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fragile states

Rebuilding trust and relationships through local processes

Nigel Roberts's picture

Nigel Roberts, co-director of the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report, speaks with AusAid’s ODE Talks. The podcast and transcripts available below and at ODE Talks.

“…if you look at the experience of low-income, fragile states over the last 25 years, the lack of progress in health and education is pretty stunning… No single low income fragile state has achieved or will achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals. And believe me, this is not for lack of trying, it is not for lack of investment in health and education, it is for a lack of success in transforming institutions.”

Whither Côte d’Ivoire?

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

    Don't assume anything.   Photo source FP.

The stand-off between Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara in Côte D’Ivoire highlights the new role of regional organizations in dealing with the challenges of irresponsible leadership in their own backyards.

In microeconomics we assume perfect information in the same way we often assume responsible leadership in fragile states. While the former is a convenient analytical artifice, the latter can be downright misleading.  

 

It is important to recognize this because our prescriptions for building public confidence and conflict-resistant institutions are predicated on a view of national leadership that may be the exception rather than the rule.

 

Leaders in violence-prone places are not necessarily thinking of some higher good when they choose a particular course of action. Many see their responsibility in narrow terms; an obligation that goes no further than serving their own self-interest and looking out for their friends.

 

These kinds of behaviors are hard to influence where politics is played as a zero sum game. To change them, the United Nations, the World Bank, and some bilateral agencies have supported programs to foster cooperative leadership and build coalitions. This takes a long time to show results and, of course, there’s no guarantee such a soft approach will work in a high stakes environment.   

 

Another way is to spell out the consequences of things turning sour. The diplomatic and development community tried this in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s by underlining the growing gap in social and economic outcomes between Zimbabwe and its neighbors.

 

To vote or not to vote

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

A vote too soon?    Photo © Corbis

The wisdom of elections in fragile places is questioned by those who fear they will exacerbate tensions and provoke the kind of violence we saw in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti last week.  This poses a big question: whether to plough ahead regardless or to hold-off on elections until conditions are propitious.

While some conflict experts argue it would be better to wait, many citizens are keen to vote. It’s humbling to see the determination of people in fragile countries who put up with threats to their safety and long lines at polling booths, as well as fraud and intimidation.

Is this another example of hope triumphing over experience?  Perhaps, but it also demonstrates people’s desire to have their voices heard and to influence the course of their lives. So we need to think hard before postponing plebiscites.

Electoral politics are always polarizing, no matter where.  I remember watching CNN night after night in my hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the hanging chad saga that followed the US presidential elections in November 2000.  Even at a distance of 10,000 kilometers, the negative energy was palpable.  After weeks of wrangling, it took US citizens a while to unwind and accept the outcome.

Was Keynes right about fragile states?

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Keynes said that “In the long-run we are all dead.” But for people living in fragile states affected by violence, the short run can be deadly too.

The challenge is to balance swift action with long-term stability and security. The two must be carefully paced and sequenced if we are to make progress, both sooner and later.

Not by bricks alone.

Frustration with the slowness of recovery efforts has focused attention on the short-term part of the story. No wonder. We have seen the promise of peace dashed so often by tardy action on meeting immediate needs.

Look at Haiti. Whoever emerges from the presidential elections will be under huge pressure to get a lot done fast, from controlling the cholera epidemic and rebuilding homes to getting intimidating gangs off the streets and creating jobs.

We've been there many times before in fragile places the world over - whether they are emerging from the devastation of violent conflict, exacerbated in Haiti by the earthquake, or about to plunge into it. Neither national leaders nor the international community have been effective enough in responding to the pressures that lead to conflict or reignite its embers.

Speedy action to meet immediate needs is a good start but it is not enough on its own to solve what is perhaps our greatest development challenge -- giving a stake in the future to the 1.5 billion people who are forced to look on as the middle income countries power ahead, with many lower middle income states on their heels.

WDR 2011 launches new website!

Nicholas van Praag's picture

New WDR 2011 Website

We are pleased this week to unveil our newly revamped WDR 2011 website. Designed to be more user friendly and to make the World Development Report 2011 accessible to a wider audience, we hope the new website will be a boon to anyone interested in finding out more about conflict and development.

We are especially excited to introduce our Data Visualizer comprising our Conflict Database. Previously, information about conflict was dispersed.  The WDR team has brought it together in a single database covering civil war, homicides, terrorism, and trafficking, as well as socio-economic, demographic and political data – more than 300 variables in one place available online through the Bank’s open data initiative.

Among our other new features are Faces of Conflict, a series of video interviews with experts and people affected by conflict. We will be collecting footage through the WDR Flip Challenge in which 10 Flip cameras have been distributed to World Bank staff around the world to document their experiences with conflict and community efforts to reduce it. We will be putting up videos as we receive them, so be sure to check back for updates.

 

Our new interactive map allows users to acquaint themselves with the consultations around the world guiding the WDR and its thinking. Flags in the map indicate meeting locations with summaries of the consultation sessions with national and regional organizations, policymakers, experts and civil society just a click away.  

 

Prevention is better than post-conflict catch-up

Nicholas van Praag's picture
   An end to conflict conformism

Violence is the antithesis of development.  It tears down what’s been built up.  It destroys lives, shortens horizons, and inflicts huge psychological and physical pain.

Once violence ends, it takes a generation, on average, to get back to square oneand that’s only when strife does not reignite or morph into other forms of man-on-man beastliness, as often happens. 

No wonder so many people at the Millennium Development Goals summit in New York this week are taking a hard look at how to improve the often nasty, brutish and short lives of people living in states wracked by violence. 

At a side event organized by the WDR and the International Dialogue on Peace Building, and co-hosted by Timor Leste and the UK, Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s aid chief, reminded us that no fragile state or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG. Most lag 40 to 60 percent behind other low and middle-income countries in MDG attainment.

If you were born without a birth attendant or lack access to clean water or never went to primary school or go to bed hungry, the chances are pretty high (between 65 and 75 percent, depending on the indicator) that you come from a country mired in or emerging from violence.

With more than 1.5 billion people living in conflict-affected countries, the challenge is daunting.  There’s no chance of coming close to attaining the MDGs at the global level unless we move from bumper-sticker aspiration to policy action in fragile states.

Media freedom and violence prevention

Nicholas van Praag's picture
© Brooks Kraft/Sygma/Corbis
  
True believers in press freedom. 
© Brooks Kraft/Sygma/Corbis

How often it’s happened. Standing at the podium, almost finished with the press conference, when the question which I would love to ignore is shouted out from the gaggle of reporters.  As a communications professional, I wholeheartedly believe in press freedoms, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that there were times I wanted to muzzle an aggressive journalist with his "gotcha" question, or the reporter who quotes me out of context or misrepresents an issue I hold dear.   

In those moments, I can see how a politician or government official, with the ability to clamp-down on the media, might succumb to the urge.  The reality is that freedom of the press is a messy business.  But like Winston Churchill once said of democracy, it's the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.

The current debate over press freedom in South Africa, with the government considering legislation that would allow the state to keep secret any information, if it decided that disclosure would harm the “national interest”, has drawn fresh attention to the role of the media as societal watchdog.

Some people question whether media freedoms are appropriate or even relevant in fragile states where, they argue, the delicate political and social balance may be upset if people are allowed to write or broadcast exactly what they think about their government or their fellow citizens.

Promises of Change: Reconciling Reality and Expectations in Fragile States

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

Go ahead, make your case
Photo © Nick van Praag

I was listening to a report on the radio last week about winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan.  You know, all the stuff about moving from the number of insurgents killed and hectares of poppy fields destroyed to how many miles of roads can be travelled in safety and the number of people benefiting from agricultural extension projects. 

The journalist ended the dispatch by saying that these new ways of looking at progress are all very well, but what matters most are people’s perceptions of what the future holds. 

Afghanistan has many problems and skepticism over the war continues to grow. But there are also some objective reasons for hope. There has been an explosion in cell phone use and measures of maternal health and child mortality show progress.  More girls are in school and more women in parliament. But to the average man and woman, these incremental changes have not been enough to overcome a pervasive sense that prospects for improvement are dim.

As governments in Afghanistan and other fragile states pursue the tortuous business of reform, they cannot rely on promises of better security, improved livelihoods and more social justice to impose their own logic on people’s minds. The rationale of reform will not spontaneously emerge for war torn citizens without the connections made through consistent, disciplined communication.

After years of insecurity and hopelessness, you have to actively persuade people to suspend their disbelief and invest themselves in the future.  Evidence shows that purveying raw information and data is not enough.  Rather, it is about changing perceptions through carefully crafted and targeted messages that address people’s concerns directly.

Finding ways to communicate persuasively is not a silver bullet.  It takes more than smart communications to challenge vested interests or deter insurgents bent on resisting changes in the status quo. But communication can play a powerful role in consolidating support from allies, winning over the doubters, and reassuring the fearfulas well as undermining the credibility of opponents. 

International norms and local realities

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  Outcomes matter

All too often, donors and development organizations push pre-fabricated institutional models on developing countries despite the checkered history of these arrangements.  This is something we are grappling with in the context of the WDR as we look at the functionality of the institutional forms that the international community often encourages fragile states to embrace. 

Elections are a case in point as countries vulnerable to violence are urged to put in place this particular pillar of democracy without much attention to the other elements of democratic architecture.  We have seen in many places how this can backfire, triggering tensions and undermining progress towards more resilient societies. 

It is not just elections.  In addressing corruption and human rights there are plenty of examples of institutional implants placing major strains on fragile societies.  While there is no question that international norms and standards are central on many crucial issues, there is too much emphasis on institutional models and too little on outcomes.

Do you have a big idea that can help address Conflict and Fragility?

Natalia Cieslik's picture

 

Call for Proposals - Feb. 15 – March 2

Soliciting Innovative Approaches and Research to be presented during the Conflict and Fragility Week in Cape Town, South Africa, April 12-15, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention. Many times, people living and working under the most difficult and challenging conditions, with minimal tools and capacity, have come up with creative and even innovative solutions to the enormous challenges they face. Organizations and researchers around the world have been equally creative working with communities living in situations of fragility and conflict to find solutions to ensure delivery of basic services, improve governance and create jobs.

Innovation Fair: Moving beyond Conflict
This Innovation Fair, organized by the World Bank Group, is seeking to identify such high-impact approaches to working in fragile and conflict-affected states in order to share and, if possible, scale them up. The Fair will convene international experts on conflict and fragility, development researchers and practitioners, software developers, donors and private sector to exchange experience, establish new collaboration, and forge longer-term partnerships.

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