AfDB High Level Panel on Fragile States Launched in Liberia

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), launched the AfDB’s High Level Panel on Fragile States on 2 September 2013, in Monrovia, Liberia. The panel, which President Sirleaf chairs, will advise the Bank on expanding its engagement in fragile states.

In her opening remarks, President Sirleaf emphasized some of the special circumstances that needed to be addressed in fragile states. She highlighted the importance of job creation; of creating a healthy, skilled and educated workforce; of promoting equity, especially for women and youth; and of providing protection for the most vulnerable as well as security.

She also cited the need for a new framework to address the complexities of fragile states, a framework that is founded in local ownership and informed by data, research and new ideas. She commented on the unique position of the African Development Bank to support Africa’s fragile states and re-iterated the panel’s commitment to generating bold and novel ideas to inform the Bank’s future strategy.

The complexities of fragile states

President Kaberuka acknowledged that the panel’s task is not an easy one, given the complexities of fragile states. However, he also noted the AfDB’s success with difficult assignments in the past and the cumulative expertise of the distinguished members of the panel. Kaberuka focused on the need to equip fragile states to build economies that in turn would reduce poverty. Among other things, this would mean building institutions and capacity.

Following the opening remarks, experts presented three papers to feed the subsequent discussions. 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).

Contributing to the discussions were senior representatives of ministries of finance and planning, international organizations and civil society. Participants covered a wide range of topics, including local ownership, building public institutions, degrees of vulnerability, cash grants, role of the private sector, women’s empowerment, youth, and trans-border relations.

The issue of fragility

One discussion thread focused on the definition of fragility and the importance of looking at degrees of vulnerability, instead of simply designating countries as fragile or failing. “A two-year old baby is fragile, but you cannot call it a failed baby,” said Kengen Jakor Beyo, Deputy Minister for Finance of South Sudan. Others noted that states that are largely stable may have pockets or periods of vulnerability that should also be considered.

Another central topic was the need for states to define their own needs and priorities and map their own solutions as part of the state building process. As Kaberuka said, “The artificial division of labor between partners and agencies in fragile states is outdated.” However, there was also a lengthy discussion about lack of government capacity and skills and the need for drastic measures since many previous efforts to develop capabilities have been insufficient.

The need to invest in women was also a major theme of the discussions. As Albert Mabri Toikeusse, Minister for Planning and Development of  Cote d’Ivoire said, “Investments in women are sustainable.” Several others, including President Sirleaf, mentioned successful work focused on empowering women. Sarah Cliffe, High Level Panel Member and UN Special Advisor and Assistant Secretary General of Civilian Capacities, emphasized that “Women should be actors not just beneficiaries.”

In her closing remarks, Sunita Pitamber, Head of the Secretariat to the High Level Panel, said, “We are halfway there,” referring to the tremendous amount of research, analysis and consultations already completed or in process. More country consultations will follow, as will discussions during the 3rd replenishment meeting of the African Development Fund 13 (ADF-13)  to be held in Paris in September 2013.  The final recommendations of the Panel will be released at the African Union Summit in January 2014.

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