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Opinion

DFATD Could be Good for Fragile States

March 28, 2013

by JENNIFER ERIN SALAHUB

The Ottawa Citizen

Like it or not, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) will shortly become the third part of Canada’s new mega-ministry, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).

Politics aside, this could be a good thing for Canada’s work in fragile states. Today, Canada has programs at both the existing Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and CIDA which address its work in a select group of fragile and conflict affected states, focused on Afghanistan, the Sudans, and Haiti. Work at DFAIT is led by the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, START. Its mandate includes funding quick-impact projects lasting no longer than two years to help fragile and conflict-affected countries consolidate peace and rebuild. CIDA’s work takes a longer view, working with the Agency’s three priorities: stimulating sustainable economic growth, securing the future for children and youth, and increasing food security. CIDA is also investing heavily in the Muskoka Initiative on improving maternal and child health.

But, as anyone who works on security issues in the context of international development will tell you, two years is not a long enough time horizon to create lasting security in most of the places START operates. Yet, security is a necessary condition for a country to start on the road to broad-based development. Vaccination or midwifery training programs, for example, are unlikely to be successful if medical professionals cannot reach children because of security risks. And while some country programs, such as Afghanistan and Sudan, have experimented with interdepartmental task forces, from an outsider’s view it seems that development perspectives often lose out to DFAIT’s bigger voice and the Department of National Defence’s bigger budget. The same seems to be true for interdepartmental thematic working groups established to facilitate a whole of government approach to issues like security system reform.

Bringing international development back into the fold could create space for a development perspective to permeate DFATD’s work in fragile and conflict-affected states, particularly if existing CIDA and DFAIT teams working on the same country are combined. This in turn could lead to better, sustainable security and development in these countries. The North-South Institute’s work on police reform in places like Burundi, Haiti, Liberia, and South Sudan suggests that reforming police services to uphold the law, rather than prey on civilian populations at a dictator’s whim, requires a generation. It can’t be achieved by providing two days of human rights and gender training or some new uniforms. Certainly the hardware is important, but without the software – the long-term investment in evidence-based policy changes including codes of conduct, accountability structures, and gender-sensitive policies – uniforms, side arms, walkie-talkies, and 4x4s are all too easily put to use in servicing corrupt officials or augmenting a police officer’s meagre and unreliable salary.

Bringing CIDA under the umbrella of DFAIT poses huge challenges and, as ever, the devil will be in the detail of implementation. But, if Canada can get it right, it could mean more effective, sustainable, long-term results for Canadians and for fragile states.

Jennifer Salahub is senior researcher and team leader, fragile and conflict-affected states, at the North-South Institute. Twitter: @jennifersalahub