African Leaders Call for More Flexible Focus on Vulnerability, not Fragility, and an Expanded Role for the AfDB

03/09/2013
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On Monday, September 2, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank Group, led a special high-level panel on fragile states.

In his opening remarks, President Kaberuka said, “When I started as President of the Bank in 2005, I proposed that a significant share of our resources be provided to fragile states. It was not an easy proposition.”

He elaborated later, noting several of the problems the Bank has faced. First, many think such investments are too complicated and risky. Second, the Bank and other institutions are put into boxes limiting their involvement in other areas, such as political discussions. Third, money spent in fragile states, in comparison to other countries, has to be justified to the last millieme. He called on those gathered to help the Bank in tackling those constraints.

In summarizing the morning’s debate, President Sirleaf made three points:

  • Fragility extends beyond countries of special circumstances [fragile states] to those facing varying degrees of vulnerability.
  • Approaches to date have lacked innovation and have been too traditional.
  • The African Development Bank is well-positioned to be much broader in its response, to go beyond financing and be involved from the beginning in the political decisions that lay the basis for effective later interventions.

The event was the formal launch of a process already well advanced in terms of research and analysis. Experts presented portions of that analysis, generating a lively debate among the participants, who included Ministers of Finance and Planning, and senior representatives from international organizations and civil society. The panel’s mandate is to guide the expansion of the AfDB’s engagement in fragile states.

Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance from Timor Leste, said, “I commend you [President Kaberuka] and the African Development Bank for committing time and resources to the very real challenges in fragile states.” Minister Pires is also the Co-Chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding.

Several other themes emerged during the discussions, including the critical role of cash grants in poverty alleviation, need to consider and facilitate remittances, and the ongoing importance of building and using country systems. Participants also signaled urbanization, employment, the role of women, and partnerships, including with businesses and civil society, as cross-cutting themes.

The presentations included work by Paul Collier, Co-Director, Centre for the Study of African Economies and author of "The Bottom Billion" and "The Plundered Planet"; Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director, Institute of Security Studies, South Africa; and Vasu Gounden, Executive Director, ACCORD South Africa.

The afternoon session focused on gathering additional input from Ministry and civil society representatives to help shape the panel’s recommendations.