News by AUN News correspondent
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
As a leader in international development, you understand the complex challenges of rebuilding nations after conflict. State building is an immense undertaking that requires coordination across sectors, massive funding, and a long-term commitment. The United Nations has led some of the largest state-building missions in recent decades, aiming to establish functioning governments and sustainable peace in countries like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, despite billions of dollars invested and decades of effort, the results have been mixed.
Assessing the UN’s State Building Initiatives: A Mixed Record
Assessing the UN’s state-building initiatives reveals a mixed record of success and failure. In nations like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN has invested billions of dollars and decades of effort, yet stability and prosperity remain elusive. However, in other post-conflict states, such as Sierra Leone, UN interventions have achieved greater progress.
In South Sudan, the UN helped broker a peace agreement and supported the transition to independence in 2011. However, conflict soon resumed and intensified. The UN’s peacekeeping mission proved unable to protect civilians or curb human rights abuses. Critics argue the UN was unprepared for the scale of the challenges, with a lack of political strategy or will to enforce consequences for violence. Supporters counter that the UN is not solely responsible and faces major obstacles, including proxy forces and tribal militias.
In the DRC, the UN’s largest and longest peacekeeping mission has struggled to stabilise the volatile east. While elections were held in 2006, violence continues, and democratic reforms have stalled. As in South Sudan, the UN faces a difficult operating environment with many armed groups. However, the UN’s failure to curb human rights violations has undermined its credibility.
In contrast, the UN intervention in Sierra Leone in the 1990s and 2000s is seen as a relative success. Robust peacekeeping forces halted atrocities, disarmed rebels, and supported democratic elections. Coordinated political, security, and development strategies reinforced stability. By the mission’s end, violence had declined, institutions had been strengthened, and the economy had rebounded.
The UN’s state-building record is mixed, with failures most evident in the challenging contexts of South Sudan and the DRC but success in Sierra Leone achieved through comprehensive strategies backed by political will. Replicating the latter and avoiding the former is key to the UN realising its ideals of lasting peace and prosperity worldwide.
Case Study: UNMISS in South Sudan: Ambitious but Under-Resourced
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was established in 2011 with an ambitious mandate to strengthen the capacity of the Government of South Sudan to govern effectively and democratically, establish the conditions and provide the means for internally displaced persons and refugees to return home voluntarily and peacefully, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. However, UNMISS has faced significant challenges in fulfilling this mandate due to under-resourcing and the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in 2013.
UNMISS was initially authorised with up to 7,000 military personnel and 900 police, as well as a significant civilian component. However, this proved inadequate given the scale of the crisis that unfolded in South Sudan. The mission struggled to protect civilians, especially outside of UN bases, and faced criticism over its failure to prevent human rights abuses and violence. UNMISS’s capacity has since been increased to over 17,000 personnel, but it continues to face resource and mobility constraints in covering South Sudan’s vast territory.
The UN’s experience in South Sudan highlights the need to match ambitious mandates with sufficient, flexible resources. UNMISS had a broad mandate but lacked the capabilities and assets to fully implement it, especially as the situation deteriorated. More mobile forces, air mobility assets, and rapidly deployable units could strengthen the mission’s capacity to protect civilians and support political processes across the country. The UN’s state-building efforts would also benefit from stronger partnerships with regional organisations like the African Union, which may be better placed to deploy forces rapidly.
South Sudan remains in crisis, but by learning from its experience there, the UN can strengthen its approach to state building and better meet the high expectations that host countries and populations place on its peace operations. With the right capabilities and cooperation, the UN can fulfil its promise of sustaining peace in even the most unstable of environments.
Stabilisation in the DRC: The Ups and Downs of MONUSCO
The UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has had mixed results in its efforts to stabilise the DRC since 1999.
Initially, MONUSCO struggled to fulfil its mandate due to a lack of resources and cooperation from belligerent groups. The mission was understaffed for the size of the DRC, and rebel groups like the M23 movement actively fought against the UN. MONUSCO also faced criticism for human rights abuses and failing to protect civilians.
A Renewed Focus
In 2010, MONUSCO shifted its focus to the protection of civilians. It increased the number of peacekeepers and gave them a more robust mandate to use force. The mission also emphasised community engagement and partnerships with local organisations. These changes led to some successes, like the defeat of the M23 movement in 2013 with the help of UN forces.
However, MONUSCO continues to face difficulties stabilising such a large, conflict-ridden nation. Interethnic violence is common in parts of the DRC that the mission does not cover. MONUSCO has also struggled to prevent human rights violations like mass displacement, sexual violence, and the recruitment of child soldiers. Corruption and poor governance remain rampant, threatening citizens and UN programmes.
MONUSCO’s experience in the DRC illustrates the challenges of state-building. While the UN has had some victories, stabilising a nation as unstable as the DRC requires a sustained, multifaceted approach and cooperation from national actors, which can be hard to achieve. Overall, MONUSCO demonstrates the potential of UN missions but also their limitations. The future of the DRC remains uncertain, but MONUSCO continues its efforts to build peace.
Coordinating Donors: The Challenges of State Building Partnerships
Coordinating Multiple Donors
When multiple donors are involved in state-building efforts, coordinating their initiatives can be challenging. Each donor has its own priorities, budgets, and timelines that may not necessarily align.
- Donor priorities: Various donors focus on different areas like security, governance, healthcare, or education. Determining shared priorities across donors requires extensive negotiations, which can slow down implementation.
- Budgeting cycles: Donor budgeting processes operate on different timeframes. Funds may be approved and released at different points, impacting project timelines. Delays in donor funding can stall state building programmes.
- Reporting requirements: Each donor has its own reporting criteria, formats, and timeframes. Complying with various donor requirements strains local resources and administrations. Streamlining reporting is key to effective coordination.
To address these challenges, the following steps should be considered:
- Develop shared strategic priorities: Work with donors and local partners to determine key priorities and objectives for state building that all agree to support. This helps guide funding and programme decisions.
- Coordinate budgeting timelines: Where possible, align donor budgeting cycles and funding release dates. This enables more predictable support for state-building initiatives. If full alignment is not possible, aim to stagger funding over the programme timeline.
- Standardise reporting: Create shared reporting templates and timeframes to meet the needs of multiple donors. This reduces the administrative burden on local partners and ensures donors get the information they require.
- Designate a lead donor: When many donors are involved, consider appointing a lead donor to coordinate with others. The lead donor can harmonise priorities, timelines, and reporting while still allowing other donors autonomy over their funds and programmes. This model has been effective in countries like Afghanistan and Haiti.
With good coordination, state-building partnerships between donors and recipients can thrive. But without it, conflicting priorities, unreliable funding, and excessive reporting demands often undermine progress. Close collaboration and compromise are key.
Key Takeaways: Improving UN State Building
To strengthen UN statebuilding initiatives, several key takeaways can inform future efforts.
Focus on Local Context
State building efforts must account for local political, social, and economic realities. The UN’s one-size-fits-all approach in South Sudan and the DRC overlooked diverse ethnic groups, existing power structures, and sources of instability. Future initiatives should:
- Conduct comprehensive assessments of the local context prior to intervention.
- Tailor programmes to distinct regions and groups within a country.
- Engage regional, ethnic, and tribal leaders to gain buy-in.
Set Realistic expectations
The UN aimed to rapidly transform South Sudan and the DRC into modern democracies, but state building is an incremental process that unfolds over generations. The UN must:
- Set modest, achievable goals that reflect the level of difficulty in unstable environments.
- Focus on gradually reforming and strengthening existing institutions rather than quickly replacing them.
- Anticipate setbacks and adapt programmes accordingly, rather than declaring victory prematurely.
The UN’s fragmented efforts in South Sudan and the DRC were poorly coordinated, undermining efficiency and effectiveness. The UN should:
- Designate a lead agency to oversee all state-building programmes within a country.
- Develop integrated strategies that align the work of UN agencies and partners.
- Strengthen information sharing and collaboration across agencies and with local stakeholders.
Commit for the Long Term
State building is a long-term process that the UN has approached with a short-term mindset. The UN must:
- Make 10- to 15-year commitments to countries to see initiatives through to fruition.
- Dedicate consistent funding and resources over extended periods.
- Retain institutional knowledge by minimising staff turnover.
With prudent consideration of these key takeaways, the UN can markedly improve future state-building efforts and outcomes. Success will hinge on learning from past experiences to develop sustainable, inclusive initiatives tailored to local realities.
Assessing the success and impact of the UN’s efforts at state building around the world requires nuanced analysis and an understanding of the immense challenges inherent in these initiatives. While progress has undoubtedly been made in establishing security, governance, the rule of law, and basic services in many fragile states, the road ahead remains long. As the UN continues its work, lessons can be gleaned from both successes and failures in places like South Sudan and the DRC. With sustained commitment to cooperation, capacity building, and addressing the root causes of conflict, the vision of peaceful, just, and developed societies can be realised. Though the task is great, we must continue moving forward together towards a more stable and prosperous future for all.