Recent Developments in European Humanitarian Assistance
by RRN staff June 2003

‘EU Cooperation with Politically Fragile Countries with case studies from Angola, Liberia and Somalia’.

(ECDPM Discussion Papers no. 2 (1998, Liberia) and no. 11 (1999, Angola), and Working Paper no. 66 (1998, Somalia).

The European Commission (EC) aims to promote peace and structural stability, good governance and human rights, as well as sustainable development through its external relations, while also providing humanitarian assistance in times of crisis. The main framework for aid allocation by the EC has been the Lomé Agreement with ACP countries (the ‘last’ Lomé Agreement ran out on 29 February 2000). Current thinking for the new post-Lomé convention is that aid provision will be linked to performance criteria (yet to be determined) by the recipient, with a tendency towards greater aid selectivity in favour of ‘good performers’. However this practise will be thrown into turmoil when it comes to ‘politically fragile’ countries and collapsed states, and so further punish impoverished and conflict-afflicted populations for consequent ‘poor performance’ as an aid recipient.

Creative alternatives are needed to the suspension of development aid and for the continued use of European Development Fund finance. These three case studies document three very different country experiences. In Angola, the relationship between the EC and the government has been difficult. The EC felt that the government was not sufficiently transparent about the management of its national resources and sometimes failed to meet its contractual obligations. The government, on the other hand, found EC aid administration procedures inflexible, complex, and not adapted to the volatility of the Angolan situation. All in all the political dialogue between the EC, through its delegation, and the government, was weak. The study also highlights the negative effects of prolonged relief aid on local producers, as well as the risks of launching premature rehabilitation and development efforts.

The Liberian study reveals an almost totally different EC: the mode of operation during the civil war was highly flexible and reflected changing realities on the ground. This was made possible by the Liberian government’s agreement to decentralise EC decision-making, which facilitated much closer interaction with local level authorities. Another contributing factor was the calibre of the EC delegation. This closely managed the design and implementation, mostly by commercial contractors, of EC programmes, and maintained close communications with a competent geographical desk in Brussels; no attempt was made to fit into multilateral coordination efforts where these were considered to be inappropriate or misguided. Even in the midst of crisis strategic rehabilitation-type activities were launched to support local coping efforts, and as a conscious risk-reduction strategy (rather than waiting for minimum conditions to be fulfilled the aid programme tried to support the creation of these conditions). Contrary to the situation in Angola, the EC delegation maintained a close political dialogue with all warring parties, a factor that may explain why its assets, unlike those of the other aid actors, were not looted in April 1996.

EC programming was also fairly decentralised in Somalia. It was also responsive to variations in different zones of the country. Rehabilitation and development-type aid was allocated to stabilised zones whereas crisis-insecure areas only benefited from humanitarian assistance. As in Liberia, the EC was closely involved in political dialogue, especially during the period of its Special Envoy to Somalia (1993–1997). Contrary to Liberia, however, it has also invested in multi-agency coordination through a leading role in the Somalia Aid Coordinating Body – albeit more at the level of policy coordination than that of operational coordination. Although there is no central government, resources of the European Development Fund continue to be allocated to Somalia – not in the least in recognition of the importance of Somali trade in supporting recovery. These experiences are extremely important in the light of the pursuit of policy coherence in the EC and the negotiations of a post-Lomé Convention, where the question of performance-based partnerships with politically fragile countries and collapsed states, and the question of partnerships with non-state actors, needs to be addressed in more detail.

The EC has also remained stuck on the theory of ‘linking relief-rehabilitation-development’. The new Commisioner for Development is keen on a clearer ‘exit strategy’ for ECHO. But the problem has rather been the lack of an ‘entry strategy’ for the other aid instruments. It is hoped that lessons from experiences such as these, and stronger country strategies emanating from effectively coordinating geographical desks, will make the disjunctions between the activities of ECHO and of the developmental desks a thing of the past.