Interview with Margaret Kilo, Head of the Fragile States Unit “Governance is the most pressing issue in dealing with fragile states”

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Fragile states have become a priority for development institutions, especially the African Development Bank. In March 2008 the Bank established a Fragile States Facility (FSF) as an institutional framework to deal in a comprehensive way with countries’ needs.  For Ms. Margaret Kilo, Head of the Fragile Sates Unit, performance in addressing the challenges facing fragile states is linked directly to government’s ownership of FSF-operations and its willingness to work closely with partners, including the Bank.  Also, talking about governance, she said it is a challenging issue to tackle, requiring long-term commitments. 

Question: Since the Fragile States Facility was established by the Bank in 2008, what is the key lesson that has emerged from its interventions?

Answer: There are several lessons that we have learnt in implementing the Facility’s programmes, but the key emerging lesson is sheer diversity of fragile states, in terms of countries’ specific situations, needs, pace of recovery and progress.  In this regard, the Bank’s experience attests that performance is closely linked to governments’ strong commitment and close partnership with the international community.

Question: The African Development Bank moved from a Post-Conflict Country Facility to a Fragile States Facility.  What was the reason for this change?

The rationale behind this change was so the Bank could provide a broader approach on issues of fragility and improve its performance in support of fragile states.  To this end, the new facility was established with the objective of increasing the level of resources to fragile states and providing greater institutional flexibility with specialized business policies and procedures.  The change enabled the Bank to integrate enhanced support for fragile states into a single facility with the resources and instruments to deal effectively and responsively with countries’ needs. The new instrument has helped to provide sustained and differentiated support to fragile states and to adapt to each country’s context and conditions of fragility.  As you know, fragility might be due to deteriorating governance, ill-managed post-conflict and political transitions, or a prolonged crisis.  

Improve performance in operations

Question: Among the numerous challenges fragile states face, what do you think is the most crucial one to tackle in order to get a country back on its feet faster?

Answer: This is a difficult question because each country has its own realities.  This said, I could mention governance as a pressing one since it is cross-cutting.  Governance or the lack of it underlies the challenges in fragile states: collapse of the state institutions, mismanagement of natural resources, lack of access to basic social services, ethnic conflicts or violence, etc.  All these problems tend to create or culminate in state fragility.  Therefore, in a post-conflict or fragile context a lot of efforts and resources should be put in establishing or strengthening governance.  

Question: How do you explain that “fragility” or “fragile states” has come higher on top of the global development agenda?

Answer: The main reason lies in the experience or lesson from this category of countries where economic progress or development gains obtained after decades of hard work can be wiped out because of fragile situations. These situations include political instability due to civil war, ethnic violence, or external shocks such as drop in commodities prices.  We could also mention the recent fuel, food, and financial crises or more generally, debt burden. So, the links between fragility and development are obvious.  

Based on that experience, institutions like the Bank realized that particular attention needs to be paid to fragility.  This is the reason why the Bank has set up the Fragile Sates Facility to address the needs of eligible fragile states.  Addressing the problems of fragile states remains high on the Bank’s agenda because the majority of fragile states are regional members of the Bank.  

Fragility is a priority

Question: How is the Fragile States Unit partnering with other institutions?  

Answer: The Bank has established effective partnerships at country and global levels with international organizations and aid agencies working in the sector.  In some countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia or the Central African Republic, we are implementing joint country strategies with our sister institution, the World Bank.  

At the global level, we work with the OECD’s International Network of Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) to develop policy guidelines aimed at helping improve donor response to conflict and fragility.  Also, the Bank is a member of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding and of the Multilateral Development Banks’ Working Group on Fragility and Conflict.  

Question: What is the way forward for the African Development Bank in dealing with fragile states?

Answer: Looking forward, the Bank will continue to deepen its engagement in countries, fine-tuning its approach based on lessons learnt so far.  As the Bank President, Donald Kaberuka, said at the February 2010 African Development Fund – 12 (ADF-XII) Replenishment Consultations in Cape Town, South Africa, “The Bank will continue to support these countries in rebuilding fractured institutions, infrastructure rehabilitation, capacity, and arrears clearance.”

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