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.
Pathways for Peace
There are about 1.2 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and it is estimated that by 2030 the numbers will increase by 7 percent. Youth groups between the ages of 14 and 24 are an important focus in the work on the prevention of violent conflict. The UN resolution on Youth, Peace and Security (SCR 2250) recognizes the role of youth in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and urges to increase representation of youth in decision-making at all levels. In addition, the recently published World Bank/UN flagship study: Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict also recognizes the importance of youth in the prevention of violent conflict.
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 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.
During my dissertation and post-dissertation fieldwork in Kenya and India, I was often struck by how my interviewees—including political elites—framed the issue of electoral violence. For many, such conflict had come to be a normalized aspect of their nations’ politics. Rather than denying that major episodes of election-time violence involved political machinations, respondents typically displaced the blame for such violence onto rival parties and candidates. And yet, there was also an explicit recognition that election-time conflict had come with significant human costs for ordinary Kenyans and Indians. In short, although there was an understanding that the overlap between elections and violence in these countries was far from ideal, there was also an acknowledgement that this was simply how “the game had to played.”