Of Interest: SIGAR’s New Lessons Learnt Report on Afghanistan

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released at the end of May 2018 its latest “lessons learnt” report covering the period 2002-2017.  It is chock full of information for anyone who is interested in “development” work.

For those who follow “rule of law” issues, and especially for those who actually are working in Afghan-related projects, the following excerpts strike, at least to me, a very familiar chord.

Even within dispute resolution, the U.S. government chose to focus on formal rule of law, rather than informal rule of law, also called traditional dispute resolution (TDR). TDR in Afghanistan employs a varying mixture of traditional, community-specific norms, and Islamic legal principles, or sharia. 1015 As early as 2007, international legal experts highlighted the coalition’s inattention to informal justice, even though an estimated 80–90 percent of Afghan disputes are handled through TDR, and many Afghans have more faith in it than in formal dispute resolution. 1016

The U.S. government spent more than $1 billion on rule of law programming in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2015, of which less than $100 million (approximately 10 percent) was spent on enhancing informal rule of law. 1022 State’s 2009 rule of law strategy—the only one it drafted—recognized the importance of TDR to Afghans, even calling it a “pillar” of the coalition’s effort; however, the balance between funding for formal and informal rule of law programming did not seem to reflect this recognition. 1023  Worse, the kind of dispute resolution promoted by formal rule of law programming was not only considered corrupt, but also foreign to most rural Afghans.

In my many years of working in international settings doing “development” work, I have found that one of the biggest problems is overcoming individual egos and the posturing that comes with those egos.  “Development” work is not just altruistic:  there is a lot of money to be made and prestige to be gained.  There is a door that is always “revolving” between the implementer, the donor, the supervising entity, the inspecting authority, the academicians, and other intellectuals.  It is human nature.

However, once in a while, it is good to read that some of the lonely and knowledgeable individuals who pointed out some of the flaws in design were vindicated.   Note that I don’t use the term “expert”, because, in my work, most experts are really “Rupertos the “expertos””.  (My own label for the last few years has been “subject matter expert”!).