"Without peace, there will be no development"

What contribution does development cooperation make to conflict prevention? What can it do for sustainable peace? Political scientist Karina Mroß talks to Raphael Thelen about post-conflict societies and their chances for peaceful development.

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Congolese soldiers plunder food distribution for IDPs under the eyes of the UN in Eastern Congo. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Magazin Focus

Karina Mroß

Karina Mroß works in research and policy consulting at the German Development Institute (DIE). In the program "Transformation of Political (UN-)Order" she researches peace and democracy promotion in post-conflict societies and has recently completed her doctorate at the University of St.Gallen. In addition to cross-national comparative analyses, she has conducted field research on these topics in Burundi, Liberia, Nepal and Timor-Leste.
 

What is the main cause of conflict?  

In the science community, the so-called greed vs grievances debate has been dominating all discussions. That is to say, the question whether or not wars break out because of a struggle for power and resources or because humans experience social inequality and exclusion. Here is what we know by now: More often than not, grievances come before a conflict erupts. Greed plays a bigger role in relation to the continuation of these conflicts. Having said that, these two factors alone do not suffice. It is only a combination of the two that can explain violent conflicts.
But other factors play a role, too. Weak statehood, for example, increases the risk of war, and so do low levels of wealth and well-being. In addition to this, societies that have already experienced one civil war, often find themselves in a “conflict trap” and experience several violent conflicts repeatedly. The political framework and conditions in a country play a key factor when it comes to explaining this.

 

Is preventing conflict one of the tasks of development cooperation?  

Development cooperation can make an important contribution to prevent conflicts and for building lasting peace. If we take a look at what peace promotion entails, then we will see that this is military peacekeeping on the one hand and civilian support on the other hand. The latter can be divided up into four areas: non-military security assistance (e.g. demobilisation of combatants), promoting socio-economic development (e.g. creating jobs and infrastructure), social processing and revision of violent conflict (e.g. through measures for reconciliation or legal reconditioning) as well as promoting democracy and governance (e.g. supporting elections or state-building).

 

Generally speaking, the following can be said: From science we have clear insights that peace troops can reduce the risk of a conflict erupting again. However, research also shows very clearly that other areas are also important. Particularly in the context of democratising post-conflict regions promotion of democracy plays a key role. In particularly difficult situations, however, a combination of all of these efforts is required.

 

It is assumed that high unemployment of young men and the associated lack of prospects increases the potential to recruit potential fighters.

 

If young people make up very large segments of the population, does this represent a threat to peace?  

Combined with high level of unemployment, this view is very common: The logic behind this is that unemployment impedes economic development which, in turn, increases the risk of conflicts erupting once again. The high level of unemployment (especially among young men) – and the lack of prospects that comes with it – is deemed equally as critical because it can increase the risk of recruitment of potential combatants.

 

All these arguments sound plausible, but, in practice, they require a lot of development cooperation projects. However, this assumption has not been proven to be correct by any scientific study. I am not aware that any organisation implementing development cooperation projects has evaluated the effects that projects aimed at creating jobs have on peace-building.

 

Sierra Leone / former child soldiers at school to return to civil society.
Former child soldiers learn at school in order to return to the civil society. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Zeitenspiegel

What is the conclusion?  

We do not know whether or not these projects help to promote peace. This, however, does not mean that they are harmful to peace. Here is what we do know: Growth has to be inclusive. This means that the entire population has to benefit from it in order for it to be considered peace-building measures. If only one population group benefits from growth, then this can do more harm than good. This is why the “Do no harm” principle must be taken into account in all interventions in this context.

 

What can development cooperation do to create   future opportunities for young people?  

Our research show that development cooperation can make major contributions to peace. Post-conflict countries, however, that have not received significant support in the areas of peace promotion mentioned suffered from a renewed outbreak of violence, without exception. The political framework in a country, in particular, legitimate, and inclusive political institutions play an important role, too. International support can play a key role in this, in order to strengthen democratic processes and to reduce conflictive effects.

 

For an example, it is worthwhile to take a look at the relatively successful case of Liberia. Two successive civil wars came to an end in 2003, and since then a great deal of international support has been provided.

 

East Congo / Armored personnel transports of a Pakistani UN unit on patrol. (c) Christoph Püschner/Magazin Focus
Armored personnel transports of a Pakistani UN unit on patrol in Eastern Congo. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Magazin Focus

UN peacekeeping forces play an important role in safeguarding the peace in Liberia. Having said that, it was the strong involvement in development cooperation that has made a significant contribution to build lasting peace, to initiate a peace dividend, and to give people hope that change is possible. Supporting the locally initiated democratisation process had a significant impact when it came to establishing a post-conflict order that would be deemed legitimate by the population. Support of free and fair elections as well as an independent legal system have been able to create mechanisms to peacefully handle conflicts which can occur in any society. Currently, however, a lot of people in the country see in the socio-economic situation, that still remains weak, as a key challenge. This means that, ultimately, both are necessary: Without peace, there is no development. Without development, there is no peace.

 

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