14 December 2010

Breaking cycles of violence and poverty

Guest blog by Patricia Justino, Research Fellow, IDS

The World Bank presented some preliminary messages of the World Development Report 2011 on Conflict, Security and Development at the European Development Day last week. I was invited as a discussant.

The report will be launched in the Spring of 2011 (and we have been promised that the title will improve!). Despite the snow, the Madrid strikes and general mayhem across Europe, we had a good meeting in Brussels.

The WDR 2011 has been long awaited. For a long time now, development policy has been planned without much recognition of the constraints caused by violence and conflict. Until that is it became obvious that no conflict affected country will achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015! This has resulted in a recent explosion of reports by international organisations and donors on conflict and development.

IDS has a longstanding tradition of research on the links between conflict, violence and development. Recent major work at IDS has been done on the links between citizenship and violence and the social and political implications of everyday insecurity in the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. The Governance Team manages significant projects on state failure, security sector reform and multi-level governance. The Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team has been working on the micro-level analysis of conflict processes, and has recently formed the Conflict, Violence and Development Cluster.

Some important findings of this IDS research are reflected in the WDR 2011, some are not. I want to discuss here three areas that have been emphasised in two ongoing research programmes at IDS which I direct and co-direct, respectively: MICROCON – a large Integrated Project funded by the EU – and the Households in Conflict Network.

* The first is the association between different types and levels of conflict. The WDR 2011 rightly emphasises the correlation between organised criminal violence and civil conflict. Violent conflicts cross over a range of intensities of violence from violent protests and rioting to wars and genocide, involve a broad spectrum of actors, and are closely related to other forms of violence and insecurity such as crime, illegality and terrorism. The Universidad de los Andes hosted the annual meeting of the Households in Conflict Network on 2-3 December in Bogotá on precisely these issues (call for papers here and programme here). It is clear that the complex links between these different forms of violence are central to breaking persistent cycles of conflict and misery. It is therefore a welcome step to see the World Bank calling for development planning to adapt accordingly.

* The second is the need to get institutions right. The WDR 2011 has a strong focus on the complex long-term challenges faced by conflict-affected countries in building democratic institutions, the rule of law and sustainable security. The Bank takes a refreshing approach, highlighting the perils of short-term interventions that have characterised development interventions in conflict-affected countries.

But I would like to see more attention paid to the other side of the story – what do we do about the institutions that emerge from conflict? Violence has an instrumental role beyond destruction. It is used strategically by political actors to transform the state institutions that determine the current and future allocation of power. Conflict-affected countries are not ‘blank states’, especially once wars have ended. Rather, they are the sites of intense institutional change, as different actors gain the monopoly over the use of violence in contested areas. The actions of these actors have profound impacts on the survival and security of ordinary people, and the emergence of social, economic and political organisation in the areas they control. Largely ignored in post-conflict policy interventions, such forms of institutional transformation are central to explaining why violent conflicts persist, or mutate into different forms of violence and criminality. A new IDS/Yale research project addresses these issues, and we hope to see more of this reflected in future policy planning.

* The third point is agency. Very little was said at the WDR meeting about the people that live in areas of conflict and violence (although more may feature in the final report). Programmes of conflict prevention, mediation and resolution are typically driven by concerns with state security and state capacity.

A key message in the MICROCON programme is that, at a fundamental level, the outbreak and viability of violent conflicts are closely linked to the conduct and motivations, not only of elites and states, but also of ordinary members of society living in (potential) conflict areas. We have focused on the victimisation aspect of violence, but have forgotten those that just get on with their lives, even under the threat of violence. People adapt to strenuous circumstances to survive, either within or outside the margin of the rule of law. These forms of adaptation change the face of local and regional institutions in ways that profoundly affect the likely success of peace- and state-building interventions.

Yet we know very little of how people live in conflict situations, what options they have and what choices they make, and how institutional arrangements affect and are affected by these decisions. This is not to say that national and international policy processes do not matter. The outbreak of violence, the emergence of new actors, and the (eventual) establishment of democracy are not purely driven by local factors. But neither are these processes entirely dependent on the broader political strategies of state and non-state factions that fight for sovereignty and legitimate authority at the macro level. This is an issue where research and policy still need to make significant progress in order to enable the design of development policies that will break the long-term negative legacies of violent conflict, and bring about positive structural transformations.


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