Increased conditions for aid are inevitable in estranged contexts. Identifying conditions that achieve their intended impact and help build donor domestic support for staying engaged is difficult. Dialogue is essential in setting conditions and to exit from estrangement.
Types of conditions
All aid is governed by some forms of conditions, although governments, multilateral development organizations and humanitarian agencies have different perspectives on those conditions. For humanitarian actors, the humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law and human rights reflect universal norms. Humanitarian actors do not call these ‘conditions’, but in practice they influence both where humanitarian assistance is provided and who is deemed appropriate to deliver it. For most development institutions and IFIs, meanwhile, conditions are a standard feature of all aid programming, usually related to accountability and effectiveness. Programme conditions typically include financial and administrative requirements, institutional and delivery targets, and budget and reporting requirements. These conditions serve either as a threshold for allocating aid, as components of an agreed reform programme or as the basis of results-orientated programming. Effectiveness and fiduciary requirements also apply for the UN, which also applies due diligence frameworks for human rights.
Political conditions reflect broader political, security or social justice objectives and are typically directed at the system of government or national policies of a recipient country. For bilateral donors, the establishment of criteria for initiating or maintaining development aid to a country is a fundamentally political act. Criteria are often chosen as much to express donor positions as to demand specific actions by recipients. Like sanctions – economic, trade, travel or military penalties initiated by the UNSC or by individual states – political conditions can signal disapproval, reinforce a commitment to a specific international norm or seek to change the behaviour of the target state or individual. Unlike sanctions, political conditions centre around actions required to prevent the suspension of aid and are typically negotiated between the donor and aid recipients.
Understanding the different types of aid conditions, what they seek to achieve, and how they interact is critical for the design and delivery of aid in estranged situations.
Setting and aligning political conditions
Political conditions are established on a case-by-case basis by individual donor governments. While pushback from developing countries and limited empirical evidence of success have discouraged their use, donors continue to apply political conditions in more diverse aid settings. Conditionality now goes beyond concerns over governance and human rights to counterterrorism (e.g. Afghanistan), corruption (Zimbabwe), humanitarian access (Ethiopia) and migration (the EU in Africa and the Middle East; the US in Central America). This widening application can make it harder for donors to set and prioritize conditions in politically estranged situations, where many of these problems co-exist but do not carry the same weight for donors, partners and recipients at any one time. In Venezuela, for example, the US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on the government of President Nicolás Maduro since 2019 have made it challenging for donors and national actors – including the opposition politician Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by some 60 states as the country’s de jure president – to align and communicate the changes required of the Maduro government and to order those changes in terms of priority.
To set political conditions that communicate clearly the changes required and that effectively influence the behaviour of politically estranged authorities, donors need comprehensive information and analysis of the evolving political and economic conditions in the recipient country. Careful assessment of the motives, calculations and options available to that country’s leaders and elites is also necessary. Achieving these things is more difficult when diplomatic relations are suspended.
Where shared analytical frameworks are not politically or practically feasible, exchange on individual donor and partner analysis and strategies is critical.
Information gaps, especially on local conditions and economic data, require donors and partners to navigate ways of generating and exchanging knowledge and analyses. Existing frameworks, such as the UN Common Country Analysis or the EU-UN-WB Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessment, provide methodologies for jointly identifying priority needs in countries emerging from conflict and/or political transitions. However, they tend to be relatively wide in scope, take time to complete and are designed to be undertaken in partnership with national governments. In politically estranged situations, a quicker, narrower and bespoke analysis is required. Such analysis should include urgent humanitarian needs and, crucially, assessment of the most important political, economic and social actors and their interconnections. The latter information is more sensitive and not always conducive to common analysis.
Where shared analytical frameworks are not politically or practically feasible, exchange on individual donor and partner analysis and strategies is critical. Donors might consider informal divisions of analytical labour around specific geographical areas, as was occasionally the case in Afghanistan during the deployment of the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or joint commissioning by a group of donors of international or local NGOs for assessments in specific sectors such as education in Somalia. Consulting relevant countries with experience of conflict and transition, such as regional states or the g7+ group of developing states (the latter of which has proven consistent in providing both support and frank messages to its members), may also offer relevant insights into rapidly evolving dynamics.
Given the barriers to comprehensive assessment, as well as the rapid shifts in socio-economic conditions in estranged contexts, information-gathering and analysis must be understood as an ongoing task for the duration of any period of estrangement. A two-stage approach might be considered: an initial ‘quick and dirty’ analysis, potentially drawing on risk and resilience assessments conducted through workshops that bring together field and HQ staff; followed by a more comprehensive assessment that successively draws on inputs from national and local organizations, communities and individuals, as well as beneficiary feedback, structured and unstructured. Remote monitoring and survey techniques, especially mobile phones, can be useful support tools.
In politically estranged settings, regular dialogue among donors and partners is made more difficult by the absence of development partnership and donor coordination frameworks, the shift in policymaking to donor capitals, and differences in donor strategic considerations as well as aid frameworks. Collectively, these factors impede the coordinated design and application of political conditions (Box 8).