Making aid work in fragile states is difficult but vital

6 January 2012

The debate around the effectiveness of aid to fragile states has been reignited following the publication of the International Development Select Committee’s report on working effectively in the fragile and conflict-affected states of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRCongo) and Rwanda.

Fragile states

UK Official Development Assistance to fragile and conflict-affected states is set to increase from 22% in 2010 to 30% by 2014-15. However some have questioned the decision to target aid to countries which are plagued by corruption and fraud. They argue that it  is not the most effective way of reaching the poorest and most vulnerable.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICIA) recently reported (pdf) that the Department for International Development (DfID) needed to improve its approach to tackling corruption in recipient countries. A recommendation that was reiterated in the select committee’s report, which called for DfID to set out a number of good governance conditions to which fragile states must adhere if they are to continue to receive UK aid.

IDS Fellow Professor David Leonard who gave written and oral evidence to the select committee inquiry reflected that:

“DfID’s work in conflict-affected and post-conflict states is vital and the development outcomes can be significant. But it is always going to be difficult. Fragile states are obviously not synonymous with good governance and therefore we need to be realistic about the conditions we impose in terms of providing aid. Withdrawing aid from some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens would be counter-productive.”

Professor Leonard welcomed the committee’s recommendation to DFID to increase investment in local-level initiatives designed to improve engagement between governments and their citizens:

 “Improving systems of governance in these countries is imperative. However it requires long term investment and a willingness on the part of donors to accept a certain level of risk.”

In evidence to the committee both Professor Leonard and IDS Research Fellow Joanna Wheeler emphasised the importance of donors working at a much more local level in order to achieve better systems of governance. Joanna Wheeler told the committee that research carried out by the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Citizenship DRC) had shown that in the most fragile and least democratic countries the highest outcomes from citizen engagement had been achieved through working with local civil society organisations.

Professor Leonard suggested that the UK Government had a leading role to play on the world stage in terms of working in fragile and conflict-affected states:

“DFID has a wealth of experience and expertise in terms of rebuilding infrastructure, conflict resolution and engagement with local communities. It is well placed to share best practice with other donor organisations and precipitate a shift in approach and policy.”