BY LIZ HUME
Elizabeth (Liz) Hume is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a nonprofit and nonpartisan network of 160+ organizations working in 181 countries to prevent conflict, reduce violence, improve lives, and build sustainable peace. Liz is a conflict expert and has more than 17 years of experience in senior leadership positions in bilateral, multilateral institutions and NGOs.
In Spring 2022, the Biden Administration released the Global Fragility Act’s (GFA) long-awaited four priority countries, Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea, and one region, Coastal West Africa.1 The release of these priority areas is a welcomed and critical step forward to implementing the bipartisan GFA signed into law in December 2019. The GFA is a game-changing law that puts peacebuilding and conflict prevention at the center of U.S. foreign policy, assistance, and security strategy.2 As recommended by AfP from the start, the Fragile States Index (FSI) was critical in this selection process with over seventeen years of evidence-based quantifiable data. The FSI will also be essential in monitoring the success and failure of the GFA strategies and, more importantly, understanding the causes of conflict and areas to target. While there was considerable debate about the selection of these countries and one region, it is critical to remember this is not the only bite of the apple. If the GFA’s strategy is successful, it will become the norm in all U.S. foreign policy strategies in conflict-affected and fragile states.
The GFA puts peacebuilding and conflict prevention at the center of the U.S. government’s strategy and requires developing a whole-of-government 10-year strategy to prevent and reduce violent conflict and build sustainable peace.3 It requires evidence-based monitoring and evaluation, bi-annual reporting to Congress, and ongoing consultations with civil society. By September 2020, the GFA required at least five countries/regions to be selected. However, this deadline slipped due to the Presidential administration transition, the global pandemic, and ongoing global violent conflicts from Afghanistan to Ukraine.
The selection of these priority countries and one region resulted from a significant process that included reviewing conflict watch lists such as the Fragile States Index backed by evidence-based quantifiable negative and positive indicators and consultations with civil society. The selection process also included evaluating U.S. national security interests and other key criteria, such as strong buy-in from the highest levels at the U.S. missions.
All the countries and one region selected are great opportunities where a new U.S. peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategy can significantly impact preventing and reducing violent conflict and fragility and building sustainable peace. Additionally, priority countries and region will provide key lessons for other conflict-affected and fragile states, and many U.S. missions are already eager to implement them.
In 2022, the Fragile States Index listed Haiti as one of the most worsened countries due to political violence, including the assassination of the President, crippling gang violence and poverty, and humanitarian disasters.4 This year, Haiti’s fragility rank fell to number 11 from 13. Given its proximity to the U.S., large diaspora community, and ongoing migration to the United States, Haiti is vital to the U.S. national interests. Over the years, the U.S. and the international community have conducted multiple stabilization and humanitarian missions that have not resulted in peace and stability in Haiti. However, the GFA offers a new approach that must support citizen security and developing an effective and legitimate government.
Mozambique’s 2022 FSI rank deteriorated from number 22 in 2021 to number 21. Mozambique is experiencing an increasingly violent extremist ISIS-M destabilizing threat in the north that is displacing thousands and impacting infrastructure, including its vital natural gas production.5 Mozambique’s FSI indicator ranks show the most severe levels of stress in Public Services and Demographic Pressures. While the United States is the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Mozambique, it is time for a more integrated strategy that targets the causes of increasing violent conflict and extremism.6 Fortunately, the government has publicly acknowledged its willingness to work closely with international partners, which is vital to implementing the GFA and addressing the increased violent conflict and extremism.
Sharing the 21st spot with Mozambique, Libya’s FSI rank improved from #17 in 2021. Unlike Mozambique, Libya’s worst ranks were found in External Intervention and State Legitimacy. However, the current political situation in Libya provides an opening the international community must urgently seize.
While Papua New Guinea, listed as #55 on the FSI, was not the most obvious choice for a GFA priority country, it is an excellent case to focus on fragility and prevention. Violent inter-tribal conflict and violence against women threaten stability, along with Economic Inequality and Public Services. Additionally, there are ongoing independence negotiations following the civil war in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and the People’s Republic of China’s engagement is growing.
The only region selected is Coastal West Africa which includes Benin, Cote d’Ivôire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. This region is experiencing spreading violent extremism from the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin.8 Additionally, the recent military coup in Guinea is evidence of increasing instability. It shows the need to address the causes of violent extremism early, including political fragility, to prevent violent extremism from gaining a foothold in this region.
The selection of the priority countries and region moves the work of the GFA out of theory and into practice, but major work lies ahead. First, Congress must fund the GFA over 10 years at the full authorized amount $200 million each year. To ensure successful 10-year strategies in these priority countries and region and hopefully all conflict-affected and fragile states in the future, it cannot be business as usual. The U.S. government still must request Congress to address the challenges that could impede successfully implementing the GFA, such as earmarks, procurement constraints, and staffing challenges. It is also critical the U.S. government use the exceptional tools at its disposal, including the Fragile States Index and other evidence-based conflict watch lists, to monitor progress and failure and learn the lessons and adapt the strategies in real-time. We know conflict is not static and linear, nor should strategies and approaches be.