Alphen, Netherlands. 28 January. Every now and then I get off my lofty strategic perch and venture down into the weeds of delivery for it is there that the gap between strategy, reality and delivery is at its most stark.
Take the EU’s mission in Somalia EUCAP NESTOR. EUCAP NESTOR was established in 2011 as part of a maritime security capacity-building and counter-piracy effort in the Horn of Africa and Western Indian Ocean. The current focus is on re-energising the mission in Somali, including Somaliland. The approach is twofold: establish a series of field offices across the region to promote dialogue with and support for local communities; and establish effective co-ordination with other members of the “EU family”, UN agencies and states with bilateral missions, such as China, France, Turkey, UK and US).
Here the problems begin. Implicit in the presence of so many actors is the friction of the new geopolitics. In other words, the mission lacks strategic unity of effort and purpose with too many different actors wanting to do different things for different reasons. And this is not just between China and the rest of the West. There are also profound divisions between all the states present and between the institutions, and non-governmental actors, often about who gets the biggest slice of the funding pie.
According to my friend much of the problem is in Brussels. It concerns primarily the lack of consistent strategy and support for those in the field. This is a problem I saw for myself in Afghanistan and NATO’s stabilisation and reconstruction strategy. Too often good practice and sound strategy in the field is sacrificed for politics in capitals which in turn undermines the ability of the people on the ground to ensure efficient and effective delivery. This is particularly counter-productive given the very complex political and clan environment in which such efforts be definition take place.
Therefore, if the goals of stable governance, sustained development and legitimate security and stability are to be realised the following strategy must be applied: ‘commitment’ must be measured in terms of funds delivered not funds pledged; ‘success’ must be measured by demonstrable outcomes not inputs; funds should be applied logically across the realm of nation and capacity-building, and the temptation to shift funds into one area or another simply to generate a headline avoided; both long-term presence and indeed consistency of application is vital; a proper balance of effort must be established (in the gobbledygook of aid speak) between so-called ‘Supported Implementers’ and ‘Supporting Implementers’, particularly those able to provide and deliver vital ‘niche expertise’; and the effort must develop a coherent identity with a spokesman able to speak with one voice on behalf of the majority of implementers to the recipients of aid.
Critical to progress is minimisation of the inevitable politics with a focus instead on sound project management. In Somaliland that means bringing front and centre the reasonably well-developed National Vision and Development Plan and Somaliland Special Arrangement. Thereafter, all efforts must be linked to the national vision and then planned and phased into a coherent sequence. This will ensure that all the initiatives can be digested and mastered by key personnel from the region and the effectiveness of said initiatives properly measured and assessed against the backdrop of sustainable strategy.
Therefore, for EUCAP NESTOR to work Brussels must also take a longer-view. According to my friend Brussels too often seeks to measure inputs rather than outcomes by focusing on the quantity of those who are in receipt of EU aid and assistance rather than the quality of outcomes generated by the knowledge and capabilities generated. For example, when training is conducted the EU measures progress by the number who attend but avoids any real attempt to measure whether that knowledge is applied and to what effect.
Much of this will look like capacity-building 101 for many practitioners. Unfortunately, it is precisely because political and bureaucratic leaders repeatedly fail to heed such lessons that taxpayer’s money is wasted. Indeed, too often such programmes generate more heat than light with the gap between strategy and delivery growing to the point of political failure.
However, the vital need is effective delivery. The EU needs a far more agile funding system to enable practitioners to adapt their projects to local circumstances. Moreover, so that a box can be ticked back in Brussels too often people are despatched to the region who lack the appropriate skills, knowledge, commitment and experience to do whatever is necessary to succeed.
EUCAP NESTOR will not of course ‘fail’. Some phoney narrative will be crafted back in Brussels to demonstrate what an outstanding success the effort has been for the EU and the people of Europe when in fact very little has changed on the ground for the better. If and when that happens Somalia will continue to fall into the abyss and and very quickly yet another ungoverned space will pose a very real threat to Europe and the wider West.
As my brave and hard-working practitioner friend put it: “The centre stage in Somalia is not big enough for all the prima donnas”. It is too dangerous and too important for that.