Listening to the voices on the frontline of development: IFAD in fragile and decentralised contexts | Government performance and the positive relationship between ownership and effectiveness - IOE
IFAD was established to mobilize resources for agricultural development in Member States. The latter are the recipients of IFAD's loans and grants, and play a critical role in determining the outcome of IFAD-funded projects. The issue of government performance has been addressed in an Evaluation Synthesis Report on Government Performance in IFAD-supported Operations produced by the Independent Office of Evaluation of IFAD. The importance of the ESR is heightened by the fact that the reasons for lagging government performance are often not well documented and understood. However, it is clear that lagging government performance affects the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact, and ultimately the sustainability of IFAD-funded operations.
On June 3, 2022, IOE organized a learning event to present and discuss the findings of the ESR. The two important issues highlighted in my presentation are government effectiveness and ownership. Long-standing partnerships with countries and stable IFAD country presence are among the factors favouring strong government ownership, which, in turn, is strongly related to effectiveness.
Ownership and effectiveness in fragile and decentralised contexts
Most people would automatically assume that low government capacity in unstable environments would inevitably undermine projects’ effectiveness. Nonetheless, in practice, the ESR found both positive and negative cases of ownership in fragile situations. Indeed, proper assessment of fragility at design, strong relationship with government, and adequate fiduciary management have all emerged as factors that contributed to enhance high government ownership.
This finding, however, does not contradict the reality that government ownership is undermined by political uncertainty, frequent turnover, fluctuating goals, and inadequate decentralised systems. Instead, it demonstrates that, despite the challenges, IFAD's frontline staff has sometimes been able to cope with inadequate government capability.
How do frontliners address fragile and conflict contexts?
As each case is unique, especially in contexts of fragility and conflict, understanding the way in which country directors customize their country presence and relationship with the government is crucial. Therefore, it has been worth taking note of the experiences shared by frontliners during the learning event.
As Country Director in IFAD's West and Central Africa Division, Ms Emime Ndihokubwayo oversees some of the most vulnerable countries, including Sao Tome, Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. She highlighted that governments facing armed conflicts undergo recurrent challenges, and most often, IFAD representatives have always shown their appreciation in times of conflict. Working with governments in insecure circumstances implies making them understand that they are part of IFAD and vice versa, as Emime and her colleagues have always done. Moving forward, Emime believes that investing in youth and community-based systems would make a major difference in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
Likewise, Ms Bernadette Mukonyara, Country Director in the East and Southern Africa Division of IFAD, emphasized that engaging in community demand-driven projects would help IFAD meet development outcomes. She added that South Sudan is the newest nation in the world, but it has experienced years of instability and conflict and, to date, struggles to meet international standards, not to mention its financial obligations towards IFAD. In a case like South Sudan, flexibility and adaptation are crucial. In the long term, her approach is to invest in resilience programme and prompt IFAD to address conflict minimization by investing in crisis management experts.
The necessity to understand the country’s situation also at the portfolio level has been highlighted by many frontliners. Mr Candra Samekto, Programme Officer in the Asia and the Pacific Division of IFAD, faces challenges in managing the portfolio in Afghanistan, mostly related to both security and implementation costs. Co-financing is particularly difficult for a country like Afghanistan. Therefore, it would be best for IFAD to continue placing emphasis on co-financing opportunities from other development partners with similar investment interest. Being present and engaging with partner organizations have emerged as good practices during the learning event.
Indeed, connecting, coordinating, collaborating and sharing experiences and lessons not only with other UN agencies but also with NGOs, civil society organizations, and the private sector allows for the creation of “stability in an instable context”, in the words of Mr Gianluca Capaldo, Country Director in the West and Central Africa Division of IFAD. Exposing the criticalities of his case in Guinea Bissau and Mauritania, he emphasized the role of knowledge management and knowledge sharing. Frontliners acquire tons of knowledge and experience dealing with the different aspects of fragility, capitalizing on such knowledge would allow to generate more links and synergies. In this regard, IOE can have a tremendous catalytical role.
How do frontliners address decentralized contexts?
In addition to the ESR on Government Performance, a Learning Note on Decentralization has been prepared, allowing us to understand opportunities and challenges for IFAD in decentralized country contexts. During the event, frontliners also shared their experiences with respect to this important issue.
In Vietnam, Mr Francesco Pichon (PhD), Country Director in the Asia and the Pacific Division of IFAD, and his team operate in a very decentralized context. A rather unique strategy that helped them has been working through local planning processes, liaising not only with the Ministry of Agriculture but also with Planning Units.
Ms. Rasha Omar, Country Director in the Near East, North Africa and Europe Division of IFAD, explained that Sudan is undergoing a deterioration of government capacity. From the IFAD side, this has been accompanied by a shift from a community-driven approach to a value chain-focused approach. Looking at options to go back to a more decentralized approach, which clearly appears to work better in fragile and decentralized contexts, she draws on experiences learned in India, where the clarity of policy and strategy implementation, strong national oversight, and the employment of a saturation approach allowed to effectively address decentralization.
In other words, part of IFAD’s strategy to address government decentralisation is decentralising itself to favour stronger relationships at the local level. Likewise, investing in coordination mechanisms emerged as a successful practice, as highlighted by Mr Amath Pathe Sene, Regional Climate and Environment Specialist in the Environment, Climate and Gender Division of IFAD. In Abdjan, Pathe and his colleagues brainstormed strategies to reallocate staff going beyond the portfolio and were able to maximize efforts to overcome technicalities, allowing to bring fresh perspectives to programme management and enhance capabilities at the technical and operational level.