This is an historic time for the war ravaged country of Somalia. The comparatively smooth transition to a new government headed by ex-peace activist and educational campaigner turned president – the 57 year old Hasan Sheikh Mohamad – has generated a new wave of optimism for the region’s future. This buoyant mood builds upon the rapid progress being made in the fight against radical Islamic group Al Shabaab, who until late last year, held much of southern Somalia under its sway. Now, thanks to unprecedented regional military cooperation bringing together Ugandan, Burundian, Kenyan forces, with Ethiopian troops, Somalia’s iconic capital of Mogadishu has been reclaimed, and the prized southern port city of Kismayo has all but been recaptured. Al Shabaab are well and truly on the back foot, and their future looks bleak.

And Somalis are seizing the moment for themselves. Members of the diaspora are flooding back to the country from as far afield as Australia, Norway and the United States, bringing with them a spirited entrepreneurialism and cash. Capitalising on the growing stability, new enterprises are springing up across the battle scarred streets of Mogadishu. Freshly painted coffee shops, newly constructed hotels, and electronics stores laden with the newest appliances from Dubai all are materialising from the rubble that has defined the past 20 years.

Of course, much remains to be done to ensure this brief moment in time heralds a sustained recovery from a history bleached by entrenched conflict, crippling corruption, and oppressive regimes. Somalia has often been described as ‘the world’s most failed state’, a label which rightly angers many Somali’s nowdays. Yet there is no denying that the region remains dangerously fragile. The biggest risk is that this volatile time of political transition sparks more fracturing rather than unification, incites new conflict rather than peaceful settlement over timeworn issues.

The balance hangs in the hands of the Somalis themselves. Yet the regional powers have a critical role to play in ensuring their support is not driven by self-interest at the expense of wider stability. And the international community, in Somalia’s case a growing range of actors with increasingly diverse interests, must remain consistent and coherent in its support of the country’s rebirth.

My role as Senior Stabilisation Adviser for the British Office for Somalia, sees me heading a team at the sharp end of the international community’s assistance to the region. We are charged with working in areas newly ‘liberated’ by military forces, helping to restore stability, and create the conditions for longer term recovery.  It is certainly no easy task, yet the early signs of progress are appearing – we are supporting Somalis to establish local administrations, implement community security programmes and rebuild basic infrastructure like roads and markets.

Yet one-off stabilisation projects will only go part way to solve the problem. The real challenge in such a fragmented, fractured landscape, to Somalis and internationals alike, is to find new ways of forging concerted action. Action that brings together the Somali businessman from London keen to invest in his old neighbourhood, with the newly appointed District Governor, with a group of young unemployed men, with the women from the local market, with the head of the African Union military unit, alongside the police commissioner… to decide for themselves what the real problems are, and how they are going to solve them together.

Crack that, and the rubble of Somalia’s history may just be swept aside once and for all.

Sierra Leone is a pioneer of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Africa’s plan to boost agricultural production and thereby tackle poverty and hunger. Of the 20+ countries that are active with CAADP, Sierra Leone is further advanced with implementation than all but 1 or 2 others.

I have spent the last 3 days in Freetown running a workshop to strengthen the coalition of support for national CAADP plans. I am struck by the remarkable progress being made. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, and only a decade ago emerged from civil war. In such a context, how is Sierra Leone advancing so much faster than other African countries? The quality of leadership from the Minister, President and senior civil servants is the striking difference.

Remarkable progress

In mid-2010, through the CAADP process, the Government of Sierra Leone finalised a 5 year Investment Plan focussed on helping smallholders shift from subsistence farming to commercially viable agriculture. Since then, they have attracted financial commitments for over two thirds of the $403 million plan from a wide variety of sources. 120 of 150 planned Agri-Business Centres have been established as commercial hubs for local networks of farmers. The farmers have organised themselves under a national umbrella organisation. A Chamber of Agriculture is engaging the private sector and negotiating lower interest rates for loans to farmers. INGOs are lining up to train farmers in the management skills they need to run their local Agri Business Centres. Strong and inclusive structures are in place for decision-making centrally and at a district-level. Radio and TV broadcasts are daily channelling informative and educational messages to remote rural communities.

Song used to sensitise rural farmers in Sierra Leone on CAADP

Obviously there are also many problems and set backs. Nonetheless, the progress being made in such a poor and challenging country is truly remarkable, and begs the question – what is special about the CAADP process in Sierra Leone?

Genuine personal leadership from Government

The quality of leadership from senior government officials is striking. It starts at the very top. The President has championed CAADP, prioritised agriculture above all other sectors for its potential to drive pro-poor growth, and chairs a quarterly meeting to ensure progress is made. He holds his Minister’s accountable through performance contracts.

The Minister of Agriculture, Joseph Sam Sesay, is focussed, disciplined and directly engaged in day-to-day implementation. Today he arrived at our workshop on time, ahead of several other participants, and gave a clear, honest speech that compelled others to engage positively. He personally responded to my emails to express support for the workshop during preparations.

Prince Kamara, the senior civil servant in charge of the CAADP process, is equally impressive. He is open, friendly, shares his struggles, seeks help from others, listens, engages in spirited debate, establishes clear goals, and provides structures through which other stakeholders can engage.

All these three emphasise with confidence that Sierra Leoneans are leading the country, and, despite their dependency on donors for 80% of government finance, they demand that the international community aligns behind the country’s priorities rather than imposing their own agendas.

They are also driven by a commitment to serve the interests of Sierra Leonean citizens, especially the poor. As testimony to this, with 70% of Sierra Leoneans working in agriculture as smallholders, the government has prioritised helping these farmers establish themselves as viable businesses.

Leadership as a principle for aid effectiveness

Rwanda is the only country that is clearly further ahead with CAADP than Sierra Leone. Again it is a very poor, post-conflict country that is notable for strong disciplined leadership at senior levels within government.

Perhaps the quality of leadership should be added as another key principle for aid effectiveness. Quality leadership is not entirely a historical accident. Sierra Leone and Rwanda have common factors that could be understood better:

  • A historical commitment to education
  • A returning diaspora bringing regional and international experience
  • A unity forged from overcoming conflict

I am also aware that Presidents in both countries are receiving mentoring from Tony Blair and embedded technical support through his African Governance Initiative.

Donors could gather evidence on what strengthens senior leadership in African governments, and launch initiatives in response. This appears a critical underpinning factor for effective and sustainable development. It would be money well spent. Private sector investors look for companies with strong CEOs, and development finance should similarly realise the importance of effective leadership at the heart of a country.

Despite a sweaty and exhausting few days in the chaos of Freetown, as I sit here waiting for my plane, I do not want to leave. The momentum and sense of excitement about the CAADP process here is infectious. I want to join the coalition coalesced by the government’s genuine leadership. I leave believing that the CAADP process will transform the lives of poor smallholders in Sierra Leone, and it has been a privilege to be part of it.

The following article is reproduced from People in Aid’s Emergency Capacity Building Project “Case Study of Good Practice”

1. Introduction

The continuing conflict in Afghanistan is described as the British Government’s most important foreign priority. Ten years since war first broke out, and with 2014 looming as the anticipated date for transition to full Afghan control, the challenges faced by policy makers, diplomats and advisers on the ground have never been greater.

In early 2010, Hamish Wilson, Consultant and Director of Wasafiri Consulting, was engaged by the UK’s Stabilisation Unit – a specialised agency jointly owned by the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and Department for International Development – and deployed to Helmand’s remote northern districts as a Stabilisation Adviser, working on behalf of the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

The war-torn districts of Musa Qala and Now Zad had become infamous as ‘the heart of darkness’ throughout the years of drug lord and Taliban rule. The Afghan Government and NATO wrested back control and with the support of advisers such as Hamish, are helping restore normality for the local population

Embedded with US Marines, and responsible for managing a team of international and Afghan civilians (known as a District Stabilisation Team or DST), Hamish was specifically tasked with coordinating efforts to establish a functional district government and to oversee all reconstruction and development activities.

2. Experiences and reality on the ground

We as civilians play an unlikely intermediary role – we sit firmly between the US Military and the Afghan political and community leadership. This is the space in which we operate to find ways to generate concerted action to drive the recovery efforts forward coherently.” says Hamish.

He goes on to describe the context in more detail; “Insecurity is high, our movements are limited, people shift their allegiances without warning, and the events of the moment can be utterly unpredictable. Out here the consequences for poor judgement can be extremely high…

Hamish describes an average day in the Musa Qala ‘Forward Operating Base’, painting a vivid (and exhausting) picture of weighty issues and relentless demands for attention: dealing with the aftermath of an attack on the local market, working with the Governor to improve taxation, meeting with the Director of Education to re-open a school closed by fighting, drafting the Governance and Rule of Law aspects of the campaign plan, hosting a team of journalists from Kabul and planning for the coming Community Council elections.

His tales evoke a sense of the leadership dilemmas that must be confronted daily; Where do you draw the line with corruption? How do we best allocate our limited funds? How do we support Afghans to take the lead? How do we manage the incessant competing demands? How do we re-establish a ‘humanitarian space’? How do we address human rights abuses? The list clearly goes on…

Hamish describes some of the keys to success: “Successful leadership in this context is one founded on how well you manage an extraordinarily complex set of relationships between a wildly colourful range of people and institutions – many with competing pressures and interests… If I am respected by the US Marine commander, if I am trusted by the District Governor, if I am valued by the village elders, listened to by the Police Chief, or the farmer who sympathises with the Taliban… then we have a chance of moving forward together. Its fragile and painstaking…”

3. Lessons for the future

As the Afghan and international communities cast their gaze toward the threshold year of 2014, they must begin to lay the foundations for what will emerge as effective leadership in a post-transition world.

Two crucial issues will threaten the prospects of stability over that time if they are overlooked – the strength of Afghan institutions such as it’s security forces and government administration, and the effectiveness of their leaders. In effect, the ‘battle for transition’ will be determined by the efforts of international advisers such as Hamish to build the capacity of local leadership in hostile regions such as Musa Qala. Hamish summarises his efforts thus far;

“This isn’t Iraq. We are working in areas without basic infrastructure, or established education systems, suffering poor access and communication links, and where the concept of government is foreign.” His work with local leaders is focussed on:

  • Helping them create effective means of public engagement and participation
  • Supporting their efforts to resolve complex and competing issues
  • Developing basic systems of accountability and management of public finances
  • Helping them to better manage their own teams and people
  • Coaching them on navigating Afghan and international institutions

But the race is on. In just a few short years, it will be the Afghans taking the lead for themselves, with or without such support.

4. Conclusion

Hamish makes it clear that there are simply not enough resources to adequately accelerate the daunting task of developing local leadership in time for the deadline of transition. “There are only six in my team, yet we are working with the Police, Prosecutor, Governor’s team, Line Ministry officials, local leaders, Council members… there is a real risk that it is too little too late…”

And he is right – the sacrifices of the past decade, and the intensive efforts of the next few years will only create the conditions for a durable political settlement, for a lasting peace, if Afghan leadership succeeds. That then, must become the rallying cry for the international community.

Last month, the Feinstein International Centre published an excellent report examining the relationship between aid and security in Afghanistan (Winning Hearts and Minds?

It presents a rather bleak conclusion; that little evidence exists to support the assumption that aid results in improved stabilisation or security. The report goes on to highlight the root causes of this breakdown, citing inequitable distribution, corruption and misappropriation, lack of community ownership, poor quality of delivery compounded by weak coordination. The list goes on…

Having just returned from a 9-month stint in the northern districts of Helmand working as a PRT Stabilisation Adviser embedded with the US Marines, I’ve witnessed more than my share of projects which have failed for such reasons (and which lend weight to Josh Harris’s points). Sadly, I’ve also seen the culpability lie with internationally respected NGOs as well as oft-cited governmental or military actors.

Given the complexity of the conflict (and in light of the pitfalls of increased securitisation of aid), how can concerted action be generated to create the conditions for sustainable peace and an enduring political settlement? And what role can or should aid take?

In Helmand, at the highest levels of civilian, military and government command, the nature of the debate  – and the assistance being delivered on the ground – is changing for the better. Increasingly frank recognition of the consequences of failed aid projects, as well as lessons borne out by the growing number of successful programmes are underpinning the new imperatives for ‘transition’ to Afghan government control in 2014.

Within this context, the establishment of legitimate and accountable governance and the rule of law is rightly taking primacy. The emphasis of efforts to support livelihoods, establish healthcare systems, stimulate economic development and build critical infrastructure is moving beyond ‘quick-wins’ to creating a sustainable foundation for transition – by both improving basic quality of life and the Afghan government’s capacity. For an insight into the daily stabilisation challenges, follow my blogs from Helmand.

The aspiration is that transition will see the Afghan government assuming full oversight of on-going security and development supported by a growing presence of independent domestic and international development actors. In essence, the road to transition marks the process of creating the space so critical to development beyond this current militarised campaign.

In the meantime disengagement by the humanitarian community is not an option. It must continue to ensure that its voice is heard by the donors, the diplomats and those in the military, and find new ways of engaging to ensure the failings of the past are not repeated.

The whistle blew and 300 people cheered for the first time in a generation. Ten men in Afghan Army fatigues advanced toward their opposite numbers, local students clad in matching striped jerseys. Plumes of dust rose from the freshly raked pitch while people clambered onto rooftops, straining for a better view. Popular music boomed from the loudspeakers, creating a carnival atmosphere.  Football had come to Musa Qal’eh.

3 weeks earlier, our planning had started with modest intentions; to host a public event to build closer ties between the Afghan security forces and the local community. It hadn’t dawned on us that such an occasion would be a first for many years. ‘We would never have been allowed to do this under the Taliban.’ The organiser (and Director of Education) Ghulam Ali later told us. ‘We would have been punished. Very badly.’

The scale of organisation required also caught us unawares. The teams needed jerseys, a referee to be found, goalposts constructed, security to be planned, trophies purchased, music selected, the district governor’s blessing. This was no ordinary weekend knockabout.

And despite our myriad fears, it worked. The crowd swelled and shouted. The teams put on a fine display (to our relief it was a draw). There were no attacks, riots or explosions. And it proved that what we call ‘stabilisation’ doesn’t just have to be about building bridges or planning elections.

For outsiders today may have seemed a humble game of football, but for the people of Musa Qal’eh it was small step toward a brighter future.

Big business has a rare opportunity to bring stability and development to Africa’s troubled Great Lakes region.


In August last year, the beleaguered communities of Eastern Congo were again assailed by war. The rebel general Laurent Nkunda’s Rwandan-backed militas launched yet another violent campaign, threatening to return a region tormented by ethnic division and vast mineral wealth to all out conflict.

Yet in the space of just six months, a wave of unlikely events has brought fresh cause for optimism to the Great Lakes.

Firstly and most importantly, the upsurge in conflict was curtailed in dramatic fashion. The international community commendably dispatched ministerial officials and peace envoys to negotiate but it took an unprecedented agreement between President Kabila of Congo and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame to arrange for the arrest of the rebel general and to deploy Rwandan troops to secure the region.

Perhaps even more remarkably, these same troops completed an orderly withdrawal just days ago, surprising those who feared the intentions of the Rwandans from the very beginning. Despite legitimate concerns of a power vacuum in their absence, exacerbated by a chronically inadequate Congolese army and the continued presence of numerous militias, the early signs are hopeful.

Secondly, a spate of initiatives have been launched to bolster the private sector’s role in the Great Lakes region. For example, in the face of a World Bank report that for the third year running the Congo was ‘the worst country in the world for doing business in’, German agency GTZ boldly launched the Responsible Business Network. This initiative consists of international corporations active in Congo and aims to introduce stronger governance and human rights practices in their businesses.

There also appears to be a growing momentum for greater engagement with the private sector in tackling the region’s illicit trade in ‘conflict minerals’ such as coltan, tin and gold. This should come as no surprise; the UN Expert Group recently uncovered evidence that ‘all the main parties in the conflict in eastern DRC – armed groups as well as the Congolese army – are financing themselves via the exploitation and trade of eastern DRC’s mineral wealth’.

The Congolese Prime Minister last week invited international donor agencies, government officials and civil society representatives to a brainstorming soiree in Kinshasa specifically to unearth new ideas for a short-term stabilisation plan which prioritises economic recovery. The momentum appears to have spread to Europe where in The Hague, international companies gathered at the behest of the Dutch Minister for Development to do exactly the same. This followed a February gathering in Brussels of the “Task Force” on illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources – comprising European donor agencies working under the auspices of The Contact Group For The Great Lakes Region.

And the Germans once again seem to have taken the initiative. Next month they begin an ambitious pilot project in partnership with the Rwandan government and a prominent minerals investment company to introduce minimum standards of ethical and environmental practices. This bid to create ‘islands of good governance’ is taking place amidst the very militias, corrupt traders and officials who have exploited the hundred million dollar a year trade for over a decade, fueling the horrific conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Definitely no place for the fainthearted.

Even the UN’s much maligned peacekeeping force MONUC has joined the act. For the first time in its nine-year history, MONUC is now mandated to ‘use its monitoring and inspection capacities to curtail the provision of support to illegal armed groups derived from illicit trade in natural resources’. A tall order perhaps, but a significant step in the right direction.

This moment presents a unique convergence of interest in the role of the private sector as a force for stabilisation and development. It must be said at such a time that continual calls by activist groups for the withdrawal of business are not helpful. Their persistence in pressuring the multinationals with sanctions and boycotts may have served their purpose but now may do more harm than good. If their efforts serve to drive away reputable companies then the void left behind will only benefit those at the root of the problem.

A far more pressing issue is the global economic crisis. Massive falls in the prices of copper and cobalt have devastated the mining sector – resulting in the cancellation of 40% of concessions in the Congo’s Katanga region alone and forcing over 350,000 people out of work. In a rapidly declining market, the litmus test for industry will be to innovate more sustainable approaches to doing business.

But in a rare moment of relative stability the cast of players involved must seize the initiatve:

  • The private sector should resist pressures to withdraw and instead deliberately source its minerals from the region while demanding accountable governance and minimum standards across supply chains;
  • Donor agencies must take new steps to promote genuine cross-sector dialogue that serves the interests of affected communities and which leads to coordinated action;
  • MONUC must play its part by disrupting the provision of support to the myriad illegal armed groups;
  • Civil society should invest in alternative livelihoods programmes for those forced into artesianal mining;
  • The national and provincial governments must promote an integrated strategy for economic development while at the same time confronting corrupt officials and traders;

The solution cannot lie in disengagement. Sustainable peace in the Congo always seems a distant dream but at a time when stepping away is simply not an option, the call should be for new partnerships and collaborative leadership.

Spend enough time amidst one of the world’s ever present humanitarian disasters, and you may become outraged by the failings of leadership. You might witness aid programmes stagnate under the morass of infighting, power exploited for political gain, or morale vanish as leaders obfuscate and deliberate.

Spend a little longer however, and acts of true leadership reveal themselves. You watch as teams are galvanised, crippling dilemmas resolved, intractable problems overcome or action sparked which brings aid to people living in crisis.

On reflection, it may become apparent that leadership, however flawed or inspired, is one of the most critical determinants of success or failure of any emergency response.

A humanitarian operation is desperately unforgiving territory for leadership. There is little tolerance for failings and few rewards for risk taking. So much is beyond control: fresh outbreaks of conflict, geopolitical wrangling, oppressive and unpredictable regimes, recurring seismic tremors or relentless demands by stakeholders wielding competing influences.

Whatever remains within the leader’s grasp is overshadowed by the sheer scale of the task, prey to problems which arise at startling speed, living conditions fraught with hardship and the inexorable pressure of ensuring security of the team, and scarcity… of everything.

At its core, leadership in such an environment demands an emotional resilience that few manage to develop and fewer sustain. The innermost test is perhaps the most taxing; the battle to stave off cynicism, the void of emotional support, the toll on spirits when things don’t get any better. This, compounded by the need to remain a pillar for others.

Few other contexts come close to the leadership challenges of a humanitarian crisis

And yet, the international humanitarian community finds itself in an untenable situation of its own making; on the one hand it’s ambitious undertakings rest almost entirely in the hands of those leading them, and on the other, it has failed to adequately value the importance of such leadership.

And the omission is deeply ingrained. Although humanitarian organizations and donors themselves acknowledge that the humanitarian response provided is not good enough, the issue of leadership is rarely confronted. The dominant management framework that underpins almost all humanitarian endeavour (and funding) the world over – the logical framework – utterly fails to value the role of leadership in successful programme planning and delivery.

And so the most important questions of humanitarian leadership remain without adequate response:

–        How can courageous and inspiring humanitarian leadership be developed?

–        How can a humanitarian organisation build a culture of excellent, accountable leadership?

–        How can humanitarian endeavours become infused by acts of such leadership?

Wasafiri is deeply committed to generating leadership action to serve people living in crisis. We believe that developing effective leaders, supported by organisations who value the importance of such leadership, is fundamental to responding successfully to the acute demands of today’s humanitarian crises.