Reflecting on the World Development Report: Lessons from 15 years of peacebuilding

Reflecting on the World Development Report: Lessons from 15 years of peacebuilding.

The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report (WDR) on Conflict, Security and Development is a seminal report on addressing the challenges of organised violence in the 21st century. It is bold in its assertion that international development and peacebuilding practice has to adapt to new realities. According to the report not one low-income country coping with violence and conflict has yet achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.

The WDR flags a whole range of issues such as the repetitive and interlinked nature of conflict, and how to break these cycles of violence by promoting legitimacy, citizens’ security and transforming institutions. It criticises “[s]tove-piped government agencies [that] have been ill-suited to cope” and instead of focusing on statebuilding it sets out an innovative approach of responding to each conflict’s driving “stress factors”. It poses critical questions for people wanting to address conflict and support development whether they are local, national or international actors.

Conciliation Resources has been working for over fifteen years to provide practical support to help people living in the midst of conflict prevent violence and build peace. The WDR raises many pertinent issues that reflect our own experience and that of our local partners, who often have the greatest insights into the causes of conflicts and potential ways of overcoming them. In response to the WDR authors’ invitation to take part in a “global conversation” we would like to highlight some of the peacebuilding policy and practice issues that we and our partners have been working on that relate to the WDR’s findings.

Responding to cross-border dynamics of conflict and violence
The WDR highlights the particular challenge of the cross-border dynamics of conflict and violence. Ranging from ‘bad neighbourhoods’, that increase the likeliness of civil war to issues such as trafficking, the report highlights how the problems of fragile states spread easily and drag down neighbouring states.

But the WDR also highlights how assistance to support development or prevent and address violence is still focused primarily at the individual country level. This represents a significant gap in both policy and response, as regional and cross-border dynamics often go largely unaddressed. Instead the report suggests that there is a need to adopt a more layered approach whereby issues are addressed at more appropriate levels, be that local, national, regional or international.

Our own experience is that we need to think outside the state. Policy and responses that take conflict systems rather than states as their starting point generate more flexible and appropriate responses. This means that as well as addressing issues of conflict and violence at a national level, we also need to look beyond the state and support regional engagement, and below the state by engaging with cross-border community or trade networks that are often more resilient to conflict and violence.

In East and Central Africa, regional civil society responses to the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army are helping build peace and support communities affected by violence. In Kashmir, trade across the Line of Control is helping re-build severed relationships. And the role of the EU in transforming the Irish border is illustrative of the influence that a regional organisation can have.

We explore many of these issues in our recent Accord publication on cross-border peacebuilding.

Restoring confidence and building trust
In examining the lessons that have been learned from previous responses to violence, the WDR emphasises the dual challenge of restoring confidence and transforming institutions that are not legitimate and do not respond to citizens’ needs.  It examines some of the challenges posed by low levels of trust, the risks of violence and security threats, and weak physical, institutional and human capital. In response, the WDR stresses the importance of building confidence, prioritising security, justice, and jobs, and engaging regional and external actors to help reduce external stresses.

In our experience, getting the peace or transition process right is crucial, as it can both build trust and set the agenda for institutional reform. In over 15 years of work supporting peace processes we have found that more inclusive transitions are more effective in the long-term. They tend to produce broadly legitimate peace agreements, facilitate political reconciliation and promote political participation.

Our work on public participation in peace processes highlights three models: representative participation, consultative mechanisms and direct participation. These models illustrate concrete ways of putting in place what the WDR refers to as processes that are “inclusive enough”.  In South Africa and Northern Ireland political parties served as the main channel for participation and multi-party negotiation forums acted as the decision-making body. In Guatemala and in the Philippines a parallel forum of organised civil society fed in ideas and recommendations to the official negotiation agenda and substantive agreements.

International support
In looking at the roles that the international community can play in helping build confidence, the WDR picks up on three important areas that warrant more reflection: the use of mediation as a relatively cost-effective option; associated questions of participation, including whether and how to engage with armed groups; and the use of incentives to avoid violence.

Whilst recognising the importance of mediation, the WDR also highlights how it is often not adequately integrated with other strategies for supporting a transition from war to peace. Our work on peace processes has highlighted the critical need for international actors to improve support to peace processes and political transitions, including through ensuring their policies are coherent and through promoting negotiation.

This necessarily raises the question of engagement with armed groups. As the WDR points out, international support for transitions and peace processes swings between all-inclusive to not inclusive enough. At times, international actors pressurise others not to engage with groups listed as terrorist organisations, even though they may command a substantial domestic following.

Our experience shows that engagement with non-state armed groups is not an easy task but is a key policy instrument to end violent conflict. It is often not feasible to end armed conflict without engaging armed groups, and solutions that exclude them are rarely sustainable. In countless conflicts from Northern Ireland to the Philippines, Sudan to East Timor, engagement with armed groups has helped open access for humanitarian assistance, establish ceasefires and build relationships between protagonists.

But recent trends in international policy, particularly the growing use of proscription – the act of putting armed groups on a list of designated terrorist organisations – are having the unintended consequence of inhibiting engagement in mediation and peace processes. We explore this in more detail in our work on proscription and engaging armed groups.

The WDR also considers the use of what it terms ‘commitment mechanisms’, including the use of sanctions, which it recognises are not always effective. Our work on incentives and sanctions shows that they need to be carefully considered as part of a broader peace process support strategy. Although international policymakers frequently rely on such mechanisms to respond to the challenges of violent conflict, their potential to effectively underpin – or undermine – a peace process is often overlooked. Consequently these tools have often been ineffective or have even fuelled conflict.

Building on the WDR
The WDR 2011 offers a timely and refreshing contribution to discussions on development and the particular challenges of conflict and fragility. These issues should be high on the agenda of the upcoming 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness that will be taking place in South Korea, and in the ongoing review of the Millennium Development Goals.

But what is also apparent both from the WDR, which cites a wide range of innovative and effective responses to the challenges of conflict and fragility, and from our own experience and that of our partners, is that there is a wealth of knowledge, innovation and creativity out there. Many people have grappled with these issues – often successfully. We need to ensure that these experiences are heard, shared and acted upon.

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