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Tokyo donor’s conference

July 8, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Afghanistan’s “mini-series” of 10th anniversary conferences (Bonn I in December 2001, Bonn II in December 2011 and the Tokyo Donor Conference in January 2002, Tokyo II in July 2012) seem to underline little more than how naïve the expectations were then and how little was achieved (or learnt) the first time around.  I wonder if other, less memorable (and arguably less successful) conferences

will be accorded the same dubious repetition.

This year’s Tokyo conference looks to be securing sixteen billion dollars of further financial commitment from an international community which, by at least one calculation, has already put in $60 billion of civilian aid into the country.

 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed Mr Karzai’s remarks, saying progress in Afghanistan remained “fragile”.

“Failure to invest in governance, justice, human rights, employment and social development could negate investment and sacrifices that have been made over the last 10 years,” said Mr Ban.

Although the figures look impressive this time round (the original Tokyo conference donors amassed around $3 — 4 billion), the may, as yet unresolved problem is not how much money is being put in, but what happens to it:

  1. How it is accounted for
  2. Who controls it (internationals vs Afghans)
  3. How much gets “corrupted away”
  4. How much actually makes it into the country (as opposed to consultancies outside the country – and very often in the donor country)
  5. What measures are in place to deal with corruption by Afghanistan
  6. Whether it actually arrives in the first
  7. Whether it is actually spent

…and what it is used for:

  1. Sustainable projects (good)
  2. “Trophy” projects for particular donor nations (bad)
  3. Donor-specified projects (eg “this money can only be spent on x”)
  4. Coordinated work

The international community does not seem to have been able to resolve these issues satisfactorily over the last ten years.  The other aspect that occurs to me is, with a few exceptions, how short the stated donor timeframes are.

Donors at the meeting pledged to give $16bn (£10.3bn) in civilian aid over four years.

This four year period starts now and so aid coming into Afghanistan looks to start drying up from 2015.  This is a short attention span given the mistakes we know have been made in this area sine 2001.  My sense is that something like a 10 year programme that starts after 2014 is the only thing that would work, providing proper, long-term support and, equally crucial, a strong message to the population (including both Taliban and anti-Taliban elements) that the international community is at least moderately serious.

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