Disengagement is damaging, but so is ‘business as usual’. Clear shifts in aid modalities are justified and, in most cases, possible.
In authorizing the suspension, pause, restart, review or launch of new programmes in politically estranged settings, the need to address donor domestic constituency concerns increases.
In-country, there is a necessary shift in focus from accountability through national authorities to direct accountability to affected populations and communities.
The politics of inclusive approaches are especially fraught. Political economy analysis is both more necessary and more difficult, and should be a two-step exercise incorporating: (i) a quick risk and resilience assessment; and (ii) a subsequent deeper analysis that is updated regularly.
Basic services need to be redefined to include key macroeconomic functions, payment systems and community-based dispute resolution in situations of estrangement.
Use adaptive and flexible programming mechanisms, across portfolios and within existing projects, to address estranged circumstances.
Focused messaging with donor domestic constituencies can help build and maintain political support. Messaging should focus on individual human needs and impact; preventing regional and global spillovers; navigating geopolitical competition; and demonstrating value for money, as well as pre-emptively addressing valid concerns about risks of legitimizing abusive governments or facilitating corruption. Targeted outreach with priority donor domestic constituencies for specific estranged contexts – especially with parliamentary bodies, relevant diaspora groups and mainstream media – becomes more useful in estranged situations.
Zero tolerance does not mean zero abuses, rather zero tolerance for inaction in response to abuses. Donors must build public understanding from the outset of aid provision to a politically estranged country that ‘we will have systems to identify abuses quickly and deal robustly with them’. When an incidence of corruption or human rights abuse arises, the question for domestic media, parliaments and publics is not ‘why did this occur?’, but rather ‘was it found quickly and does the donor government or multilateral institution have appropriate ways to address it?’.
Initial conditions should focus on core conditions that are generally common across humanitarian and development actors. These conditions include: non-discrimination (e.g. gender-, ethnic- or regional-based); non-interference in recruitment and procurement; financial transparency; and access for monitoring and reporting. Where possible and related to delivery, subnational rather than national ‘red-line’ conditions are desirable, where aid may be suspended to local areas experiencing abuses.
Dialogue is both inevitable and desirable to agree on short-term objectives and conditions and to allow the possibility of longer-term changes – modes of approaching dialogue include empowering designated international interlocutors as a platform, not a gatekeeper; or using development and humanitarian entry points for dialogue.
Proven modalities exist but should be used as a menu of options for dialogue between local and international implementing partners and donors, rather than as a ‘boilerplate’. The choice of modality depends on local capacity, the risks of capture of local institutions, and the need to assuage domestic donor constituency concerns on corruption and human rights abuse.
Monitoring systems should build on local community and CSO capacity. They should only supplement this capacity when local organizations do not have the authority, access or security to carry out this function alone. Third-party monitoring should show how it draws on local knowledge, and should be expanded to monitor results and local political-economy dynamics in addition to fiduciary issues.