Canadian aid+ to fragile and conflict-affected states: From crisis to opportunity?

Canadian aid+ to fragile and conflict-affected states: From crisis to opportunity?

By Stephen Baranyi

The arrival of a new government in Ottawa presents an opportunity to reposition Canada in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS) such as Afghanistan, Haiti and South Sudan, where distinct mixes of weak public institutions, high levels of violence and extreme poverty persist. In the ministerial mandate letters released last week, the Prime Minister’s team signalled its aim of crafting a new approach in those contexts. The letter for the Minister of Foreign Affairs flagged the intent to re-engage with United Nations peace operations, mediation, conflict-prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The Minister of National Defence was instructed to “end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria, refocusing … on the training of local forces and humanitarian support” and prepare Canadian Forces to support UN peace operations. The letter to the Minister of International Development indicated that her overarching priority should be to “Refocus Canada’s development assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and supporting fragile states.” Her letter linked that priority to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (which Ottawa endorsed at the UN in September) as well as renewed attention to process goals such as strengthening aid transparency and supporting better data collection and analysis for evidence-based policies.

Those commitments open the door to major changes in Canada’s approach towards FCAS. According to data compiled by David Carment and Yiagadeesen Samy of Carleton University, Canada’s official development assistance (ODA) to FCAS grew from 20 per cent of the ODA budget in 2000 to between 40 to 50 per cent in 2010, depending on where one draws the line on FCAS. During that decade, most of Canada’s largest ODA programs were in those countries, embedded in whole-of-government (WOG) approaches and linked to military and/or police deployments — particularly in Afghanistan but also in Haiti, South Sudan and the Palestinian Territories.

Such approaches have been controversial. The Canadian Council for International Cooperation, as well as many academics, argued that our aid was “securitised” because it was used to advance problematic security-driven strategies, rather than to promote truly democratic governance and sustainable development. Some add that Canadian aid has not been effective there, based on the Paris Declaration, Accra Agenda for Action and other international norms. I can’t delve into those debates here, but let me flag three caveats, based on our cumulative research into Canada’s involvement in FCAS:

1. Their critiques seem valid for Canada’s aid and WOG involvement in Afghanistan, which was highly securitised and not particularly effective, especially in Kandahar. Their view also holds to a considerable extent in the Palestinian Territories.

2. Their arguments are less valid for FCAS like South Sudan, where we have documented less securitisation of aid though not more aid effectiveness, particularly given the relapse into violent conflict in 2013. Their critiques are even less applicable to Haiti, where there has been much less securitisation of ODA and somewhat greater aid effectiveness.

3. We also looked at Canadian engagement in contexts not seen by ex-CIDA as fragile states, but ranked among the top 40 on the Fragile States Index (FSI). Bangladesh is particularly interesting: although it is ranked 32nd on the FSI in 2015, this large Canadian ODA partnership has been crafted in the style of the Paris and Accra aid effectiveness principles. Canada-Bangladesh cooperation has also been conflict–sensitive and policy coherent, not securitised

Before diving into FCAS with good intentions, the new government and other stakeholders must learn from those varied experiences, based on evaluations of Canadian aid and WOG involvement that have been completed (or will be soon) as well as on independent analysis.

The official evaluation of Canadian aid to Haiti released in May demonstrates that ODA can contribute to development results where it aligns with domestic priorities and reinforces promising national or local institutions — as occurred in the domains of public health, gender equality, governance and rural development. Yet our research suggests that Canada’s reluctance to channel significant funds via Haitian institutions, consistently support civil society engagement in policy processes and jointly evaluate results with national stakeholders is at odds with principles of good international engagement in FCAS. Canada may only get a B+ for its cooperation with Haiti, but we have a base to build on there, as was recognised in the new cooperation (ODA+) strategy Ottawa announcement in June this year.

Canada’s aid in Afghanistan was highly securitised and not particularly effective, but that’s not the case in all fragile states Canada has supported

The Canadian evaluation story is not as positive in other FCAS. In Afghanistan, an evaluation report was released earlier this year — too little, too late to inform fresh programming. The report of the Palestine evaluation has yet to be released, after years of work. The Minister of International Development could instruct officials to release that report. Canadians could then use those evaluations, and the current evaluation of security programming by Global Affairs Canada’s Stabilisation and Reconstruction Taskforce (START), to truly learn lessons from Canada’s WOG involvement in FCAS.

The implementation of the New Deal, signed by OECD donors and their FCAS partners in 2011, offers other opportunities for joint learning and improved cooperation. Having almost disengaged from those processes since 2013, Ottawa could re-connect by linking its renewed engagement in FCAS like Haiti and South Sudan to New Deal activities: namely by supporting renewed national compacts, as well as jointly monitoring Canadian contributions against the New Deal’s peacebuilding and state-building goals.

The form of cooperation envisaged by the New Deal is very different from the so-called “Afghanistan model” endorsed by the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s flawed peer review of Canadian aid in 2012. Our approach to partnership with Bangladesh and Haiti may also be more compatible with the sustainable development goal of supporting peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16), as well as with the overarching Agenda 2030 commitment of leaving no-one behind.

CIPS’ new report on Canada’s engagement with global development reminds us that re-engaging with such global processes will require consolidating capacities at Global Affairs Canada, but also revitalising Canada’s global development “ecosystem.” That should certainly include rebuilding evidence-based policy dialogue and collaboration between government, civil society, research and teaching institutions as well as with private sector actors working at the nexus of development, security and human rights.

Stephen Baranyi is an Associate Professor with the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. He works on the challenges of security system reform, development cooperation and gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected states, especially in Haiti and more widely in the Americas. 


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