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”!).

Resources on Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E)

Below are some resources that I have found helpful.  There are many documents, tools, papers, how-to suggestions, primers, etc., freely available to help beginners and experts alike.  I especially enjoy reading program evaluations and audits of program implementers that identify successes, inefficiencies, and failures.

In my own experience, I have found that one learns most from failures.  They may be a hard pill to swallow, but, at the end of the day, failures make one more perspicacious.

INPROl’s Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Rule of Law Research

From USAID: The Monitoring and Evaluation Handbook for Business Environment Reform 

USAID’s Project Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Plan

USAID Evaluation Toolkit

World Bank’s Tools, Methods and Approaches 

UNDP’s Handbook on Planning, Monioring an Evaluating for Results

Thoughts on the Evolution of a Rule of Law Justice Sector Program

Ideally, the genesis of an international Rule of Law “development” project should entail the meetings of the minds between the donor and the beneficiary.  Some of us like to say that there has to be “buy-in” from the host government as well as the individual host organizations that might be involved in the project.  This would show the cooperative efforts of all concerned towards what could be the key goals of the mission:  strengthening of the rule of law and the fostering of  accountability and transparency.  For example, a specific justice sector program’s mission might be to build the capacity of the host country’s criminal justice sector institutions through improving the ability of their professional staff to deliver fair and effective justice services to citizens.  Sometimes, the initial focus is to help a country build its police and prosecutorial capacity through formal training programs of academic instruction.

What I have discovered is that what the donor organization (which may include the program implementer as well) wants to see happen may not necessarily be best suited to the way the project should be carried out.  One does not become an international development practitioner overnight.  While an expatriate technical advisor may have stellar credentials from his or her prosecutorial days in their particular state or country, they may have never lived in a different environment other than their own.  This can lead to disastrous results because there is a lack of understanding of, and maybe a lack of empathy for, the recipient of the technical advice.

A long time ago, I witnessed a foreign “expert” deliver a lecture on American jurisprudence and individual rights to an academic group in a socialist country.  The audience was barely curious and did not seem to engage.  What the “expert” did not realize was the group’s lack of understanding of what he believed were common concepts, until someone asked “what is the right to privacy?”  Once it became obvious that there had been such a gulf between the lecturer and the trainees, the “expert” was able to correct the situation and begin to provide examples that the local nationals could finally relate to!

I was at the very beginning of my professional “Rule of Law” work, and it was a fine lesson for me too:  borrowing from the Spaniards, there are many “Ruperto el Experto” types, but few that meet the “experto crede Ruperto”  standard.