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Goodbye conflict, welcome development?

June 15, 2011

Today’s post is contributed by Donata Garrasi of the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate and Co-ordinator of the International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

Have the populations of fragile states and countries affected by conflict benefited from the money, effort and time devoted to peacebuilding and statebuilding?

The most reassuring finding from the 2010 Human Security Report is that high-intensity wars, those that kill at least 1000 people a year, have declined by 78% since 1988, while long-term trends indicate reductions in the risks of both international and civil wars (although Libya, Yemen and Syria show that these risks are still significant).

The World Bank’s latest World Development Report agrees that although war is less of a problem now than in the 20th century, insecurity has become a primary development challenge. One-and-a-half billion people live in areas affected by fragility, conflict, or large-scale, organised criminal violence and no low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.

New threats—organised crime and trafficking, civil unrest due to global economic shocks, terrorism—have supplemented wars.

So what can be done to say “goodbye conflict, welcome development” as the slogan of the g7+ group of fragile countries hopes?

The second global meeting of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding being held in Monrovia, Liberia on 15-16 June gives conflict-affected states a common voice in their discussions with international partners, and for the first time, these states themselves will make commitments on the concrete steps they’ll take to change things.

Two outcomes are targeted. First, a new agreement on peacebuilding and statebuilding priorities is required. Second, a commitment on how to realise these is needed.

Security, justice, and jobs are priorities for conflict-affected communities. Without security and the assurance that people can go about their daily lives in safety, the rest is meaningless.

People on the ground can all tell stories about money being spent on a bridge they cannot even cross for fear of being attacked.

For many young men, joining an armed group may be the most attractive job available, or the only one, if they want to feed their family. A Somali pirate for instance can earn from $12,000 to $150,000 from a successful hijack according to a report in the Financial Times, compared with $500 a year for the average citizen.

It’s not that these countries are inherently poor, but too often wealth from natural resources or other activities benefits only a few people, and there are also problems with how international assistance is provided.

The OECD reports that 30% of Official Development Assistance goes to fragile and conflict-affected countries, but what does this mean in practice?

Bella Bird, co-chair of the International Dialogue, points out that “International partners tend to expect too much too soon from still very weak national institutions; take a short-term perspective; avoid risk; and apply complex systems. At the same time, national governments in fragile countries have often tended to promise too much to their constituents or exclude large parts of society, which can fuel dissatisfaction and lead to further unrest”.

The result can be that trust in national institutions is so low that donors set up parallel systems to deliver programmes, but although “high risk leads to high return” as Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance from Timor Leste reminds international partners in her country, donors find it hard to justify to their taxpayers investing in high-risk environments.

In Monrovia, participants will be looking for innovation, for changing the rules of the game of “how business is done in fragile countries”.

Conflict affected states themselves know what works best and the best way of analysing and tackling problems. Even though historical, economic, cultural and political situations vary widely, they can learn from each other.

The most fruitful dialogue will be among them, and leadership has to come from within affected countries and communities.

With leadership comes responsibility. Participants will be urged to make binding, verifiable commitments on practical steps to achieving common goals.

The first of these has to be to accept dialogue. Dialogue among national actors to identify priorities to build peace and develop a vision on how to move “from fragility to stability”.

Dialogue between national and international partners to reach a consensus on what needs to be done in fragile and conflict affected contexts to help end the cycle of violence.

To begin making peace, you don’t need to forgive and you almost certainly won’t forget the injustices that led to conflict, but you do need to make a commitment, and be realistic about the time the whole process will take.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

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