Three Questions for the Next Generation of Peacebuilders

The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Debates Future Priorities at the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings

At this year’s World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, the co-chairs of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding hosted a panel discussion on next generation peacebuilding. CIC Director Sarah Cliffe moderated the discussion and Dr. Raymond Gilpin, Dean of the African Center for Strategic Studies , spoke on the panel. Here Dr. Gilpin proposes three questions to consider in future peacebuilding efforts.

Ensuring peace in states that are conflict-prone and violence-affected is complicated because zero-sum governance, reinforced by a struggle to exercise a monopoly of force, has supplanted the rule of law and market-based decision-making.  Disentangling the resultant political-economy is an important, though often ignored, prerequisite for peacebuilding that is both effective and sustainable.  Failure to do this partly explains failed attempts at peacebuilding across the globe in recent decades. The states we seek to stabilize remain volatile and vulnerable.  Inevitably, we ask questions like:  What are we getting wrong?  How could we build more capable states?  How should we support fledgling governments?  When could we incorporate informal security, political and economic structures into the formal system?

Perhaps we have been asking the wrong state-centric questions. A first question to answer could be: What would be the outcome if we prioritized rebuilding societies, rather than states?  Historically, scholars and practitioners have conflated sovereignty and stability and have, consequently, paid disproportionate attention to reconstituting the institutions of statehood rather than the needs of affected societies. Large peacebuilding programs have rewarded entrenched autocracies, legitimized the war economy handover and bolstered bureaucracies that are oriented towards regimes often at the expense of the citizens. Communities in fragile regions are resilient and capable. What they need are assurances of community-level security and opportunities to provide for themselves. Providing communities the support they need would assure peace, but it would require a dramatic rethinking of mechanisms to provide assistance to fragile states. Peace must be built from the community up, with state institutions and regulatory frameworks re-oriented towards the citizens and not the regimes, an issue explored in some depth in Greg Mills’ Why States Recover (Hurst, 2015).  To accomplish this, quick wins for the community should be more explicitly prioritized.  Measures could be taken to integrate the local economy and labor market into mainstream economic activity. For example, communities will benefit much more from sustained efforts to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade than a flurry of income-generation projects.

A second question could be:  Who pays the government?  One reason who governments in most fragile states are so disconnected from the populace is that they depend on external players for practically all of their revenue inflows, through development assistance, humanitarian assistance, philanthropy, remittances and foreign direct investment.  The states, understandably, spend an inordinate amount of time catering to the requests and needs of these external players, usually at the expense of their own people. Reconstituting the ‘social contract’ between the governments and their citizens in fragile states is critical for the success of peacebuilding efforts because it gives the citizens a more direct stake in the governance process and redirects the governments to the needs of its citizens. Democratic processes could not be realistically advanced if the social contract is broken. A practical first step in this regard would be to emphasize the government’s ’tax effort’ in macroeconomic programming.  The current focus on price stability and deficits is prudent, but relatively hollow over the medium term if almost all of the government’s revenue is derived from external sources. This point is emphasized by Graciana del Castillo in Rebuilding War-Torn States: The Challenges of Post-Conflict Economic Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2008). Citizens need to pay their government for the social contract to work effectively.

A third question would address the mismatch between the short- to medium-term nature of peacebuilding instruments and the much longer term reality of peacebuilding in fragile states. In other words: How do we design initiatives and policies that provide confidence-building quick fixes, while assuring sustainable progress?  While bilateral and multilateral policies and instruments unfold within the context of 3-5 year cycles, peacebuilding in fragile states requires consistent efforts over decades, as outlined in the 2011 World Development Report (World Bank, 2011). Governments and their development partners are not unaware of this mismatch.  They are constrained by the cyclical nature of funding streams and political decision-making.  While there is some merit in considering innovative reforms to the existing governance and support systems, they are unlikely to have the longevity required to make a lasting difference in most of these countries.  A significant proportion of fragile states are resource-driven and have been attracting substantial foreign direct investment. In the past, some investors viewed stability through the prism of regime security and forged close links with key government officials.  Such relationships fueled bad governance, corruption and human rights violations.  Looking ahead, public-private partnerships would help address this mismatch at the community level in two important ways.  First, by more fully integrating the local economy into value chains and, second, by ensuring that infrastructure and service-related investments benefit local communities.  This partnership would demand a realignment of priorities, with governments being facilitators and not primary beneficiaries.

The challenges facing the next generation of peacebuilders are daunting, but not insurmountable.  By shifting the focus from the state to the citizens, we stand a better chance of strengthening communities, reducing dependency and reestablishing viable social contracts between people in fragile and vulnerable states and their governments.

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Apr 24, 2015
Raymond Gilpin