IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

A really new WDR

This indicates some (some) evolution in thinking at the World Bank.  Good!  Notice in particular the evolution in thinking about “violence” as opposed to “conflict”.



World Development Report (WDR) 2011 – a breakthrough or not?

While the World Bank often produces benchmark writing, I have come to expect their contributions to mostly reflect their specific “business needs” as much as the reality out there. This report appears to be different – in a very positive way. Actually I am tempted to believe that this report is a breakthrough for the discourse among the big and established players in global security. Here is my take. I will be grateful for your views …

The WDR 2011 points out that 9 out of 10 of the last decade’s civil wars were relapses in a cycle of violence (measured over a 30 year time span; and particularly true for Africa). It appears to be true that “violence breeds more violence”. Therefore, the most important single objective of post-conflict work is to ensure that the country in question is spared a relapse of violence. This puts a renewed focus  on “post-conflict conflict prevention” as an overriding goal of reconstruction.

The WDR expresses the challenges of and ensuing requirements for post-conflict reconstruction by way of a “virtuous” spiral that combines (political) “confidence building” and the building of “legitimate institutions” (see the overview chapter). These are  two interdependent strategic objectives for any country that wants to escape the “cycle of violence”. Potential measures to support confidence building are grouped into (political) “signals”, “commitment mechanisms” and “supporting action”. The transformation of institutions shall focus on those that are important for the delivery of citizen security, justice and employment, for which potential support measure are also listed.  A third factor – and area of outside assistance – is to buffer external stresses on this process, which may reach from the youth bulge through hikes in food prices to terrorism.

This relatively simple and straighforward model captures the essentials of helping or rebuilding violence-torn countries and societies. Importantly, and quite radically, the model puts the political process centre stage.This  practically amounts to a change of paradigm for multilateral institutions such as the World Bank that up to now have championed a much more technocratic approach which is based on on rebuilding infrastructure as well as administrative and economic capacity.

Looking at “post-conflict prevention” as an essentially political process has huge implications for intervening organisations. Firstly, key targets and results indicators need to be conceptualised by means of soft (i.e. complex) notions such as “expectations”, “perceived justice”, “inclusive-enough coalitions”. “transition moments”, and “legitimacy”. For programmers it is quite difficult to quantify, measure and plan this type of work. And decision-makers need to deal with the fact that the inherent risks of interventions become much more visible. Secondly, approaches need to address multiple levels of the social (conflict) system – from local  to global – at the same time. “Projects” that by definition have narrow limits in space, scope and time can only be minor contributions. The important gains to be made will lie with structural, large-scale interventions. Thirdly, the report stresses that rebuilding a society / country from a periode of intensive conflict – so that it escapes the cycle of violence – usually takes a generation. But at the programme level  there are hardly any mechanisms or tools to design interventions with such a long time frame. This issue also begs the question whether decision makers are eager to really commit themselves to providing support for the “long, ardous journey” that the WDR promises rebuilding to be.

The WDR makes two other important conceptual contributions to the practice of managing peace and security.

Firstly, “conflict” is no longer seen as the key problem to be addressed, but “violence” – or, more precisely, the effects of violence that undermine the capacity of institutions to absorb (i.e. non-violently settle) conflict. This is strongly supported by data. Critically, the report consistently speaks of “legitimate” institutions, placing them right in the middle of political debate and social conflict. This argument acknowledges social injustice and exclusion as a major contributor to conflict and violence, in the form of “stresses” on the social-political system. It provides conceptual space for both, developmental / emancipatory interventions as well as those interventions that focus on conflict management capacity.

Secondly, the report – and again with a strong empirical basis – challenges the current typologies of wars and violence. It boldly states that nowadays “organised violence” is the major problem at hand. This term encompasses inter alia civil wars, communal violence, gang-based violence and organised crime. It acknowledges that “violence breeds violence” not only in time (cycles of violence), but also due to the cumulative effect of different types of violence on undermining legitimate institutions (e.g. drug-related corruption undermining the capacity of state institutions to mediate communal conflict). The distinction between political and criminal violence is only assigned secondary importance. But this distinction is fundamental for most of our thinking on conflict, violence and security, and also for the set-up of state, regional and global institutions destined to deal with them. Short of a fundamental restructuring of these institutions, they must at least devise radically new and radically more effective ways of collaborating.



April 23, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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