Hélder da Costa: strength comes from uniting the fragile

Helder da Costa is a dedicated man from Dili, the capital city of East Timor, he seeks to promote discussion among countless international organizations focused on the development of countries affected by conflicts. He has acted as g7+General Secretary since 2014. The code of this organization is written with a small “g” and this platform reunites 20 countries. In 2001, he received the title of PhD in Trade Policy from the University of Adelaide, in Australia. After that he served as senior counselor on the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid for the East Timor Finance Ministry from 2008 to 2014. In the last two years of his administration, he represented g7+ on the committee of Global Partnership for Effective Development. Changing the logic of relations between rich and poor countries is one of the main missions of this organization. “We are partners, not donors and receivers”, he stresses.

The professional experience of Helder includes a period as professor and researcher for the National University of East Timor, on the Asian/New Zealand Foundation and Voluntary Service Abroad (VSA), based in Wellington, New Zealand. He was also a consultant in diverse international development agencies, including the UNDP, the UN, and the Asiatic Development Bank and the World Bank. He contributed by writing a large number of chapters in books and magazine articles on the development of fragile environments.

Helder spoke to a team from ATLANTICO in Turin Italy, where he participated in the ILO South-South and Triangular Cooperation Academy (CSST Academy). In that interview, he spoke about his discussions he participated in with the World Bank and groups from wealthy countries, he praised the development in Brazil and celebrated the first results arising from g7+.

“People are tired of, always saturated by conflicts, and we as leaders decided to hold a national campaign to express and welcome development.”

ATLANTICO — How did the g7+ arise?

Helder da Costa — The g7+ arose in 2008 when we participated in the 3rd Meeting on the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid, in Accra, in the Republic of Ghana. Seven fragile and post-conflict founding countries decided to volunteer among all the countries meeting there, in order to monitor the ten OECD principles (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on the commitment of the ten principles of fragile states and situations of fragility. After that, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and another four countries. These are seven countries that voluntarily organized through our initiatives to monitor the ten OECD principles and confirm if foreign aid is effective or not. The result has not been very effective and for that reason, we decided to organize and held a meeting in Dili, East Timor, in April 2010. There, we held our first inaugural meeting and proclaimed the founding of the g7+ group. Nowadays, there are 20 fragile state countries and in a post-conflict condition.

ATLANTICO — What does that slogan mean “Goodbye conflict, hello development”?

Helder da Costa — The meaning of that slogan is to show the reality of these countries as they are always involved in conflicts. They are endogenous conflicts and others are categorized as exogenous. So then, we decided to put a stop to these conflicts and promote development. East Timor promoted this concept, as the experience in the country since the restauration of independence from 2002 until 2008, always registered this period of conflict every two years. “People are tired of, always saturated by conflicts, and we as leaders decided to hold a national campaign to express and welcome development.” We wished for development that was political, economic, and for this reason, we needed to express that institute Peacebuilding and Statebuilding and those concepts we engaged in the minds of the population. Thereafter, we decided to share these concepts with all the fragile States and they accepted. And that is what we want: keep peace, promote development to the country-wide level and thus, people can enjoy the fruits of peace and safety.

ATLANTICO — But how is it possible to become free of a conflict situation and achieve development? How is that done? Do you need outside aid, funds? What is the pathway in order to implement a development program in a nation?

Helder da Costa — There are two types of conflicts, one is generated by the country itself and the other is the result from interventions by other countries. In our own case, we consider the conflict is generated by members of our own country, for example, an internal or ethical conflict or they may be caused by bad administration or by a State of Siege, due to various reasons. For this reason, we decided to stop and, if possible, prevent these conflicts. Promote peace and a solution for the conflict, by promoting peace and reconciliation inside the country and among countries. Due to this, for example and considering the experience of East Timor; it must have an extremely rich experience in terms of administrating the conflict internally and in neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, for example. For this reason, we decided to share our experiences with other fragile countries, so that they will not commit the same mistakes as East Timor in the past 24 years. The presence of the United Nations is in those other countries, as most of them fragile states, but a presence of external power is normally installed to keep peace and make it possible for the people to continue living in a secure environment.


ATLANTICO — Although the g7+ has been around for a relatively short time, what results have you obtained that you can consider as favorable?

Helder da Costa — Well, there are four goals of g7+. First, it is a voluntary platform for these fragile states and post-conflict for sharing the reconstruction of peace and the State. Secondly is for promoting a sense of belonging for the controlling country to the development plan, while the doners and the foreign participants come just for playing supportive roles. We call this the New Deal that is endorsed by 45 countries and various international organizations in Busan, South Korea, in 2011. Thirdly: promote the “fragile-fragile” cooperation also part of the South-South Cooperation or Triangular Cooperation. One fragile country can help another fragile country in pertinent needy fields. In the fields of peace and reconciliation, management of natural resources, and managing elections, as elections are also methods for sharing these experiences with other countries. And finally, promote this concept of peace and security. We have decided and negotiated the inclusion of goal #16 on our behalf, in the context of Agenda 2030 proposed in the last 15 years and simply because, none of the other countries at the time the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was defined for the g7+ was able to achieve the goals of the MDG. For us, the argument is very simple, there is no development if there is no peace and if there is no peace, there is no development. That was the lesson we learned in the past 15 years and in the last three or four years, we were able to negotiate with other countries and thus, the world has recognized the presence of g7+. Goal # 16, promotes peace, a peaceful society, promotes access to justice, and provides effective institutions for providing services to the people, as these are now universal. For these reasons, we are working in partnerships with other entities on a global, regional, and national level, so that we can through the South-South Cooperation modality and fragile-fragile cooperation try to solve this problem step-by-step.

“For us, the argument is very simple, there is no development if there is no peace and if there is no peace, there is no development”

ATLANTICO — The g7+ is relatively new, however, it has already achieved some results, but as any group, there are challenges. What are the main challenges in your opinion, in this discussion taking place with other players, other groups? What has been defined as being the most challenging one?

Helder da Costa — Our challenge is internal and external. In terms of institutional connections, I can say at this time, the g7+ group is considered as one of the important constituents at a global level. The World Bank and the UN recognize this. We are also trying to approach the g20 group, so we can share experiences. The g20 group is focused more on the commercial field, infrastructure, economic growth, and other problems in the world. Now, regarding g7+, we are very focused on how we can stop suffering from conflicts. How can we maintain peace and security? How can we promote good governance? How can we provide good management for natural resources? And, in this manner, we can catalyze, or stimulate, the dependence on external support from donor countries and how we can promote domestic productions and increase service providing on a national level. Our challenge now is to generate our domestic resources. In terms of a link to other countries in the group, for example, g77+ China that also includes Brazil, now we are trying to discuss, become closer, speak with others who are in the development areas who we can benefit their population. Therefore, these are the aspects, concepts that we are trying to approach and discuss with our partners at regional and global level. For this reason, through this goal #16, we are trying to collect information and data for sharing with our sister countries. We also take advantage of learning lessons from other countries for applying to our context.

Atlantico — What is the importance of g7+ for the African continent?

Helder da Costa — I would like to stress the major goal of our presence is to request from donor countries, especially Northern countries, which are strongly linked to the development planning for the national priorities for each one of them. And this is what we call the New Deal. It is focused on three pertinent fields. The first, the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals, which refers to, the goals for building peace in the State, and there are five goals for this: political inclusion, access to security, access to justice, economic foundation, and service providing. Related to the implementation of these goals, we have two main fundamental concepts, one is based on focus that I call “fragility evaluation”, and the other is on trust, on transparency, risk management, and other more pertinent things. We are contacting our donors, so they consider themselves as partners and not as donors, as we are all equal in terms of our discussion, on the national level. We are partners, not donors and receivers. For this reason, we ask them to change their behavior, their way of thinking. As when they contact fragile countries, we are fragile, we are poor, but we are rich in natural resources. And our mentality is not fragile; it is a resilient mentality, for this reason, we ask the donors to understand the circumstances of the challenges facing our countries. At this time, we are trying to understand this situation and change. And for this reason, our group continues holding this discussion with the president and the leading bodies of the World Bank, for example, twice a year, in April and October. We also are discussing with other regional and international institutions. Thus, these values are changing the dynamic nature of the relation between the donor country and the receiving country. Now, we do not say donor or receiver anymore, we speak about partnership, as sister countries; equal countries.

“Our mentality is not fragile; it is a resilient mentality, for this reason, we ask the donors to understand the circumstances of the challenges facing our countries”

ATLANTICO — How does g7+ view the possibilities of partnering with Brazilian institutions, governmental as well as the private sector? How can Brazil help strengthen this group?

Helder da Costa — I sincerely have a lot of admiration for our sister country Brazil. Brazil, throughout the past two or three decades it has managed to demonstrate its leadership and also to be a champion for this concept of South-South cooperation and Triangular Cooperation. For this reason, we in the fragile States, we promote this fragile to fragile cooperation, we wish to learn more and learn this lesson as well. Brazilians are our masters in terms of cooperation. They do not display that conditionality; they respect sovereignty and do not intervene in domestic issues in other countries. They respect in such a way, as that is a main factor of Brazil as a sister country. It is a large country and with good will in terms of sharing development with other countries, such as Africa and also Latin America, where they are very active. Our group would like to learn more from Brazil regarding of promoting the feeling of belonging to the development planning inside their own country and also other details, in terms of good governance. For this reason, it is a preliminary step for us to open our doors and get in touch with that country, and thus, work together. I must also say that in the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Speaking Countries) family: Saint Thomas and Prince, Guinea Bissau, and East Timor. For this reason, we can also promote this discussion on cooperation and we have so much to learn from Brazil. Maybe, we can expect Brazil to learn from us about this transition of international forces, for example, the UN on maintaining peace. Meanwhile, Brazil has become a leader on maintaining peace. Therefore, there is a mutual relationship so that Brazil can also learn about maintaining peace related to post-conflict in these countries, and we also have so much to learn from Brazil.

ATLANTICO— What relationship does g7+ have with G7, since the two groups are on two very antagonistic sides? How do these two groups discuss?

Helder da Costa — We have to be very realistic. In my presentations I always make comparisons between G7, from the capital and industrialized countries and us, who are poor and extremely marginalized, but we are rich. Therefore, at this moment we do not have a connection made to G7. It is a giant; we can say that they are political dinosaurs, from the development of the world. But, I must say that it was a cause, by coincidence. In 2008 the position of G7 was very vague, as officially it did not exist, as it had changed to G8 and etc. We were at that time, thinking about setting up a little group that we could name g7. Unfortunately, in our story, we decided on 7 countries using the code “G7- 5” to denote 7 small and poor countries that joined together to unite forces. Nowadays, we already have 20 countries, we can discuss not only as G7, maybe we have a lot of difficulties and challenges, but at this moment we are trying to get in contact with G20, which is more relevant for us, and not G7. In international terms, we also are part of a more broad-based organization named the International Dialog on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. There are three pillars: g7+, donors, and civil society. But the private sector, for us, is an important component for completing the success and development of a country. We have already spoken a lot with IFC (International Finance Corporation) from the World Bank group, about this role of the private sector. For us, the private sector continues having a controlled pawn in fragile countries. But the issue is this; the private sector is always looking for profit in transactions in fragile countries, where it will continue being a big challenge for its actuation. We have a growth of new players and as you gave Brazil as an example. We have China, Russia, and India and we would like to know their opinion about the leadership of the USA and Europe, in the future.

“Brazilian are our masters in terms of cooperation, they do not have that conditionality, respect sovereignty and do not intervene in domestic issues in other countries.”

ATLANTICO — The world has many more fragile countries that these few rich countries, some in international relations, based on the strengthening of these countries that nowadays are fragile? What do you expect in the future related to this?

Helder da Costa — That question is quite conceptual, thank you. Recently, we participated in the World Humanitarian Summit meeting in Istanbul Turkey, this past May. We spoke about the influx of refugees from the Middle East into Europe. Nobody could image that after the Second World War that would happen. Why? Based on that, we can conclude, after all, the world was very unsafe at that time. There was conflict in the majority of countries. This makes it more important and makes world leaders think more seriously about interventions and about the real cause, or the root of the problem. Now, we are trying to speak about preventing conflict instead of resolving conflict. And, even the language changes. If we do not touch the root of the problem, this is going to continue appearing. We consider this as achieving a step forward, extremely positive. Never before, have the minds of world leaders thought that the fragile counties are in a phase of being recognized. Now they are recognizing, the World Bank recognizes and increases the resources, for example regarding the IDA (International Development Association), millions and millions of dollars are going to fragile States. Thus, they continue working in terms of good governance, natural resources, and having development for wagering on young people and women. Promoting peace and security in order to decrease the influx, brought about by conflicts that can also have a consequence on other countries. We can therefore say that there is trust from emerging countries, as China, India, and Brazil itself. Then, we are trying to perceive because the world is increasingly unsafe, due to these political trends and developing countries.

ATLANTICO — Now about Africa… Many countries have natural resources and economic development does not become evident and practiced. How can we change this reality? Some of these situations are related inclusively to conflicts.

Helder da Costa — In context to Africa, our group is also very conscious about the challenges of these countries. The biggest factor affecting the development of a country in the African context is related to managing natural resources and good governance, as these aspects are being analyzed in depth by political leaders and the development of these countries. We, the g7+, are also developing in this concept. However we are not involved in conflicts, there are other invisible players, outside of the country, who come and exploit natural resources, but without our knowing it. For this reason, we have another way of expressing this “Nothing about us without us”. These five words help say to our donor countries or to other interveners, as they arrive and say to us. Let us decide the planning of our own development. For this reason, we have decided to say to our fellow leaders on the African continent to generate their own natural resources, without the intervention of other invisible players. Invisible as we are not accusing anybody and that is the reality. We share experiences with other countries, so that we will not commit the same mistakes as East Timor. We share that cooperation of fragile-fragile in the field of managing natural resources. Thus, we can help then bit to fall into the same trap.

ATLANTICO — What lessons can the African continent show the world?

Helder da Costa — I would say that the lesson Africa can show the world is that they have a great deal of wealth in the continent and they are changing that perception, the mentality the people accuse them of bad governance of natural resources. Now how can they generate and promote good governance, providing opportunities, giving lessons, promoting an inclusive policy so that the people can also make decisions about their own continent. Thus, they also can give answers to political leaders from countries, so that they can generate natural resources, for the well-being of the population from countries. That is the lesson the African countries can show the world.

ATLANTICO — Promoting peace and developing economically in any place presupposes certain paradigms,when considering fragiler regions. What economic sectors do you believe would be ideal for conducting those changes in paradigms and that would offer competitive advantages on a global scale? We have spoken a lot about natural resources, but would agriculture be a strategic sector as well?

Helder da Costa — Agriculture is a strategic section that plays a dynamic role in African countries and for other fragile countries. Taking over control of agriculture provides work to the majority of the population in these countries, I would say, it is a strategic and dynamic sector for promoting development. This is the issue: how to promote the agricultural sector, the productive sector for the good of the population in these countries? In terms of industrialization, each country has its own strategy, for industrializing, for illumination; increase the nourishment of the population through progress and development. I can see small companies, on a micro and medium scale that also plays a role in the economic development of a country, the ability of supplying jobs and increasing the production of the population. Agricultural is very broad, including fishing, fruit and vegetable growing, forests, and all these provide a good advantage to the population. I would say that agriculture does really play a very strategic role. The issue is how can we promote this in the presence of the private sector and the civil society? And also, how can we create a favorable environment for the presence of outside investors, so that they can enter peacefully and safely, providing adequate infrastructure? This can also contribute to the development of the country. This is the course that all countries in Africa, Asia, and parts of Latin America can also try to apply for this context. As our sister country Brazil is also a champion in this, a great country that we could like to help, the g7+, so that we can also get the status as an observer in the meetings of the group g20. We would also like to extend our invitation for an official visit for the next thematic, technical, and ministerial meetings of g7+. And also invite Brazil, as an observer in these meetings and thus share in our experiences and our knowledge at a regional and international level in these two groups. I would like to emphasize that our group is small, yet it was elected as General Secretariat in 2014 and I tried, in a pragmatic manner to sensitize on a global level. We also have a group that has the willingness to quickly change from a situation of fragility to resilience, so that we can also engage our countries on tracks towards development. Especially the well-being of the population. There was a research study performed by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), in London that states that by 2,030 two thirds of the world population will be living in fragile countries. That means that nothing or never in the history of humanity have people wanted to analyze about the dynamics of fragile countries. Only now they really see the situation, due to the situation in the world. Our small group is going to now maintain the consistency, maintain our objective of sharing experiences for promoting peace, security, and development. Quickly changing from a fragility phase and going to resilience. That is our worthy objective g7+ we are promoting.