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Early lessons from a young and innovative EU development instrument

The Bêkou Trust Fund in the Central African Republic

by Greta Galeazzi and Alisa Herrero

When the EU set up the Bêkou Trust Fund for the Central African Republic (CAR) in July 2014, it was the first of its kind, a novelty in EU external action. But in a short space of time the EU has already established another two other Trust Funds - the EU Regional Trust Fund for Syria (Madad Fund), established in December 2014; and the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (‘the Africa Trust Fund’) set up at a record speed and signed in November 2015.  Eighteen months after the launch of the Bêkou Trust Fund, it’s worth assessing what we have learned from the “original” EU Trust Fund, which now pools together more than 100 million Euros.

Lessons have been identified in a number of forums: the Bêkou Conference on Central African Republic (25th May 2015), a conference of L'Observatoire de l'Afrique, held in Brussels in November; and ECDPM’s Briefing Note on EU Trust Funds.

Some interesting things about the Bêkou Trust Fund

From a comparative perspective, the Bêkou Trust Fund stands out for its very clear geographical and thematic focus as it operates in only 1 country, though it can support actions for CAR refugees in the neighbouring countries. Its governance structure is also relatively simple, with contributions provided by 6 donors, of which only 4 have voting rights (those that have put more than 3 million Euro in the common pot).  The following graph provides data from May and November 2015 (Source: European Commission, ECHO Factsheet and Neven Mimica’s Blog).

The Trust Fund has very strong political sponsorship from the contributing donors, as well as from CAR. There is a shared consensus that CAR was an “aid orphan” for a long time. In this sense, Bêkou has been catalytic in increasing contributions for this forgotten crisis and pooling together resources and coordinating implementation, which helps avoid an overburdening of scarce local capacities.

The Bêkou Trust Fund has achieved relevant results in a very short period of time of only 18 months. This has included the assistance provided to over 400,000 people - which is significant given that the total population of the CAR is around 5 million - and projects have been set up with a long-term perspective on food security, reconciliation and dialogue. 

Emerging lessons from Bêkou 

1. The reconstruction process is not linear. Promoting development and peace in fragile contexts is a challenging task, as relapses to violence can occur. Inter-ethnic clashes erupted at the end of September in Bangui, the capital of the CAR, showing the precarity of the reconciliation process. Tensions in October 2015 leading to the postponement of elections has shown the importance of  ensuring  flexibility and the ability to adapt rapidly. Bêkou displayed a good pace in the first year of its activity. This is because cumbersome European Development Fund procedures no longer need to be followed, making quick disbursement possible. As of May 2015, 47 million Euros of projects had been committed and 13 million Euro disbursed, with an average of 5 to 6 months between the identification and the implementation phase. Both overspending and underspending could be possible on the basis of contextual analysis, as suggested by research on multi-donor trust funds. Nevertheless this has not occurred in Bêkou so far.

2. Creating sustainable employment and growth is a long-term challenge. Education and vocational training sectors, as well as engaging and supporting the private sector in CAR should play a key role. Bêkou is already funding THIMO projects (“travail a haute intensité de main d’oeuvre”) as well as livelihood activities in food security and gender, projects. A programme to support the economic relaunch is also being finalized.. New areas of intervention have been approved by the Trust Fund board in November 2015. These include  gender, rehabilitation, reconciliation and ecosystems, which points to the need of ensuring that support goes beyond immediate needs, and prepares EU support for a long-term transition process. 

3. Rebuilding inclusive institutions, and developing state and local capacities, is essential and so is ensuring ownership. A key feature of Bêkou is how it ensures that the government is fully engaged in the selection of projects and the implementation, and makes use of country systems. Although the Commission is the sole manager of the Fund, the Bêkou Fund also aims at bolstering the administrative capacities of the government. For example, Bêkou has provided support to CAR’s efforts in developing a Gender Strategy and in strengthen capacities of Agriculture and Health Ministries.

4. Build synergies with broader agendas. Bêkou’s mandate is resilience, but it should not stop it from thinking more broadly and linking up with other EU external action objectives. For example, when thinking about employment creation for young people between the ages from 15 and 30 in the CAR, you will almost certainly have projects operating in the zones of influence of armed groups and be confronted with the need for job creation for ex-rebels, or people who were engaged with armed groups. Although Bêkou was not set up to deal with security and military issues, these links should be made to ensure synergy.

5. Manage expectations. Bêkou is still a young and experimental instrument and EU Trust Funds are not a panacea in crisis situations. They have specific advantages that can be exploited - quicker procedures, linking relief and development work - and can contribute to the EU’s political clout in complex contexts. But on many issues there are broader forces and dynamics at play, which can lead to unforeseen events and require pragmatic solutions. 

6. Don’t forget the principles of  development effectiveness. According to experts and practitioners at a recent conference on the CAR, many services are provided by international humanitarian actors, often acting on the basis of short term funding. The opportunity of quickly identifying interventions to address urgent needs and disburse funds rapidly should not become an excuse for donors to forget key principles of development effectiveness. Indeed, developing state and local capacities cannot avoid addressing state-society relations and understanding the roots of the crisis in CAR. This knowledge is key for rehabilitation and development interventions, which are truly owned by communities and not only by a small set of actors. It is important that Trust Funds invest in understanding the dynamic political context in which they operate and ensure that interventions are funded and tailored to the specific nature of changing contexts. Finally, other aid projects are being deployed outside EU Trust Funds and so coordination between the EU and other international actors will still be fundamental.

See ECDPM Briefing Note 81 "EU Trust Funds – Shaping more comprehensive external action?"

Thanks for comments received to Anna Knoll, Rhys Williams and Volker Hauck


Rhys Williams uploaded a new Document 18 December 2015

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Rhys Williams
18 December 2015

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