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Published on March 5th, 2013 | by EJC


Seminar: Covering State-building In Fragile Situations

Fragility is a term used for states that suffer from bad governance and crises. It is a situation that requires specialised aid agendas, which focus on stabilising the country. On 12-13 March, the European Journalism Centre will host a seminar entitled ‘Development Cooperation in Fragile Situations’ on behalf of the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation (DG DEVCO/ EuropeAid) in Brussels.

Here is what journalists should know when covering the issues in relation to state-building in fragile situations.

Fragility and State-Building
While the term ‘fragile state’ may have a ‘framing’ effect, the terminology is widely used by the international organisations to refer to the countries where long-term development is difficult and which suffer from continuous crises and instability. The OECD DAC defines  fragile states as “unable to meet the population’s expectations or manage changes in expectations and capacity through the political process” (OECD DAC, 2008). In an attempt to avoid framing or judging countries too harshly, sometimes the term “situation of fragility”  is used. International agencies make use of different typologies of fragility, to better define the causes of the situation as well as the possibilities for appropriate aid and development. For example, the World Bank uses a categorisation along the spectrum of deterioration, prolonged crisis or impasse, post-conflict or political transition, and early recovery or reform.

Fragile states are characterised by a weak government capacity or legitimacy. States can arrive at a situation of fragility through cycles of conflict, violence and poverty, problematic state legitimacy, geography (instability within region or neighbours) and international dynamics. Fragility also develops in phases of post-conflict or post-disaster, when the state cannot properly provide for its citizens’ basic needs.

State-building, as promoted by the World Bank, stabilises and improves fragility within countries. It focuses on the establishment of capable and legitimate government institutions. Only such self-sustaining institutions can then deliver the population’s basic needs of survival as well as security, and acquire legitimacy as government agencies. This legitimacy is believed to underpin enduring peace and stability.

International Efforts for Development
As the main donor and trade partner, the EU plays an important role as development partner in the many fragile countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The first ever European Report on Development (ERD), issued in 2009, stressed the need to keep an emphasis on aid for these fragile states, even in the recession. To ensure that fragile states are properly assisted, the EU has recently started a reorganisation of DG DEVCO. A Division for Peacebuilding, Conflict Prevention and Mediation has been set up, as well as a Unit for Fragility and Crisis Management. The need for a well-defined fragility agenda is stressed in the 2007 EU Situations of Fragility resolution as well as the Council Conclusions on this topic. These make up the set of non-binding legal instruments of the EC with regards to governance and fragility, providing direction to the member states’ policy options in development aid.

 Marcus Cornaro on Fragility, Security and Development in the context of EU External Action (Brussels/December 2012)

The OECD has set up a list of Fragile States Principles to guide the international engagement. EuropeAid also created the EU Donor Atlas (2012) to show the efforts of aid executed by the EU donors. This interactive map allows for country specific selection.

Case Studies
While there are a number of countries in the world that are considered to be in a fragile situation, the following six serve as case studies of the various forms of fragility and international response.

The latest up-to-date information and reports of individual countries and regions can be found via the International Crisis Group country overview.

The fragility in Mali is mostly caused by the rebellion  of Touareg militias in the North. The number of refugees present a risk that this fragility will spread to its neighbours.

For an overview of events, see Reuters’ timeline. In January 2012, Touareg militias in the North rebelled. As a reaction, the military overthrew Amadou Toure’s government in March, and installed an interim administration. Hundreds of thousands fled as the Ansar al-Din militia continued its use of violence after the coup.

In January 2013, France answered the Malian government’s request to send troops. The French involvement has been supported by the UN Security Council. Within a month, Malian and French troops took back most of the North. The French troops will stay in Mali at least until July 2013, because the fighting has become more difficult. France is the only Western military presence in Mali. The US are collecting intelligence and several EU states provide material support. Recently the European Commission has taken steps to strengthen its joint response to the crisis in Mali.  The UNCHA is appealing for more aid; the UNHCR is involved in the sheltering of these displaced people.

The Assad family has ruled Syria since the 1971; the country has been under emergency law since 1963. Syria is now involved in a civil war, which has cost 70,000 lives since spring 2011 as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees (UN on February 13, according to CNN).

What started as peaceful protests (15 March 2011) for political goals in the momentum of the Arab Spring, has become a terribly violent conflict as the government forcefully struck down upon protesters. While the initial call was for a process of democratisation and economic reforms, now the Syrian rebels fight for the removal of Bashar al-Assad. Recently, the conflict has become more complicated through the religious fractionalisation of the parties involved. Until now, the international community has not gotten overly involved with the crisis.

The EU has imposed and extended sanctions against Syria (also see the Council conclusions of February 18), and a large number of member states have also pledged humanitarian aid to refugees.

Since 1974, a a UN Disengagement Observer Force has been deployed in the Syrian Golan Heights. See UNDOF.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and has always been plagued by violence and political instability. Armed rebels exiled President Aristide in 2004, after which conflict ensued, and it wasn’t until 2006 that an elected administration was finally installed.

In 2010, Haiti was hit by a major, 7.0 scale earthquake, which killed 300,000 people. Another million Haitians were left homeless. Despite billions of dollars of international assistance, for instance from USAID, Haiti still has not recovered from this humanitarian disaster. This is partly because of the massive damage caused by the severity of the quake, and partly because of the ineffectiveness of the Haitian government, which was already arduous before the earthquake. The EU (18 member states as well as the Commission and the European Investment Bank) also presented substantial humanitarian aid to Haiti.

For up-to-date information on the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, see MINUSTAH.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
After its independence from Belgium in 1960, Congo has known a lot of political turmoil. The Democratic Republic of Congo was so-called by Laurent Kabila, who fronted a rebellion that was backed by Rwanda and Uganda and came to power in 1997 (he toppled Mobutu). A second insurrection, which was again supported by the neighbouring countries’ forces, came one year later. Occasional fighting amongst these troops, rebels and DRC forces even continued after a 1999 cease-fire. Laurant Kabila was killed in 2001 and succeeded by his son Joseph. Most recently, in 2011, Joseph Kabila was reelected to the presidency, although the results have been disputed.

The International Crisis Group also signals the renewed interest in oil in Congo as a possible cause for increased fragility (2012). For up-to-date information on the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, see MONUSCO. The EU has been politically involved in the DRC as well as through humanitarian aid, especially in 2008 when violence surged again. The International Crisis Group also has an interactive map visualising the fighting in Congo.

Ivory Coast
While the Cote d’Ivoire has been one of Africa’s most prosperous states after decolonisation, its political stability has been questionable. The country’s first coup in 1999 helped a military junta to power, but also inspired a series of succeeding overthrows. This culminated in the 2002 civil war of rebels against the military; the war ended in 2003 but it left the country divided. Peacekeeping troops were installed in between the north (rebels) and the south (government). Several thousands of these troops, as well as some hundred French soldiers remain in the Ivory Coast to assist in the transition process towards integration that was initiated in 2007. It was only in 2010 that presidential elections were held. The outcome, however, caused another five-month standoff between the conflicting parties – the UN intervened and assisted in removing Gbagbo from power. Gbagbo is now in The Hague, standing trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. President Ouattara focuses on stabilising the very fragile infrastructure in this post-conflict phase.

There is a  UN Operation in the Ivory Coast, the UNOCI.

Somalia, too, has had a lot of political turmoil. The regime that was established after the independence (and the unification of what had been British and Italian Somaliland), collapsed in a civil war in 1991. UN Peace Forces have been present in Somalia for three years, starting in 1993, in an attempt to alleviate famine and to secure the environment for humanitarian assistance (UNOSOM I and UNOSOM II). However, the forces sustained substantial casualties.

A Transitional National Government (est. 2000) failed to ensure security and governmental institutions. Ethiopian forces intervened to support the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia in 2006. Even today, regional and local disputes exist within Somalia that undermine the attempts to establish a stable central government, even if the transition process was ended in 2012. Fighting still continues, especially against al-Shabab militants, who led an insurgency in 2008. The security situation is also threatened by the practice of piracy off the Somali coast. Since 2011, the Eunavfor tries to counter this piracy.

Covering Fragility
In post-conflict situations, the communication sector can play a crucial role within states. Media coverage can help in accomplishing tasks of managing expectations, building trust and oversight with regards to government institutions and fostering inclusive social identities and citizenship. But reporting should not be a disruptive intervention in the process of state-building or stabilisation, even if the (new) ruling power sometimes mistrusts the media and fears critical coverage.

 Brian Lehrer Live: Returning to Haiti (CUNY)

The practices of an independent journalistic sector can be of positive influence in stabilising states and societies. In a Brief for Policy Makers from the World Bank and CommGAP, agencies are therefore encouraged to practice a well-rounded approach to the development of media and communication structures in fragile states. Having a democratic public sphere is important in countries that are affected by fragility. According to the Brief, “for too long, donors have viewed the media solely as an instrument toward an end, rather than a target that is itself worthy of support” (World Bank/ CommCAP, 2011). It is crucial that aid and development donors/agencies realise what role a self-relying media sector can play in societies that must escape their situation of fragility. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) also came to these recommendations for donors (2010) with regards to media structures. The Internews organisation aims to stabilise and build up media sectors and train journalists in areas that have been affected by crisis or humanitarian disasters.

International correspondents influence the assessment of fragility and stabilisation. Because they are on-site, they have the opportunity to carefully keep track of development in the country, as well as check the efforts that are done (or not being done) by aid agencies. What is more, the reporters’ work has a crucial impact on the understanding and perception of situations. Their coverage frames the (eventual) donors’ image of fragility and fragile states and crisis.

It is possible to apply some of OECD’s Principles of Fragility to coverage of fragile states. As the principles promote non-discrimination, inclusiveness and the alignment with local priorities, correspondents can also make sure to cover or include civilians and minorities next to official sources. If journalists are on the ground, they are furthermore in a position to critically assess situations of fragility, and they might even pick up early warnings of growing tensions or conflict (also see cfr.org). Journalistic coverage can furthermore help in determining which states represent “aid orphans”, states that will benefit from international aid but are not receiving any, or not enough. This notion is also tied to what is known as “media fatigue” for a certain conflict or destabilised region. OECD’s first principle is to pay attention to the context of fragility, which is also a worthwhile starting point for comprehensive and all-round coverage.

Photo: Laura Gilmore


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