A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step: What’s next after the Guinea-Bissau international roundtable?

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by Yannis Arvanitis

In early February, in a blog post on the run-up to the international donor roundtable for Guinea-Bissau, I argued that “all parties are aware that in order to move forward not only is money needed, but also compact coordination amongst partners and the government, as well as the assurance that planned projects and programmes are coherent and complementary”.
Last month’s conference was a success, at least in terms of funding pledges. The final communiqué reported, “pledges amounting to over €1 billion were announced at the International Conference in Brussels in support of Guinea-Bissau”. The AfDB is expected to provide and/or mobilise about 10% of the total.
While the pledges are below the approx. €1.6 billion sought after as per the strategic and operational plan, it is a resounding success for the Guinea-Bissauan authorities. First, given the context on the continent, it is an admirable amount. That said, in terms of pledges from the international community, Guinea-Bissau unfortunately “competes” with Mali, Central African Republic, the Sahel humanitarian crisis, and Ebola-stricken countries. It is no secret that donors are overstretched in a sea of competing needs, not to mention their own austerity conditions. While it is not entirely a zero-sum game (where increased funding for one entails reduced funding for another), it is undeniable that available resources are insufficient and that trade-offs are taking place. Second, the pledged amount is quite impressive compared to the country’s current resources, in fact a back-of-the-envelope estimate reveals that the pledges over the next five years are worth approximately 4.5 times the 2015 state budget.
One of the reasons for Guinea-Bissau’s success is that all along the way it has gathered key partners into a consultative group composed of institutions with political mandates such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or the UN, as well as the country’s largest funding partners (EU, AfDB, World Bank). In addition Guinea-Bissau enjoys firm political support from regional institutions (ECOWAS, West African Economic and Monetary Union), groupings (such as the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries -) and neighbours like Senegal, as evidenced by President Macky Sall’s attendance at the conference.
This success and the amount of funds at stake raise a few questions, critically the question of delivery explored in the pre-conference blog post. And so, it is vital that a number of key steps be taken to move forward:

  • The creation of a delivery team tasked with coordinating various aspects outlined in the strategic and operational plan – by no means an easy task since such a team would not only require donor follow-up on the pledges, but would also need a 360-degree vision of the reform agenda, bearing in mind that some pledges will only materialise if specific reforms are enacted (e.g. on PPPs).
  • Transparency is essential. As the strategic and operational plan is successfully implemented, it is paramount that advances are made public. First, this would provide a high degree of accountability, needed to reinforce democratic institutions and culture. Second, public scrutiny would create even stronger incentives for the government to make progress in delivering its part.
  • It would serve the Guinea-Bissauan authorities to take the lead in the partnership agenda and to ensure that all partners are regularly consulted as they were in the run-up to the roundtable.

In the very first public statements after the round-table, Guinea-Bissauan authorities declared it a success. In the same breath, they noted the onus is on themselves to see this success materialise. A journey of a thousand miles does indeed begin with the first step. The donor conference was a baby step as the country embarks on its vision for 2015-2025. The journey ahead is long. Next steps will require creating conditions to implement the strategic and operational plan.


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