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Stephen P. Groff

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Al-Shabaab's Withdrawal Offers an Opportunity Not to Be Missed

Posted: 09/27/11 02:40 PM ET

Last month, al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab militants withdrew from Mogadishu. While al-Shabaab claims the retreat was merely tactical, many hope that it represents a critical setback for an insurgency that has held the country hostage for four years.

The withdrawal provides momentum for the much-criticized peacekeeping efforts in the country and, despite the famine that is ravaging the region, creates an important window of opportunity. But to take advantage of it, the international community needs to rethink its support, shifting the balance from damage control towards longer-term stability and recovery.

Fragile security on the ground is no excuse for ad-hoc engagement. Long-term solutions will only come by consolidating a viable political settlement and strengthening security and justice, while working with local communities to complement relief efforts with delivery of services and support for livelihoods.

What do we need to do to make this happen?

To begin with, famine-response humanitarian funding needs to be coupled with rapid and flexible recovery financing. Donors need to consider the best instruments for providing this support, recognizing that it is not always appropriate in such situations to deliver aid that is fully compliant with the Paris Declaration principles.

Second, donors must support frontline humanitarian aid workers by using funding channels, such as the Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund, that have drawn on valuable lessons from the past to design ways to move aid more effectively.

Donors also need to scale up support to stabilisation efforts, providing non-official development assistance funding and political and technical support to the African Union peacekeeping forces as they work to bolster security and justice. This includes training police corps and promoting disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

The situation in Somalia does not permit the application of "normal" donor procedures and safeguards. Financial management and procurement, as well as operational approaches, need to be adapted. This does not mean ignoring fiduciary risk -- in environments such as these, logistic and fiduciary risks are huge -- but we can't expect results from approaches designed for stable environments.

Finally, donors must support local leaders. State collapse contributed to the humanitarian emergency and to long-standing conflict in Somalia. Reversing this will depend largely on leadership. If the president, Sharif Ahmed, and his prime minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, can bring order to the transitional government, stability in Mogadishu could have positive effects in the rest of the country. But support cannot be limited to the central government. It must also recognize and build on the progress - albeit limited - of local community leaders in providing relative peace and security and increased access to services.

The Somalia case study in the OECD-DAC (development assistance committee) 2011 Survey of the Fragile States Principles offers useful lessons and recommendations for recovery. It points to the need for donors to align their efforts to manage risks and achieve shared objectives. Lack of government capacity to co-ordinate is not an excuse to go it alone. This co-ordination should start with an understanding of just what the risks are. Some donors have already piloted risk assessment methodologies in Somalia that can serve as basis for enhanced collective engagement.

For over a decade, instability in countries like Somalia has stirred up deep anxiety in the international community. The best way to counter fragility -- which threatens one in six people on the planet -- is by helping to build legitimate and responsive states. But viable solutions in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere need to be tailor-made, taking into account the particular distribution and dynamics of power in each location. And they need to recognize the trade-offs among development objectives, social expectations and regional dynamics. "Transition compacts" can facilitate political discussion over priorities, linking these to explicit funding instruments and delivering better results for the population.

If we don't take the lessons we have learned to heart, the opportunity offered by al-Shabaab's withdrawal will be wasted.

Stephen P Groff is the deputy director for development cooperation at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. This article was originally published in The Guardian.