Enabling a robust market for information and communications technologies (ICTs) is fundamental to rebuilding fragile and conflict affected states (FCSs) and addressing the human suffering. As I have explained elsewhere, ICTs are critical because they can be used to alert people to renewed violence, build community, restart the economy, and facilitate relief efforts. The critical strategies that enable ICTs are protection of property rights and minimal barriers to competition.
South Sudan provides examples of the importance of ICT. Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative’s Youth Peacemaker Network tells the stories of John from Twic East Country whose life was spared by a phone call warning of an impending attack, and of Gai Awan, Artha Akoo Kaka, and Moga Martin from Numule whose ICT trainings opened employment and education opportunities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explains how ICT can help protect refugees: Biometrics enabled Housna Ali Kuku, a single mother of four, to obtain precisely scheduled treatments for her respiratory tract infection and for her children. GPS is used to identify sources of diseases and to track their spread.
A World Bank study by Tim Kelly and David Souter identified five themes in post-conflict recovery and how ICT plays critical roles.
Citizen Engagement (CE) mechanisms are most effective when the operating environment is conducive. A well-informed citizenry, an enabling regulatory framework, such as freedom of association, access to information, and petition rights, as well as institutional structures including well-organized media and a dynamic CSO-landscape rooted in communities all play an important role in making CE mechanisms function more effectively.
How about where such conditions are not available—like in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Are there any benefits in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in such situations? Can CE mechanisms still help citizens engage with the state constructively when the state clearly lacks the capacity to respond?
Task teams at the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been grappling with these questions since launching a pilot initiative three years ago to strengthen citizen engagement throughout its operations, responding to an increased demand for voice and participation in the region. The new MENA strategy also put citizen engagement at the center of one of its main pillars, to renew the social contract. Citizen engagement was no longer an option—it had to be integrated across projects even in contexts where institutional capacities were extremely weak and state’s authority was often contested.
Despite the initial trepidation, the actual integration of citizen engagement in fragile situations defied all expectations. True, the absence of conducive environments did pose additional challenges in making public institutions more responsive and accountable. However, these deficiencies were easily compensated for. CE mechanisms filled crucial gaps of state institutions, whether they were non-existent, weak, or compromised, by delegating tasks such as monitoring and prioritization of needs to communities.
Citizen engagement also helped in some contexts to reinforce positive interactions between the state and citizens. There is emerging consensus among scholars that state legitimacy is enhanced not by service delivery per se but by the opportunities the process provides for citizens to interact with the state positively. And citizen engagement provides exactly that by getting citizens involved in identifying priority needs, registering complaints, voicing disagreements, and providing feedback etc.
In other words, MENA’s experience in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in fragile and conflict-affected situations has highlighted the transformative potential of citizen engagement, not only in improving development results, but also in addressing issues at the heart of fragility and conflict. CE mechanisms tend to empower citizens by giving them the space and channels to hold the state accountable. It facilitates a gradual change in stakeholders’ mindset with citizens realizing that they can influence the quality of services and resource allocations—issues that are typically at the heart of societal tensions.
When citizens engage with government officials, the state becomes visible and citizens gain more knowledge about government processes as well as constraints that affect government performance. They also gain skills that help them better negotiate and communicate with the government in presenting their demands more coherently. Such interactions often tend to strengthen the vertical link between the state and society.
Furthermore, citizen engagement can also strengthen horizontal links in society by increasing face-to-face interaction among community members. This enhances social cohesion by promoting trust across community members and improving social cooperation. By promoting collective action, citizen engagement activities also engender a sense of community, generating consensus and a common understanding of problems as well as potential solutions. Such collaboration strengthens associational links and helps build social cohesion.
For instance under the Municipal Development Program in West Bank and Gaza, citizens in each targeted municipality participate in planning committees on Strategic Development and Investment Planning. This process allows citizens to voice their priorities, have insights into the budget making process and participate in decision making regarding how resources are allocated and used. While improving the quality of services this process has also increased inter-community collaboration.
South Korea today has the fourth largest economy in Asia, is a member of the OECD’s “Rich Club,” and is part of the G20. Despite sharp economic shocks emanating from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the more recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – Korea has bounced back and continues to grow.
So it’s hard to imagine that some 70 years ago, Korea’s future looked very bleak – and akin to many of the excruciatingly difficult post-conflict environments that we face today.
To briefly summarize Korea’s post-World War II history: a 1947 report on Korea commissioned by U.S. President Truman concluded, “South Korea, [as] basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance …. Prospects for developing sizeable exports are slight ….. The establishment of a self-sustaining economy in South Korea is not feasible.” Then the Korean War compounded these problems – resulting in massive damage to both the north and the south – with destroyed infrastructure, a loss of skilled workers, a million South Koreans killed, and as much as one-quarter of the country’s population refugees.
We have many lessons to learn from Korea – particularly as our institution, the World Bank, increasingly focuses on post-conflict and fragile environments.
Although South Korea is known for its large scale “Chaebols,” which have dominated much of its political and economic life – less well known is the considerable support that the government has provided to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). As in most countries, Korean SMEs play a pivotal role in the national economy, accounting for 99% of all enterprises (3 million SMEs), over 80% of all employees (10.8 million employees), and almost 48% of total national production.
There is enough trouble out there to keep any policymaker up at night. Recent volatility has roiled Chinese and global stock markets, commodity prices have slumped, and security concerns are rising. All of this raises serious questions over the health of the global economy. This year could shape up to be risky, full of challenges and concerns for the fight against poverty.
We ended 2015 with good news: For the first time in history, the number of extremely poor people dropped below 10% of the world’s population. The new Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate deal bring momentum to our effort to lift the remaining 700 million extremely poor people out of poverty while generating climate-smart economic growth.