Taking Haiti seriously, towards horizontal partnerships

The following reflections respond to an op ed written by Standford professor Joel Brinkley on the help to Haiti. In his article Mr. Brinkley argues that the Haitian government is so corrupt and ineffective that “If the world wants to help Haiti, aid officials should put aside that Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The donors should decide what to do with their money”.

When the earthquake hit Haiti on a Tuesday evening in January this year, a wave of shock and deep concern traveled through Latin America and the Caribbean. Governments and people in the region are not only aware of Haiti’s extreme vulnerability, but also exposed themselves to brutal natural disasters, as the Chile earthquake, just some weeks later, illustrated in yet another painful way.

In the following weeks, the shock became even deeper commitment, building up on the already significant contributions made by Latin American countries through MINUSTAH and on bilateral basis. Countries in the region have pledged historic amounts of support to Haiti, in some occasions even reforming their legal basis to provide budget support. In an unprecedented expression of solidarity, all countries moved fast to provide humanitarian assistance, which proved to be crucial to save the lives of thousands of persons. Today, during the reconstruction phase, Brazil and Colombia are among the only six contributors (including the DAC donors) who already have made the actual money available for the relief efforts.

South-South learning on citizen security in Bel Air, Haiti, supported by Brazilian NGO Viva Río. Read the full story!
And beyond the money, the region has also taken up the mandate to improve the quality of its cooperation. In the aftermath of the Bogotá High-Level Event on South-South cooperation and Capacity Development, held in late March this year, Latin American and Caribbean representatives discussed frankly how to ensure the effectiveness of their cooperation with Haiti in its reconstruction efforts. Facilitated by the Organization of American States, it was the first time that the region gathered to discuss development effectiveness issues in the Americas. This dynamic is also reflected in an innovative Iberoamerican program dedicated to improving the quality of South-South cooperation.

We can therefore state that Haiti has brought us, as Latin American people and governments, a challenge and a commitment to become more effective when implementing development solutions. Our conclusion is the exact opposite of the effect that the earthquake and its implications appear to have had on Mr. Joel Brinkley and his interviewees from Northern donor agencies.

For us as Southern providers, the principles of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, enriched and complemented with the experiences of South-South Cooperation, cannot be more stressed than in cooperating with Haiti. Why? Because the answer to the lack of institutional capacities and workable public policies is not to point fingers and just do it yourself, but to build institutions and policies hand-in-hand, as partners, and investing on the long run. This is even truer in the case of fragile states, where national leaders and champions need smart and sensitive tools. Instead of patronizing attitudes, this should include, for example, the use of soft skills, networks and trust-building mechanisms to ensure the development of national capacities.

Of course, this is not a task as easy as writing a polemical article. But there are good examples. My country has suffered some of the deep-rooted challenges Haiti has also faced for several decades and which have been dramatically aggravated after the earthquake. Colombia knows that national leadership and growing capacities are the only way to convert violence and conflict into development and peace. At the same time, it needs to be shared and inclusive. Only if we give space to critical voices, from inside and outside the country, ownership can become smart and effective. The balance of this decade is positive: In only ten years, Colombia has moved from being seen as “almost a failed state” to being part of the quickly growing, stable and crisis-resistant CIVETS group (Colombia, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa). Still, the country faces many challenges to ensure solid development, but the institutions, public and private, are better prepared.

For many successful developing countries, therefore, ownership and leadership have constituted an imperative. These concepts emerged in the 90s from the disastrous results of the widespread system of conditionalities and donor flag-planting. The literature is full of econometric studies and real-life examples of how unsustainable and bluntly ineffective donor-driven aid can be. And the literature also states encouraging experiences showing the transformative capacity of development cooperation, when national leadership are respected and local capacities developed.

As 1.700 high-level representatives have agreed upon in Accra, it is indeed necessary to look beyond the government-lens of ownership and to build capacities at governmental and non-governmental levels. This is, by the way, a responsibility of donors, recipients and the rest of stakeholders. Concentrating the criticism to one sentence in the Paris Declaration, thereby bypassing the rich learning around best practices in development cooperation, illustrates the lack of deeper understanding of how relations between North and South have changed in the last five years.

And because we know that aid effectiveness principles are neither perfect nor written in stone, we are working intensively on adapting them to local conditions and enriching them further. In an increasingly multipolar world with a growing number of middle-income countries, South-South cooperation is in full swing. As shown by the Task Team on South-South cooperation, knowledge exchange and mutual learning between developing countries can contribute important lessons around partnership, efficiency and capacity development.

Haiti is hosting an important share of this deep change, where Southern partners, NGO, private global funds and traditional donors face the challenge of improving the capacities of the government and the people. Horizontal partnership, from South to South, has a great opportunity to demonstrate once more that being respectful of national leadership is more effective, by strengthening Haitian capacities to lead the country through the reconstruction and towards sustainable development.

Enrique Maruri, Head of the Technical Secretariat, Task Team on South-South cooperation, and former Director for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia

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Comment by Enrique Maruri on December 13, 2010 at 11:29pm

Dr Shariful Islam:

It would be great to know more about this experience between Bangladesh and Haiti. Would you be able to produce a case story? I can share with you the corresponding templates. Great if we can have the opportunity to further discuss this. Best,

Comment by Dr. Shariful Islam on October 26, 2010 at 3:18pm
Dear Enrique Maruri,
Thank you very much for your informatve post. The Government of Bangladesh sent a Medical team comprising of doctors, medical assistants and supplies to Haiti as South-South Cooperation. Although the effort was not on a very large scale, but more such assistance would really establish the sprit of SSC. Countries with experience dealing with such disaster situations should come forward using best practises and knowledge.
Comment by Aaron Leonard on October 8, 2010 at 10:19am
Also see the response from Brenda Killen Head of the OECD's division working on Aid Effectiveness- http://oecdinsights.org/2010/08/12/helping-haiti-should-donors-make...


South-South Cooperation Exchange Mechanism. First online portal dedicated to SSC for sustainable development.

Mapping Multilateral Support to South-South Cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean: Towards Collaborative Approaches. UNDP, 2011. Download PDF (English version) (Versión en Español)


IDB  Magazine - Regional Public Goods: An innovative approach to South-South Cooperation, 2014 version here in English and Spanish.

Using Knowledge Exchange for Capacity Development: What Works in Global Practice? KDI and The World Bank Institute



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