Paper: The Building of Timor-Leste: International Contributions to a Fragile State

May 3, 2007

The Building of Timor-Leste: International Contributions to a Fragile State

Executive Summary

Following over six years of international support toward social, political and economic development in post-conflict Timor-Leste (TL), the country has found itself in the throes of a national crisis. This crisis emerged, despite unprecedented international support per capita from contributing governments and international agencies. This paper seeks to explore the contributions made by governments and international agencies, including international financial institutions, United Nations (UN) Agencies and international NGOs, toward the creation of a viable and stable state. Information regarding the models employed by international actors toward the implementation of a shared vision of development will be sought to inform on the direction of development and its anticipated outcome.1

I suggest that while not primarily responsible for the current crisis, the international community lacks coherence in its development approaches and that the inherent contradictions underpinning development strategies ultimately undermines the potential for positive impact in realizing policy objectives and contributes to the conflict dynamics within the state. Moreover, competition among agencies for influence and funding further reduces possibilities for successful cooperation and exacerbates tensions between government and civil society actors. Awareness of the overall components and organization of development assistance does not exist.

Perhaps the greatest contributing factor to instability has been the lack of transition strategies to support the countryai??i??s emergence from occupation, and to guide the socio-economic transitions associated with independence. The international community’s lack of success in properly assisting the government to address underlying grievances effectively and the structural constraints encompassing development initiatives prevent a coherent and long-term response to challenges associated with state building. Together, these factors contributed to the national crisis by creating an enabling environment for dissent and manipulation of genuine grievances.

Failure in 2006 to prevent the near collapse of the state in Timor-Leste and the inability to provide a sensible approach to the building of the institutions of the state and a vibrant civil society, are poor indications of how the international community will manage in much larger and more complex conflict environments. It is imperative that the international community not only learns the lessons of post-conflict interventions in Timor-Leste but also applies these in ongoing and forthcoming initiatives to prevent the collective failure of the development and peace building industries. Realization of this objective will, in part, require systemic changes within bilateral and multilateral donor institutions.