People in conflict-affected countries have the capacity to manage their problems, but it needs to be nurtured. This was the view of four African leaders representing different stakeholder groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda at an October 6 event in Istanbul during the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings
Dele Olojede, a Nigerian Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and founder of Timbuktu Media, moderated this discussion, which focused on the ‘how’ of capacity development. Dele drew on his own experiences in the session and highlighted a number of important lessons both for leaders of conflict-affected countries and for the development community, which aims to support them.
Leaders Provide Foundation for Change
Nurturing, supporting, and empowering domestic leaders is the key to the changes conflict-affected countries seek, said James Musoni, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, one of the panelists at a seminar co-hosted by the World Bank’s Africa Region and the World Bank Institute. These leaders, he added, “will define how we are going to be different and will provide the real foundation for change.”
Musoni was joined on the panel by Amana Konneh, Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Bernadette Kansayire, a member of Rwanda’s Parliament, and Alieu Conneh, Chaiperson of Vodacom Congo, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Panel co-host Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, opened the session by saying that, “Even stable states have difficulty breaking through the constraints they face, so it is even more difficult for those in conflict or moving out of conflict.” Of the world’s 30 countries identified as conflict-affected, over 20 are in Africa.
Ms. Ezekwesili underscored the importance of building on what capacity exists by drawing on her earlier experiences respectively as Nigeria’s Minister of Education and Solid Materials. “Donors often use a road brush approach to say that there are no good people in government,” she said. “This is simply not true. There are good people who may simply be hidden away."
She recalled a skill-mapping exercise that showed that some 82 percent of her Ministry’s employees likely did not have the capacity they needed to do their jobs. The remaining 18 percent, however, could be counted on and supported to become good leaders.
Phased Approach to Capacity Development
In Rwanda, said Minister Musoni, a phased approach to capacity development delivered results. Immediately after the conflict, urgent humanitarian needs must be met, but this quickly gives way to the need for a longer-term strategy.
“The challenge for development partners is to help us to develop the capacity to quickly move out of the humanitarian stage,” he said. A lack of shared understanding on this point can lead to frequent communications breakdowns between donors and new governments. Even if donors are prepared to provide resources quickly, they may not understand the sensitivities in fragile situations.
Such a phased approach must involve all members of society—civil society, the private sector, and local governments. Bernadette Kanzayire, now a Rwandan Member of Parliament, was a human rights activist in the early days of reconstruction, a role that enabled her to become a voice for the poor when she joined the transitional government. Now as a parliamentarian, she continues to promote human rights and women’s issues in Rwanda. She and her women colleagues in Parliament now hold almost 49 percent of the seats, the world’s highest proportion of female members of parliament.
In Liberia, the conflict “wiped out what little capacity there was,” said Minister Konneh, who also agreed that a phased approach to capacity development is the right one. Longer-term solutions must be part of a “national capacity building plan that focuses on the public, private, and civil society together.”
He noted that while bringing in returnees from the Liberian diaspora to help in the early stages of reconstruction was helpful and continues to be important, it is not a longer-term, sustainable solution. The focus needs to be on developing a sustainable approach to capacity development.
Private Sector Can Play a Vital Role
The private sector can play a vital role in the early days; for example, private contractors stepped in to guide construction of roads and schools when Liberia’s government was without engineers. Such public-private partnerships can work, he said, provided there is transparency and mutual accountability.
A private sector perspective was provided by Mr. Conteh, who established the DRC’s first GSM wireless network. As an entrepreneur and coffee trader, he was struck by the opportunity that mobile was bringing to others on the continent.
But without infrastructure, human capacity or government willingness to see the possibilities, Conteh built the network with the help of technical graduates from the university, and struck a training deal with Nortel. Today, his company employs a cadre of well-trained engineers.
An important lesson he learned was “to continue to build through the conflict. You can’t allow the conflict around you to stop you or there will never be private sector,” Today, Vodacom Congo has over four million subscribers and is the only mobile network offering internet access. In DRC, without roads connecting it from west to east or north to south, mobile is a lifeline for development.
Sanjay Pradhan highlighted key messages that emerged from the discussion. First, domestic leadership capacity does exist in these countries, but it must be nurtured. Leaders need to be empowered to act, especially among women and young people.
Second, experience suggests that countries should adopt a long-term capacity development framework that incorporates a phased approach from the humanitarian to the more focused and targeted building of capacity in government, the private sector, and civil society. Donors need to support this phased approach.
Public–private partnerships and coalition building will help to leverage capacity and build mutual accountability and trust, he added.
Noting that all the panelists stressed the limitations of the traditional, individual technical skills-focused approach to building leadership capacity, he observed that they all agreed on the need for a shift to collective, multi-stakeholder approaches to achieve real transformation. The panelists also provided guidance to the donors on how better to align their efforts to support the development of platforms for multi-stakeholder coalitions, and knowledge exchange.
A fundamental shift is needed in our approaches to capacity development in conflict-affected states. A good start is to learn from those who are having success, using innovative approaches to rebuild social capital, forging alliances across the public and private sectors and with civil society. At the same time, Mr. Pradhan said, we need to focus on finding the leaders and supporting them in their efforts to achieve transformational impact.