shared platform. They clearly needed one. Pires continued her conversation with other countries and together they agreed that fragile states needed a voice so that they could learn from one another and develop solutions. Moreover, they realized that by building solidarity, they could secure a place for themselves in the global arena and change the way the international community perceives and interacts with them.

The countries appointed Pires as the leader and called themselves the g7+, a tongueand-cheek take on the now defunct G7, because “one day we want to be as good and as rich as the other ones,” Pires said. The group gathered more country-members organically.

“The need was there,” Pires said.

The Dili Declaration

The group met in April 2010 in Dili during the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, an innovation in which fragile and conflict-affected countries and their development partners can jointly shape and guide assistance to support peacebuilding and statebuilding. The group agreed to the Dili Declaration that affirms a collective commitment to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations and the Accra Agenda for Action.

The vision behind the Dili Declaration is to end and prevent conflict and build and contribute to the building of strong states. The Declaration calls for improving governance, strengthening development and increasing political dialogue.

The group acknowledged that conflict and fragility are major obstacles to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and supports country-led peacebuilding and statebuilding processes. Fragile states are different from developing countries because they have experienced severe trauma, Finance Minister Pires said.

She drew upon the experience of Timor-Leste. She noted the MDG goal of universal primary education and said Timor-Leste wants to meet that target, but for 24 years was locked in a battle for its survival. Schools were burned down and the country has had to undergo massive rebuilding effort.

The same is true for other fragile states, she said. These states cannot meet the development goals when they have experienced such political shock, Pires said.

“The MDGs cannot be built without foundations,” Pires said. “State institutions are necessary. The message from us is that the target of reaching the MDGs by 2015 cannot be applied to fragile states that have experienced or are already dealing with conflicts and crisis. There is clearly the need for new conditions to be applied to aid for fragile states.”

The Declaration outlines actions and effective support for peacebuilding and statebuilding that includes establishing a mechanism to enable g7+ countries to meet and articulate a long-term vision to guide development. The g7+ countries, including states such as Haiti, Liberia, Chad, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, also pledged to step up efforts to contribute to key aid policy discussions, particularly the G20 and the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

Leaders from these countries later met at the Cairo Conference on Capacity Development, the Addis Ababa Meeting on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding and the g7+ Juba Ministerial Retreat. During these sessions, countries solidified the consensus around the shared goals and challenges of fragile states.

Tangible Progress

The g7+ is less than two years old, but it has taken a proactive role in international affairs and its significance to member states is hard to overstate.

“Our society has gone through a lot. Unless you’ve been there, you really don’t know,” Siafa Hage, advisor to Liberia’s Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. “We believe this (the g7+) is an opportunity to improve.”

Less than a year old, South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, but this landlocked African country shortly after emerging triumphant from civil war is again mired in conflict. The once strident international goodwill is slowly ebbing.

That is frightening to Moses Mabior, aid coordinator for South Sudan, who helped fight for his country’s independence. The towering South Sudanese and University of Pittsburgheducated economist sees the g7+ as a way to share best practices and boost one another to help their countries come out of poverty, he said.

He remains devoted to South Sudan and the g7+.

“We want to share our experiences with other fragile states,” he said.

OECD chief Angel Gurria (C) speaks as South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan (2nd L) listens during a press conference on the outcome of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in the southeastern port city of Busan in December, 2011. OECD chief Angel Gurria (C) speaks as South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan (2nd L) listens during a press conference on the outcome of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in the southeastern port city of Busan in December, 2011.

Breakthrough in Busan

The outcome of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness was the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, a groundbreaking document of aid architecture that gives fragile states a stronger role in their destiny.

The New Deal is a revolutionary step in transforming the relationship between donor and recipient countries. Proposing far-reaching peacebuilding and statebuilding goals while also focusing on new ways of engaging with donor countries to build mutual trust, the New Deal – for the first time – places fragile states at the helm of their development goals.

Building upon previous declarations for good international engagement in fragile states and situations, the New Deal articulates the vision and principles of the Millennium Declaration and the Monrovia Roadmap, a 2011 document that outlines five peacebuilding and statebuilding objectives and several key high-level commitments to include increasing citizens’ access to justice, managing revenues and building capacity. Through the New Deal, it is acknowledged that fragile states require special assistance in developing strong government institutions.

The New Deal is leading the way fragile states interact with the world community and the thinking behind it aligns with the latest approaches to sustainable development. The Overseas Development Institute, a UK-based think tank that focuses on poverty and policy, has been a vocal supporter for a revolution in foreign aid. In a recent report, the institute called for a dynamic approach to foreign aid, encouraging donor countries to understand the specific challenges of fragile states.

The key to development, experts say, is to focus on statebuilding and peacebuilding. Statebuilding establishes a context that promotes mutual accountability and transparency. These qualities are featured prominently in the New Deal. Member countries said the New Deal gives them ownership of development processes in their countries.

“We know our priorities,” Abakar Boukar, the National Director of Economy in Chad. “We know our problems.”

“We are not asking for more money,” Pires said. “We want to know how to best use that money to make it more effective. The New Deal is the beginning of that.”

The Future

The g7+ continues to gain international respect and is working to be recognized by the United Nations. When the General Assembly meets in September, members of the g7+ intend to submit the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals for consideration.

The rising role of Timor-Leste has caught some off guard, Pires said.

“People ask me, ‘Why is Timor-Leste so active?’ I feel it is a duty. I think the world is a little bit twisted: They give to take back something. We are not into that. Remember, we are just out of a conflict. We still feel that pain. When we see others going through that pain, we can’t handle it. Why can’t we share? We also want to learn.”

g7+

Goodbye Conflict, Welcome Development

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