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Improving Capacity Building in Post-conflict and Fragile Settings—African Ministers Share their Experience

Available in: Português, Español, Français
  • Ministers, World Bank discuss ways to develop capacity in post conflict countries
  • Programs in Liberia, for instance, are trying to address a skills shortage
  • Governments and donors need to play a larger role

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2009—“We are here to listen—tell us how we can better assist you. And please, be frank.” This was the appeal made by World Bank Africa Region Vice President Ms. Obiageli Ezekwesili to three African ministers during a seminar Thursday ahead of the 2009 World Bank-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings. The seminar, organized by the Bank’s Africa Region vice presidency, sought to identify lessons for capacity development in post-conflict and fragile settings.

Ezekwesili asked the ministers from Liberia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to discuss capacity development efforts in their countries, and to identify what has and has not worked, and how donors can provide more effective support for human development, infrastructure, and public sector reforms.

“This is a time not only to learn of Africa, but also to learn from Africa,” said Tijan Sallah, the Bank’s Capacity Development and Partnerships manager. Sallah moderated the seminar. He added that capacity building to manage reconstruction is key for Africa, given that some 20 countries on the continent are classified as post-conflict or fragile. He said there is a great need to share experiences and learn from one another. 

“Brain Drain” Capturing Liberia’s Resources

Augustine Ngafaun, Minister of Finance for Liberia, outlined the enormity of the challenges facing his country, which has “75 percent of the educational facilities destroyed” combined with a “massive brain drain” as a result of professionals fleeing during Liberia’s recent conflict.

“We have very few doctors, teachers and hardly any engineers,” he said. He also noted that, despite the importance of the mining sector for Liberia’s growth, there are not even five geologists in the entire country.

Liberia has implemented two programs to address the shortage of skilled personnel—the Senior Executive Service Program and the Liberian Management Capacity Building Initiative. But, Ngafaun said, these are not able to address the lack of skills in middle and lower ranks of public service.

Cabinet ministers and other leaders also need to build skills, he said, to motivate public sector professionals. The ministers from Rwanda and DRC echoed this concern, adding that donors often prefer not to fund local civil service personnel for graduate and postgraduate studies.
What Countries Need from Donors
Several common themes emerged from the ministers’ interventions, including:

  • donors prioritizing support for primary and secondary education, and not higher education;
  • donors pressing a “one size fits all” approach on countries, trying to replicate programs that were successful elsewhere;
  • the failure by expatriate advisors in civil service posts to transfer their knowledge and skills to local counterparts;
  • tension among returning members of the Diaspora and local populations that stayed behind, partly around incentive structures for civil service; and
  • an urgent need to deliver skills-training and create job opportunities for young ex-combatants.

Even though the challenges were daunting, Rwanda’s Finance Minister James Musoni noted the significant progress made in the reconstruction of his country since the 1994 genocide. He said it is crucial for the donor community to understand the context in which each country operates, as in some cases the political leadership may not be ready.

National Leaders Need to Play a Strong Role

“Donors need to get strong buy-in from leaders before proceeding with capacity development,” he said.

During Rwanda’s post-conflict turnaround, he noted there was a need to tackle the “whole operating environment,” including social, political, cultural, and ethnic dimensions, in order to mount a sustainable capacity development program. He added that capacity development needs to be part of a national development plan. In that regard, he cited specific innovative measures implemented to develop capacity in Rwanda, such as tax exemptions for investments related to capacity development. Rwanda also loosened its visa regulations to attract skilled professionals from other countries in the sub-region.

The panel also discussed what development partners need to do differently to facilitate capacity building in post-conflict or fragile nations, such as building local fiduciary capacity, simplifying cumbersome procurement procedures, demonstrating flexibility in aligning with pressing national capacity priorities, focusing efforts in select areas, and improving predictability of donor resources.

There was additional discussion about the challenge of building short-term capacity to stimulate reconstruction and long-term capacity to make it durable.

What the World Bank is Doing

Sanjay Pradhan, Vice President of the World Bank Institute (WBI) addressed some of the key issues raised by the panelists and provided a brief outline of WBI’s capacity building strategy.

Pradhan identified key implications for capacity building in fragile settings. First, given across-the-board capacity weaknesses, traditional capacity development in training institutions is not enough; it must be complemented by training staff already on the job. Second, priority entry points for capacity building are often budget management, procurement and extractive industries. Third, efforts must be deployed to rebuild professionalism in the public service, and to engage in order to build coalitions for reform. Fourth, there is a need for the Bank—through WBI—to work with local institutions to build institutional capacity, and to support leaders to rebuild confidence and trust, and ownership.

Ownership and national identity was an overarching theme throughout the conversation. Pradhan emphasized the need to “focus on re-inventing the nation-state, because political leadership sets the tone for national identity.”

Ezekwesili also echoed this, stressing the need to build confidence in all sectors, pointing out that “development solutions work only to the extent that the capacities of the nation-state, the private sector, and civil society are strong.” She added,

“The lack of capacity is magnified by the stress of the post conflict environment,” she added. “The World Bank needs to be well informed to understand what fragility is about and the added demands it places on development.”

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