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Afghanistan: the importance of being there

Nicholas van Praag's picture

I spent a lot of time this week hanging out with my friend Edward Girardet. He’s in Washington, D.C. ahead of the launch of his book that traces the history of international engagement in Afghanistan over the past 30 years or so. 

Killing the Cranes is a deeply personal tale that includes Massoud and Girardetan account of Girardet’s brush with Osama Bin Laden before he (Osama) became a household name. He also describes trekking through the Hindu Kush to interview the leader of the United Front, Ahmed Shah Massoud, during the war against the Soviet Union. This photograph captures that encounter.

Girardet has reported on the region ever since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and has known three generations of aid workers.  I asked him if they had changed.

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.

Double tragedy

Sarah Cliffe's picture

I visited Haiti just before Christmas with Nik Win Myint from the WDR team. I talked to community groups in some of the slums that have been most ravaged by drugs and gang-related violenceCite de Soleil, Martissant, Bel-air.

    Visiting a poultry farm in Haiti. Photos © Henriot Nader

The people I met had great hope for the futureafter decades of a debilitating cycle of poverty, violence and state inaction, they finally felt that things were improving. The young men in the pictures here had just started their own farm for chicken eggs, funded through small grants from the government.  "Security is better. The police are better. We are still worried about the future, but this is the first time the state has done something for us. People in this community just need the chance to work, to get training" they said.

Who knows how many of the people I talked to are still alive.  Tens of thousands have died in the earthquake, and those who survive have lost family members, their houses, their possessions, their jobs.  This would have been a tragedy at any timeit is more so at a period when the country seemed to be regaining hope and some confidence in the future.

Lessons from Leaders

Nikolas Win Myint's picture

On 8 and 9 October, 2009, I was fortunate to participate in a lively discussion on issues of conflict and development between leaders from countries affected by conflict and academics in Berlin.  This group of practitioners and experts had been brought together as part of an event jointly organized by the World Bank and Germany's InWent to generate thinking at the early stages of the WDR development process.  What made this event unique for us was the frank and constructive dialogue between two groups of participants that often work in separate realms: on the one hand leaders that had grappled with difficult issues in conflict in their daily lives, such as Timor-Leste's Minister of Finance or the Governor of Afghanistan's Bamyan province, and on the other hand leading academics in the field of conflict analysis. 

In the run up to the event, we had some worries about how such a diverse group would mixwould leaders listen to academics? Would experience bear out theoryand would a group this diverse identify common themes or only a mosaic of problems?  In the end, we spent two days in rich and deep discussions. The exchange between and among leaders and academics combined theoretical frameworks and empirical analysis with a rich description of how these issues play out in practice. This sharing of experience was an ideal starting point for the WDR: the desire to do better by learning from and connecting with diverse communities to enhance our understanding of conflict.  The interviews of some of the participants at this event should give a good sense of the discussions we had:

WDR 2011 – Lessons from Leaders from WDR Video on Vimeo.

Absolute democracy

Nigel Roberts's picture

Trisuli Bazaar, Nuwakot District, Middle Hills of Nepal—November 19

    Nigel and Deepak (from left) in a Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) district office in Nuwakot.

Returning to Nepal after a gap of 16 years, I am struck by the explosion in political activity. The Nepal I knew was a politically literate country, and my memories of the Eastern Hills in the 1970s are peppered with intense discussions about landlordism, police corruption and the lifestyles of appointed district politicians.

But this is something different. I have arrived in Trisuli with Holly Benner of the WDR core team, and Deepak Thapa, our lead author for the WDR case study on Nepal. Three hours by winding road from Kathmandu, Trisuli is a town of perhaps 3,000 people, with one main street and a few simple shops. An hour’s walk up the hill is Nuwakot, the site of a glorious old Newar palace built in 1762, and soon thereafter occupied by King Prithivi Narayan Shah as his capital as he planned the unification of Nepal.

We find Trisuli consumed by politics, to an extent you would hardly ever see in a small town in Europe or the USA. In the course of the day we meet all three main national parties, as well as the government’s Chief District Officer and Chief of Police.