As efforts continue to improve the global response to forced displacement, the World Bank Group and UNHCR are setting up a new joint data center that will better support refugees, internally displaced persons, stateless people, returnees, asylum-seekers, and host communities. The two organizations recently agreed to establish the center in Copenhagen based on recommendations from an independent selection panel, backed by a generous contribution from the government of Denmark.
Why a new data center? With all the data that is available today, you may wonder why anyone would need more data. What kind of data are we talking about here, and wouldn’t this overlap with what other organizations are doing already?
When I first visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007 as a public health researcher, I was trying to understand the complex issue of how young men get recruited into rebel groups in war-torn regions of central Africa. What I learned was both surprising and heartbreaking: a person who experienced war violence as a child could be more likely to engage in conflict as a young adult. Young men who had experienced extreme war violence in their past would often state this as a reason to take up arms. Even more tragically, these same young men would often struggle to reintegrate peacefully into their communities when hostilities ended. The violence they had experienced their whole lives through war persisted within their homes and communities even when formal peace was declared.
Conflict-affected situations are often characterized by challenging security, political and economic environments. Capital flight and inflation can emaciate financial markets, while volatile financial flows and diminishing money demand can put pressure on exchange rates. Supply-side shocks in economies dominated by agriculture or natural resource exports present policymakers with trade-offs between inflation and output objectives. Large informal sectors can weaken monetary policy transmission mechanisms and provide for a limited tax base. Also, because infrastructure and public services may be limited, institutional, administrative, technological and statistical capacities can be weak.
Earlier this spring, I was invited to participate in the launch of Pathways for Peace, an important study jointly developed by the UN and World Bank. Based on extensive research of what has ‘worked’ in different countries, the study sets out recommendations for how development processes can better interact with security, diplomacy, mediation, and other efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. Addressing exclusion, including of women and youth, is central to these efforts.
Collecting perception data in hard-to-reach areas and fragile contexts can be extremely challenging, but is necessary to better understand who is excluded, who feels excluded, and to measure horizontal inequalities. Doing so requires the use of innovative methodologies. In particular, technology is a valuable tool with which to access remote and conflict-affected areas where exclusion is likely to be the worst.
Since the end of World War II, we have experienced a shift in conflict dynamics, from inter-state to intra-state conflicts. In 2016 alone, the world witnessed 47 intra-state conflicts. Today, wars are fought within state borders between a multiplicity of actors over the distribution of political power and national wealth both at and between the center and subnational governance levels. Marginalized groups are vying for greater autonomy at the local level, while those in control of the state—be they majorities or dominant minority groups—seek to consolidate political power at the center. Such intra-state conflicts with subnational dimensions are among the most protracted and violent conflicts.
The recent joint UN-WB report on preventing violent conflict, Pathways for Peace, highlights the need for more inclusive efforts to proactively manage the risks of violence.
As one of the authors of the report, which recommends the use of Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessment (RPBAs) for prevention purposes, I was curious as to how the model offered by the joint UN-EU-World Bank RPBA could be used earlier in the evolution of the conflict by developing joint platforms for prioritizing areas of risk and more proactive planning for addressing them. In fact, there is already much in the RPBAs that resonates with the study’s main findings. The example of Cameroon, where RPBA methodology has been used successfully to help the government respond to subnational pressures and spillover of the security and displacement crisis created by Boko Haram, suggests the value-added that this engagement approach offers for violence prevention. Other RPBAs offer examples of specific methodologies that could play an important role in shifting RPBAs upstream. For example, in Central African Republic the use of perception data was instrumental in the design and finalization of the 2016 National Plan for Recovery and Peacebuilding. As the Pathways study illustrates, statistical measures of inequalities do not always neatly correspond to the perceptions of these inequalities. Understanding perceptions, through surveys, focus groups, community mapping, or key informant interviews therefore play a critical role in targeting the groups and issues at highest risk, and building a common narrative for prioritization.
The role of media in fragile and conflict-affected societies has changed enormously in recent years, as media landscapes and technologies have transformed. The background paper to the Pathways for Peace report, “Media Noise and the Complexity of Conflicts: Making Sense of Media in Conflict Prevention,” seeks to identify and discuss the various roles media may play in governance, accountability, and the conflict cycle with regards to conflict prevention. Such a discussion is timely and relevant given the changing nature of both conflict and media technology, and the use of these tools in heralding change in conflict-prone and fragile states.
Transnational organized crime (TOC) is a widespread phenomenon that leaves no region untouched. Illegal trafficking—TOC’s most lucrative manifestation—has taken multiple forms, ranging from the most traditional trade in narcotics and weapons to smuggling counterfeited medicines and endangered wildlife. As these illicit flows cut across multiple national borders, they become interconnected with local security, political, social, and economic dynamics. At times, they are so embedded that the line between licit and illicit is significantly blurred. The same applies when TOC intersects with conflict situations.
Can inclusive approaches prevent the escalation or recurrence of violence, as the subtitle of the recent UN–World Bank report, Pathways for Peace, suggests? If so, how? And what are the pitfalls of inclusion? Qualitative case study research conducted at the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative (IPTI) offers answers to these complex questions.