From Busan to Burundi and the spectre of fragile states

The ongoing political standoff in Burundi puts the East African country in a rather precarious position. It should lead us to take a look at global mechanisms already in place to prevent fragile states falling into conflict.

The ongoing political standoff in Burundi puts the East African country in a rather precarious position. It should lead us to take a look at global mechanisms already in place to prevent fragile states falling into conflict. 

One of the most prominent mechanisms is the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States endorsed at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in Busan, South Korea, in 2011.

While the HLF-4 was about how the aid system could be made more effective, the recognition was that crises such as the one currently in Burundi can easily turn a fragile post-conflict situation into a vicious trap of unnecessary violence.

And, as the maxim has it, conflict is development in reverse. A return to conflict can set back progress by decades.

It was in this recognition the New Deal was endorsed in Busan when a group of fragile states known as the g7+ emerged to champion support for fragile states.

The group started in 2010 with seven members and currently has a membership of 20 countries spanning four continents.

Burundi joined the group in 2010, and is one of the 13 African members of the g7+ (the denotation, g7+, describes the first group of seven fragile a countries plus the additional ones).

The aim of the New Deal was to shift the engagement in fragile states through inclusive country-led and country-owned transitions out of fragility, based on a joint understanding of the specific drivers and conflict and fragility.

The paradigm shift was informed by previously ineffective responses in the form of incoherent development interventions that varied from military interventions to softer tools of diplomacy and development programmes in countries affected by conflict and fragility.

The Deal calls for peace-building and state-building objectives to be at the forefront of international efforts in conflict-prone or affected countries.

The aim is to help those countries and their governments strengthen security and justice systems, support inclusive political settlements, and ensure citizens have access to the jobs and basic services that will help rebuild their trust in the state.

However, recent happenings in Africa have cast a doubt at the efficacy of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, touted as a landmark agreement endorsed by 44 countries and international organisations.

Worth noting is the outbreak of violence and conflicts in Central African Republic and South Sudan in recent years. Both are members of the g7+ and are in the formal pilot phase of the New Deal currently being implemented in seven of the countries that include Somalia, Comoros, Guinea Bissau, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

And, it is not just about conflict. The recent Ebola outbreak that began in Guinea before it spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone have been mentioned.

Add to these the brewing political instability in Burundi and you have a veritable spectre of the fragile state in Africa.

In addition to the peace-building and state-building goals (PSG) being urged on the g7+, are the FOCUS principles, among others, which aim to clarify the process a country and its development partners should undertake. (FOCUS stands for Fragility assessment; One Vision, one plan; a Compact; Using the PSG’s to monitor; and Support to political dialogue leadership).

Still, that the threat of conflict and outbreak of deadly diseases stalk the fragile states, it is not to pour cold water on the well-meaning efforts espoused in the New Deal. It is more of a pointer to how a situation should be taken according to its fragile context.

It is also a pointer to the difficult work that remains to be done and, as the East African Community heads of state prepare to meet in Dar es Salaam, next week, over the political crisis in Burundi, this is a reminder of the principles behind the New Deal that the countries should never be allowed to fall back into crisis.

The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues

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