On Conflict and Fragility and the Importance of Peace in the Triple Nexus
The High-Level Meeting (HLM) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) has just ended, with some DAC members making a strong reference to the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus and prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment. However, the meeting concluded with lackluster commitments to scaling up Official Development Assistance (ODA), even if the situation in conflict-affected, fragile statements warrant massive increases. Current levels of ODA are not sufficient in reducing poverty and addressing other crises in conflict-affected, fragile states, specifically in supporting conflict prevention and peacebuilding initiatives.
According to the States of Fragility 2020, members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) allotted USD 60.3 billion ODA to conflict-affected, fragile states in 2018. This is USD 14 billion less than the previous year, and only 4% of this was spent on conflict prevention and 13% for peace-building. Moreover, this budget allocation does not target crisis regions where response for the most vulnerable is urgently needed.
In Cameroon, for instance, Development Initiatives’ data analysis shows that the central region, which is not crisis-affected and where the capital Yaoundé is located, received 74.1% of all developmental ODA in 2019. Development actors must then ensure that ODA directly targets vulnerable populations especially that “77% of those classified before COVID-19 as extremely poor, live in fragile contexts”, according to OECD’s States of Fragility 2020.
The report, however, notes that not all fragile states are low-income because 63% of the population of fragile contexts live in middle-income economies and that different fragilities are measured across regions and sub-regions as well as national and sub-national contexts.
Notwithstanding the economic status of a conflict-affected, fragile state, addressing poverty and inequality in crisis regions require interventions that stem from the drivers of conflict. Neglecting the political and socio-economic context of a fragile state hampers the ability of peace, development, and humanitarian actors to respond holistically - in a complementary, coherent, and coordinated manner.
Reinforcing the Peace Pillar
In the virtual launch of the States of Fragility 2020, Liberata Mulamula, Tanzanian diplomat and scholar, said that there is a need to change the mindset of development actors delivering nexus programs because “peace is always the missing piece” in the humanitarian-development-peace (HDP) equation. Mulamula suggests that the peace pillar must be equally given weight, if not prioritised, in conceptualising and implementing nexus programs.
Such emphasis on peace recognises that conflict is both a symptom and consequence of a political and economic landscape that does not put people at the center. Poverty and inequality, rising unemployment, inadequate social protection, gender discrimination, underfunded healthcare system and education sector, and the violation of human rights, including that of women, Indigenous Peoples, and other marginalised groups are some of the drivers of conflict.
Authoritarian governments cause and further exploit weak and fragile democracies and exhaust their military powers against their own peoples in order to push for their own political and economic agenda, perpetuating the cycle of oppression and poverty in conflict-affected, fragile states.
The Myanmar government, for instance, stripped the Rohingya peoples, who have lived for generations in the Rakhine State, of their right to life, of their freedom to move, and most recently, of their right to vote, among others.
But some donor countries are also culpable for corroborating with such regimes through militarisation of aid and enactment of security policies that lead to military aggression in conflict areas. The United States, which remains the highest military spender among global powers, continues to back the governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel, in enabling the conflicts in Yemen and Palestine, respectively, through increasing political and military support.
Yemen and Palestine, specifically the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are among the extremely vulnerable fragile states in terms of security and economic dimensions.
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, is the second biggest arms dealer in the world, and Saudi Arabia is also its main buyer. However, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain also sell arms in other crisis contexts.
Indeed, “effective development cooperation that targets the root causes of violent conflict and strengthens (the peoples’) coping capacities to manage them is instrumental to sustaining peace”, according to the States of Fragility 2020.
A rights-based and genuine peace intervention begins with de-militarising aid, pulling out security forces, and prioritising conflict prevention and peacebuilding in crisis regions. But DAC members seem to fall short in terms containing violence instead of ending it.
In 2017, DAC members spent USD 5.1 trillion on containing violence, and yet, peace is still very elusive. This makes the case for conflict prevention all the more important. The focus must be to address drivers of conflict, mitigate the risks, invest in basic social services and programs promoting women’s rights and gender equality, and facilitate an enabling environment for CSOs and peoples’ organisations to aid in sustainable development.
In doing so, ODA to crisis regions must be accelerated, and the triple nexus approach must be strengthened and aligned with development effectiveness in order to contribute to a rights-based sustainable development. But apart from increasing aid to conflict-affected, fragile states, there is also a need to scrutinise the quality of aid provided to them.
The OECD acknowledges that “fragmentation and inflexibility of financing limit the ability to contribute to peace”. One critical analysis is that “local actors are encouraged to buy into externally designed reform strategies (over) more substantive versions of ownership where they decide for themselves what sort of state-building should be prioritised, and how it should be implemented”. The current practice, thus, undermines development effectiveness principles, especially that of country ownership and inclusiveness.
Moreover, because donors fail to uphold their commitments to provide 0.7% ODA and multilateral institutions and national governments push for public-private partnerships, investing in fragile states seems to be more of a business deal than a responsibility toward sustainable development. The status quo then pushes fragile states to sink deep in debt, instead of rebuilding or strengthening local economies to make states less aid and debt dependent.
Reportedly, “by the end of 2018, low income and least developing fragile contexts owed an estimated USD 432.6 billion, with 11% of this total owed by extremely fragile contexts”. In effect, an “estimated debt service owed in 2021 would amount to roughly 6% of total ODA in extremely fragile contexts and roughly 82% of ODA in other fragile contexts.”
Donor countries, with their commitment to protect and safeguard the integrity of ODA, must provide more grants over loans and cancel debts of conflict-affected, fragile states in order for them to utilise aid budgets for the welfare of their peoples.
Addressing the Silos
The role of peace is further challenged in terms of the humanitarian-peace silos. There is a need to build consensus between humanitarians and local peacebuilders based on each fragile country's context on ways to operate collaboratively in areas of conflict. One suggestion is to draw evidence from the ground on how humanitarian and peace actors have worked together in conflict-affected locations in order to gather best practices and address challenges arising from this.
The importance of effective HDP programming cannot be emphasised enough in the face of the global crises we are all struggling to overcome. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights how necessary it is to integrate and synergise HDP programs and deliver what the DAC’s Nexus Recommendation aims to achieve: Collaboration, Coherence, and Complementarity across the three pillars.
Overused as it seems, but the pandemic exacerbated the protracted crises and the failure of the status quo in reducing poverty and inequality among the most marginalised and vulnerable sectors. Authoritarian governments took advantage of the situation to aggravate the conditions of the toiling masses and railroad anti-people policies. Some donor countries further strengthened their security policies that undermine human rights.
Policy Recommendations from the Peace & Security Thematic Working Group
The repressive and restrictive responses of some governments to the pandemic, stoppages in local peacebuilding, humanitarian, and development initiatives, continued threats against human rights defenders and civic spaces, and accentuated gender-based domestic, sexual, and state violence have all left the most vulnerable behind.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of political will in delivering effective nexus programming and implementation. Meanwhile, the prospects of peace based on social justice is further challenged, given insufficient ODA for conflict prevention and continued military aggression of some donor countries in conflict-affected, fragile states.
In this context, the Peace & Security Thematic Working Group of the DAC-CSO Reference Group calls on the DAC members to strengthen their commitment to the Nexus Recommendation by:
Increasing funding for crisis regions and affected populations, based on nexus goals of collaboration, coherence and complementarity. For instance, 74% of ODA to Cameroon in 2019 flowed to its central region, which is not considered crisis affected. The DAC must increase funding to target marginalised populations and ensure contextualised programming, aligning humanitarian approaches with development goals, through supporting national governments and local CSOs.
Strengthening democratic systems and local governance in fragile contexts. DAC Members must align programs to national development and humanitarian objectives. Civic space must be protected in all contexts, ensuring that human rights-based frameworks are respected. In addition, in contexts of international and non-international armed conflicts, where the State is unable or unwilling to discharge its responsibilities for providing the basic needs of civilians under its control, DAC Members must support and protect the leadership of local humanitarians and peacebuilders through political, diplomatic, and financial support, among others, and which are in line with other established frameworks such as CEDAW (G.R. No 30) and 1325 UNSC Resolution. CSOs and people’s movements must freely and safely participate in democratic processes and hold duty-bearers to account.
Increasing funding for local CSOs. Many local CSOs have been excluded from the planning and implementation of national COVID-19 response plans. The DAC must commit to the sustained financing for local CSOs for them to rapidly respond to crises, adopting human rights- and gender-based programs. Funding should not be limited to project costs, but should apply to core aspects of local CSOs’ work, to ensure their sustainability between projects and that they maintain capacities to respond in times of crisis.
Institutionalising the engagement of the DAC-CSO Reference Group’s Peace & Security Thematic Working Group with the International Network on Conflict and Fragility(INCAF). Apart from requesting spaces for CSO members in fragile states to join fieldworks, CSOs have much to contribute to the ongoing monitoring and analysis of the implementation and impacts of the Nexus Recommendation in crisis regions.