Violent conflict is having a devastating effect on Development Goals

Development Policy02 Oct 2011Judy Cheng-Hopkins

Peacebuilding has to be centre stage at the high-level debate on aid effectiveness in Busan.

In this blog, I want to share with you what I do as the UN Assistant Secretary General for Peacebuilding Support, and why I believe that peacebuilding has to be centre stage at the high-level debate on aid effectiveness in Busan.

Violent conflict and instability are the largest obstacles to achievement of the MDGs by 2015. 30% of Official Development Assistance is allocated to fragile states, but there is little evidence from the ground that it is having an impact. No low-income conflict-affected country has achieved a single MDG, which affects 1.5 billion people in the world today. The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report on “Conflict, Security and Development,” estimates that on average, a country that experienced major violence between 1981 and 2005 has a poverty rate 21 percentage points higher than a country without violence. Paul Collier, the British economist writes in his book “The Bottom Billion,” that 50% of countries emerging from conflict will relapse into conflict within 10 years. And the gap between the bottom billion and the rest is growing.

And the existing development agenda does not sufficiently address the causes of violent conflict and state fragility…

States cannot reduce poverty without peace, and without effective state institutions to deliver services, peace does not endure. In that regard, I participated in the June 2011 meeting of the International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in Monrovia. There, we developed the following five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals.

  • Legitimate politics – foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
  • Security – establish and strengthen people’s security
  • Justice – address injustices and increase people’s access to justice
  • Economic foundations – generate employment and improve livelihoods
  • Revenues and Services – manage revenues and build capacity for accountable and fair social service delivery.

I stand behind these five goals as intermediate steps to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) for fragile and post-conflict states. I will go to Busan and advocate for them. But I will also be clear: these peacebuilding goals will not replace the MDGs. They are a gateway, an interim step, a building block towards development.

We cannot skip over these steps and go straight into development work. The window for peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict calls for a different approach. We need to help ordinary people feel and see what peace can bring. Neighborhoods need fair police so that schools can re-open and businesses can invest. Former combatants must have viable options for civilian life. The state must be supported in efforts to manage natural resources transparently, for instance by turning ‘blood diamonds’ into peace dividends.

This is why peacebuilding is at the top of the UN agenda…

The UN is uniquely placed to serve a supportive role to fragile states in peacebuilding because we span the full range of security, political, humanitarian and development mandates. In fact, the UN is the only global institution with that breadth. In 2005, the UN strengthened its peacebuilding architecture, with the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Fund. I am the head of the UN’s Peacebuilding Support Office which supports these structures, and ensures policy coherence for peacebuilding across the UN.

My vision is to catalyse coordinated peacebuilding efforts across the international system, under the national lead, to help fragile states break out of the conflict trap once and for all. To further this goal, my office funds peacebuilding programmes in some 20 post-conflict countries, ranging from reconciliation, to security sector reform, to women’s empowerment, at a rate of US$100 million a year. We also practice what we preach on national ownership. Projects are approved in the field by joint steering committees comprised of Government, civil society, and international actors. We also backstop the Peacebuilding Commission, a new inter-governmental body trying to catalyse and sustain peacebuilding efforts at the political level in Guinea, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, and Burundi.

And why I believe peacebuilding needs to be centre stage of the development agenda at Busan…

In November, I will be attending a high-level summit in Kigali on the experience of Rwanda in post-conflict peacebuilding. President Kagame has invited the six countries on the Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda: Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone to this event. The idea is for post-conflict countries to have an honest dialogue amongst themselves by looking at the Rwandan experience. In particular, how Rwanda was able to build donor confidence and jump-start economic recovery so quickly after the genocide. I look forward to sharing the outcomes of this meeting at Busan.

I will be attending Busan because it is an important opportunity to shape new norms and mechanisms for assistance to post-conflict states. Fragile situations only get better if there is a frank exchange about the risks that are worth taking. If Busan is to be successful, the dialogue must be frank and honest. We cannot tiptoe around the controversial issues. We must confront three elephants in the room:

  1. Everyone can agree to national ownership in principle. In practice, national leaders of post-conflict states need to deliver sufficient transparency and confidence in their ability to manage funds if donors are to provide direct budget support. What can donors reasonably expect? What can fragile states realistically promise? Who can help?
  2. Self reporting against peacebuilding and statebuilding indicators would be a great innovation for fragile states to take ownership of their own progress. But there may need to be a period of collaboration to build up systems and credibility.
  3. Civil society needs to participate. Governments’ compacts with the international community are important for attracting economic aid and technical assistance. But governments’ compacts with their own citizens are essential for building legitimate political processes and peace.

Please join me in this discussion. I will be responding to questions and comments throughout the week. For those of you who don’t know me, I am frank and honest. Please join me in confronting the “elephants in the room.”

Suggested discussion questions 

  1. What can post-conflict states do to build international confidence in them? What would a practical interpretation of national ownership be if we are going to move from principles to trust and action?
  2. Should the international community put greater emphasis on self-reporting by post-conflict countries against peacebuilding and statebuilding indicators? If so, how could that best be supported?
  3. What are ways to strengthen civil society and encourage their participation in political peacebuilding and statebuilding processes?