Helping fragile states in Africa back on their feet may be the smartest move the continent’s policy makers would make in pursuit of Africa’s development agenda. That is the candid view of James Gituro Wahome, Acting Head, Fragile States Unit of the African Development Bank Group.
Gituro’s thesis is as simple as it is beautiful: about a third of the continent’s states are so embroiled in conflict and self-destruction that the combined weight of these so-called fragile states is keeping Africa bogged down in underdevelopment.
The Kenyan economist has over 28 years experience spanning professional training in the US and Germany and on-the-ground service in Malawi and states in West Africa. He advocates an expansion of the Fragile States Fund which he believes is one of the Bank’s brightest ideas:
What do you mean by fragile states?
Fragile states are about a third of the countries in Africa and their population consists of about 20 percent of the continent’s total population of one billion. This means that one in five people resides in these countries. Many of them are either in conflict or are just emerging from conflict.
They are very weak states with weak, or in the extreme, no central government since they have political instability. They have no territorial control and lack institutions and the resources to provide services to the people. A classic and extreme case is Somalia.
By the Bank’s definition, 19 of the 54 countries on the continent are fragile. At such a number, they are obstructing Africa’s progress. The irony is that some of them are rich in mineral resources but cannot exploit them optimally for the benefit of their people.
How would you assess the impact of the Fragile States Facility since its creation?
We have operationalised the Fragile States Facility (FSF) since 2008 and have so far mobilised $2.5 billion for 18 of the countries. Angola, the 19th, has not been receiving support from the funds because it has oil and has been earning a lot from high oil prices since 2008. It does not need the FSF.
The fund has been supporting reconstruction and development efforts in these countries and they have recorded huge gains. In Cote d’Ivoire, for instance, the fund has been used for budget support to help stabilise macroeconomic framework and the country is now stabilising. Sierra Leone has also been benefitting for a long time and is now transiting from fragility, just like Liberia.
The FSF has touched the lives of so many and provided essential service to millions of people in these states. In Zimbabwe, for example, the Bank was instrumental to curbing the spread of cholera in 2009. We use the fund for infrastructure, capacity building and support for economic and policy reforms through budget support.
There has been considerable support from shareholders, so the fund is likely to continue for a long time to come. We are in a new replenishment cycle and hope that all will go well.
Briefly outline the Bank’s strategy for assisting fragile states
The Bank works within the framework of an enhanced strategy to provide infrastructure, such as roads, railways, bridges, some of which were destroyed in conflict. Power supply, energy and water supply and sanitation are also priority.
The AfDB envisages good governance and accountability by building capacity and helping them to develop sound public finance management culture. We also are concerned about the social sectors like health and education.
From our operations we learn a lot of lessons in the field and this provides knowledge on how to support fragile states. This knowledge we make available to other development institutions.
What are the plans to open more field offices?
We now have nine countries that have field offices. In 2008, only four of the fragile states have field offices. There are plans to increase the number Guinea’s office is about completed.
Without field offices, it is difficult to address the challenges in Fragile States. Some of them don’t even have staff to do such simple tasks as filling forms or writing reports. We have to work in collaboration with the governments and help to train manpower. We employ local staff as they know the countries better than us at Bank headquarters, far removed from the theatre of action.
What are the main challenges the Bank faces in assisting these states?
The Bank is an economic development institution but the challenges in fragile states are more than economic. These include security, consolidation of peace, collaboration with other agencies like the UN, the Red Cross and even the military.
The needs in fragile states are really huge as virtually everything is broken down and all systems are affected by conflict as in Somalia. No single institution can meet all their needs. We have the challenges of slippages, when countries that seem to be recovering revert to violence and chaos as it occurred in Cote d’Ivoire recently. We can’t predict what will happen in these states.
In Central African Republic, Bank offices were vandalised. Our staffs in Mogadishu sometimes have to move around in military vehicles for protection. There are no systems in place so it is often difficult to reach the most needy. There is lack of accountability as things are not well organised but the Bank must continue operating in spite of all these shortcomings.
The AfDB must keep the FSF on in the foreseeable future for without supporting fragile countries which make up a third of the countries in Africa, the mandate of helping to speed up development cannot be met.