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No, no, no, it does not turnupsave lives

March 9, 2015

Originally posted on Ipeanddevelopment's Blog:

Right fine the 0.7% fetish reached its zenith today as the 0.7% bill by Michael Moore was passed today see this twitter announcement. Great, an archaic target is reached by the UK 45 years after it was not legally enshrined in the United Nations. This is a short post as I’ve said much about the 0.7 “fetish” that UK parliamentarians (most UK parliamentarians, there are those against it) have regarding this poor constituted aid target. Come rain or shine, good or bad economies, great or terrible development environments, the UK will provide 0.7% x its GDP (which changes) as Official Development Assistance. It does not save lives, it does not immediately improve development, it is not the golden bullet for development but no, the UK parliament has agreed to this oudated and quite irrelevant target.


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Putting the peace and economy framework into practice

February 24, 2015

Taken as a whole, the framework for integrating peacebuilding into economic development set out in my blog post of 10th February may seem disempowering. It explains the importance of integrating peace into economic development. It identifies areas where actions can help shape a more peace-conducive economy, and broad outcome indicators thereof. But it also makes clear that many of these factors are largely structural and interlinked, thus resilient to change. What this reminds us of, given the five lessons learned summarised in my post of 28th January about how peace gets stronger in society, is the importance of taking a very practical perspective in working out how a specific agency, or coalition of agencies, can contribute to peace through economic development. The framework can be used to help identify specific approaches and strategies for this, for agencies with the right combination of entry point, opportunity, leadership and agency.

In this post, I explore generically how the framework can be used in analysis. As a reminder, the utility of the framework it to work out how to integrate peace into economic development – i.e. in practical terms, to adapt economic approaches so they promote peace. The starting point for most planners is therefore likely to be their own initial economic development niche or opportunity. Obviously public policy, business project or programme design processes are rarely purely linear. But for the sake of clarity, we set out this adaptation process generically in linear form here, going step by step from clarifying the mandate, defining relevant peace outcomes, analysing the political economy and the seven ‘levers of change’, developing a concrete plan, and then implementation, and finally monitoring and evaluation of the impact on economy and peace.

1. Mandate

As a starting point it is important to be clear about the mandate of the agency or agencies concerned. Some economic development promoters and businesses maintain (or at least silently assume) that their mandate is ‘purely economic’ – and that even corporate social responsibility is a distraction from maximising economic returns[i]. More typically, businesses go further and accept the need to ensure ‘their stakeholders’ will ‘buy-into’ their project or at least stand in its way – i.e. provide a ‘social licence to operate’. This is a purely transactional approach which can still comply with Milton Friedman’s 1971 famous call that “the social responsibility of businesses is to increase its profits”[ii]. But as explained in chapter one of this paper, there is a genuine overlap between economic and peacebuilding actions and interventions, so even ‘purely economic’ actors can take the needs of peace into consideration if they choose to do so. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly accepted that providing social value as well as financial or economic value is a legitimate expectation of businesses and economic promotion. This is often called shared value, defined by Michael Porter and mark Kramer[iii] as follows:

‘The concept of shared value can be defined as policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress.

The concept rests on the premise that both economic and social progress must be addressed using value principles. Value is defined as benefits relative to costs, not just benefits alone. Value creation is an idea that has long been recognized in business, where profit is revenues earned from customers minus the costs incurred. However, businesses have rarely approached societal issues from a value perspective but have treated them as peripheral matters. This has obscured the connections between economic and social concerns.

In the social sector, thinking in value terms is even less common. Social organizations and government entities often see success solely in terms of the benefits achieved or the money expended. As governments and NGOs begin to think more in value terms, their interest in collaborating with business will inevitably grow.’

Many businesses, large and small, are adopting this way of understanding their value creation role: from Unilever at the top, to small companies in divided societies reaching out across conflict lines in their employment practices as a way to heal divisions[iv]. Moving beyond business to other economic promoters, the World Bank’s recent creation of a Center for Conflict, Security and Development to guide its programming in fragile contexts is indicative of a broadening understanding that ‘pure’ economic and poverty mandates are less and less legitimate. Given the risk of conflict and violence which prevails in fragile contexts, it is vitally important for economic development agencies to clarify with their stakeholders – boards, politicians, staff etc. – that their mandate does explicitly include making a contribution to sustainable peace. This creates the room for manoeuvre to do so, as well as the internal carrots and sticks to encourage it.

2. Relationship to the four peace and prosperity outcomes

Having agreed on the mandate, it is important to determine a more specific ambition in terms of my four overarching indicators of peace-promoting economic development: sustainability, decent livelihoods, revenue and services, and safe capital accumulation. Most if not all economic projects will expect to have some impact on these, almost by default. For example a mining project will create new jobs and royalties and pay attention to sustainability, a new water use or land tenure policy may expect to improve agricultural business opportunities, and a new road will be expected to lead to new economic opportunities and tax revenues.

But it is important to go beyond the ‘default’. This means examining the four characteristics to determine whether and how the project can make a difference to all four of them, and also to ensure that their nuances are not lost. If a mining project will create new jobs and royalties ‘by default’, can it also do so in ways which minimises damage to the environment, and are there ways the project can also help to improve people’s resilience and economic power through safe savings schemes? And to what extent can the mining company ensure that people have access to ‘decent’ livelihoods and employment, both within its direct sphere of control and perhaps beyond? Can it go beyond simply paying taxes and royalties to the state, and consider its role, as a major taxpayer and ‘corporate citizen’, in ensuring that these are well used for public benefit and to strengthen the peace factors?

This is where some of the tensions between peace and economic development  begin to come into play. To continue with the mining project example: taking on an explicit commitment to creating public value and peace may lengthen the capital development stage of the project, and thus go against shareholders’ apparent interests; and becoming engaged with questions of what royalties are used for may seem too political for some companies, and create friction with the government – even if it does fit in with the idea of shared value. Hence the importance of working these issues out at an early stage in the planning process, and determining which of the peace-and-prosperity characteristics the project can reasonably and ambitiously aim to strengthen.

3. Analysis of the political economy and the seven levers of change 

Having made a commitment to explore ways to contribute to the four core characteristics of a peaceful economy, the next step is to identify the extent to which this will be possible within the constraints of the political economy, the likely opportunities for change, the leadership and agency needed, and the mechanisms for adaptation in terms of the seven ‘levers of change’ identified on 10th February. This is a very broad analytical canvas, but can be narrowed and thus made more user-friendly by association with the main economic development project under review. To illustrate more fully, let us take the hypothetical example of a government policy change.

In this illustration, the government of a large, fragile country recovering from civil war is developing a policy to attract inward investment, focused on the export of high value fresh exports from irrigated farms around a large lake. This meets the government’s needs to raise revenue – royalties from water use, and taxes on inputs and wages; and will provide direct and indirect employment.

Despite lobbying by investors, the government also determines that employment conditions will be regulated to ensure that workers get a decent deal; and that stringent environmental standards will be applied to minimise water and energy waste, and to maintain the quality of water in the lake. Lobbying by civil society means an additional benefit is included into the policy, under which a percentage of the water royalties are dedicated by law to local service provision in the communities surrounding the lake, on priorities to be agreed with community members.

So the new policy is designed to meet at least three of the core outcomes of peace-conducive economic development: decent livelihoods, revenue and services, and sustainability.

Examining the policy proposal through the lens of our framework we can see that it is primarily designed to change the make-up of the economy, by taking advantage of suitable and land water resources. Further analysis indicates the need for human capital development – i.e. training for employees, and for government employees who will be involved in monitoring water use and in the export chain (customs, etc.). Infrastructure development will also be needed to ensure that fresh produce can be reliably exported on a regular basis.

The high value horticulture projects expected to be developed as a result of the policy will not surprisingly interact significantly with aspects of the political economy. The civil war was between two main ethnic groups now in a power-sharing agreement negotiated by the UN: one drawn largely from traditionally pastoralist/fishing communities, the other dominated by farmers, and the latter group is also dominant in government. The lake is in a traditionally pastoral region, but the main investors are members of the ‘farming’ tribe who are closely allied with senior government figures. There are opposing interests at stake (access to the lake shore for pastoralists versus export-oriented farmers). Government figures allied with the investors have an incentive to assist ‘their own’ people. While the less powerful pastoralist tribe’s representatives in government may have personal incentives to make a deal with their fellow ministers, this is in tension with a competing incentive to support the interests of their fellow pastoralists, who badly need continued access to the lake shores. This latter is in keeping with their values, while the government – and the dominant ethnic group – ostensibly espouses the combined values of economic growth and peace.

Critically, to complete this admittedly over-simplified political economy analysis, the institutions available to mediate the tensions between these groups are inadequate: the power-sharing government is based on an externally negotiated peace agreement, and is not underpinned by historically tested governance traditions or systems; and the strongest institutions currently are those operating within each of the two ethnic groups, rather than between them. So the opportunity to resolve the tensions between the competing interests within the pastoral tribe is greater than the opportunity to resolve the competing interests between the investors and the pastoralists.

This is a hypothetical case, so there is no “outcome” to relate. But it is easy to see how, given the opportunity of the peace agreement, and in the absence of the right leadership and analysis, this policy might end up contributing significantly to economic development but not to peace. Indeed, it has all the potential to be conflict-insensitive and to undermine peace, locally or even more widely.

With good leadership and analysis, on the other hand, the potential of the lake, combined with export markets and the right technical and managerial expertise could make a significant contribution to peaceful economic improvement. If the opportunity were carefully and slowly taken to contrive a system whereby the governance of lake water access was amended to integrate export investors and government alongside the pastoralists, while avoiding giving any group too much power, then improved institutions mediating between different interest groups, and between them and the state would have been created. Meanwhile if the investors were incentivised to ensure that jobs and other opportunities were made available to local community men and women, and sufficient training were provided; and to ensure that the market and export infrastructure took account of fish and livestock exports as well as fresh produce, then economic benefits and relationships could all be improved, further strengthening local peace.

This goes beyond mere conflict-sensitivity and if defined and implemented with a view to contributing to peace through appropriately designed economic development, could be a good example of promoting peace-conducive economic development.

4. Plan

Once the project analysis has been done, pathways through which to achieve the peaceful prosperity outcomes are defined. This is obviously something which has to be done in ways which involve all stakeholders, to ensure buy-in but also that the plans take sufficient account of their interests.  

5. Implementation, adaptation and evaluation

The project is then implemented, with continuous participatory monitoring to ensure that assumptions about the political economy were sound, and that the intended outcomes for peace and economic development are being achieved as planned. Where necessary, as the results unfold, plans need to be adapted, so mechanisms for this needs to be built into the planning. Lessons learned also need to be shared so they can be taken into account in other projects and policies. By engaging a wide variety of stakeholders in such exercises – politicians, communities, media, etc. – the idea of peace-with-prosperity gains popular and political currency, as well as a very practical understanding.

[i] Robert Simons. The Business of Business Schools: Restoring a Focus on Competing to Win. Capitalism and Society, Volume 8, Issue 1, Article 2, 2013

[ii] Milton Friedman. 1970. The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970.

[iii] Creating Shared Value, by Michael E. Porter & Mark R. Kramer. From the January 2011 Issue of Harvard Business Review.

[iv] International Alert, 2006. Local Business, Local Peace: the peacebuilding potential of the domestic private sector.

Are ISIS seeking the very reaction they are getting?

February 17, 2015

How hard it is to counter violent extremism which holds up marginalisation and victimisation as raison d’être – and now, in the case of ISIS, as raison d’état. Seeing the news about Egypt’s bombardment of Libya last night, I recalled something I wrote on this blog eighteen months ago with regard to Syria. My point then was that Al Qaeda – today I guess I would have written ISIS –  surely wanted nothing more as a reaction to its atrocities, than that the forces of the West would align even more closely with the repressive regimes in the Middle East from under which they emerged.

So they must be ecstatic today, seeing Cairo, Amman and Riyadh and others line up with Washington, Western Europe and their allies – including Israel, or course – to fight them. The relatively repressive measures being implemented against some Muslim youth in western democracies are presumably the painting-by-numbers response to the Islamic terrorist threat which the terrorist strategists sought. But they are of course as nothing, in human rights terms, when compared with the actions taken by the hated regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere in the region against people they see as a threat to their stability. And all this will be held up as proof – QED! – that the unrighteous leaders of these countries remain enemies of true Islam, hand-in-glove with the crusaders.

Easy to say and harder to do, but this is why the West and its allies have to take a long-term and comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of violent extremism. The argument for “softer”, upstream measures which can in the longer term help stem the disaffection and alienation which is the true recruiting sergeant of ISIS is not the woolly liberal peacebuilder’s argument as painted by some commentators. It is the rational strategic response to a very simple ‘vanguardist’ strategy Lenin would surely have recognised all too clearly, in which the vanguard forces those in power to behave exactly how the revolutionaries have painted them.

Of course force is needed to counter force, and a coalition must deliver that. But in the meantime other coalitions – of parents, civil society, business, politicians, and social and religious leaders – must come together to stem the causes of alienation by ensuring that young people are listened to, have jobs and the opportunity to make their lives.

And as a start, perhaps we should take a leaf from Orwell’s book and use a more accurate terminology. We don’t just need a strategy to ‘counter terrorism’, nor ‘counter violent extremism'; nor even one which merely ‘counters extremism’. Surely what we need is a more positive approach which neutralises and avoids alienation by engaging with young people on their own terms as members of society and the creators of their peaceful and productive future.


A framework for peace-conducive economic development

February 10, 2015

In my previous post, I suggested five ways in which change happens, of relevance to those trying to harness economic development for peace. This is something I am exploring as I write an International Alert report on peace-conducive economic development. That still leaves open the question of how to define a ‘peace-conducive economy’, and how to promote progress towards it? Clearly, simply ensuring economic improvement in a conflict-affected context does not automatically increase peace, as some economic development promoters used to – or perhaps still – believe. So what are the broad indicators of the kind of economic development which motivates people to act peacefully, resolving their conflicts without violence, and in which the presence of positive peace enables economic improvement in a virtuous circle? From the literature and experience, I suggest peace-conducive economic development can be recognised by four broad outcome indicators:

  • Decent livelihoods. People are gainfully employed in decent work (whether self-employed or employed by others) – i.e. they earn sufficient income to live with dignity, and are treated with equality and dignity while working. By this we mean they are not treated in an inhuman or degrading way; that nobody ‘owns’ another person or can force them to work under threat of punishment. Decent livelihood opportunities need to be both available and fairly accessible, so exclusion is minimised, and mobility maximised.
  • Capital. People are able to own and accumulate economic assets securely, both to provide them with a cushion in time of need, to improve their income, and to invest in and improve the economy; and to do so in a way which is fair to others. As with livelihoods, the access to such opportunities needs to be fair. Capital may be individually or jointly owned and managed, even by the community or the state in the case of welfare safety nets.
  • Revenue. The state collects sufficient revenue, and invest it to provide the infrastructure and services needed for the economy and peace to flourish, and to do so fairly and strategically, with both economic growth and strengthening peace as explicit policy intentions.
  • Sustainability. Economic development enhances or at least avoids damaging the environment, and enhances or at least avoids undermining peace-positive attributes in society.

In other words, a society – writ large or small – is more likely to prosper and promote stability and peace, when people have more or less equal access to livelihood opportunities sufficient for their needs, and can plan for and protect themselves from future shocks, and safely invest in improving their own economic condition and in growing the economy of which they are a part; when government is able to provide services and infrastructure; and when the social and physical environment is not being degraded and made less productive or conducive to people’s welfare.


model feb 10

More important perhaps, is the question: what makes these four outcomes of a peaceful economy more likely? In other words, what are the underlying features of a peacefully prosperous environment?  Drawing broadly on the literature and our own experience, I have sketched a generic framework to explain this, as shown on the right. This identifies seven mutually interacting levers of change, i.e. arenas in which promoters of economic development can identify ways to integrate peace into their policies, strategies and projects. These are:

  • The overall make-up of the economy: Different countries and zones have different economies, defined by history and geography as well as the other factors in this model. Variables include import/export balance; openness; strength of consumer demand; diversity; proportions of primary, secondary and services sectors; peasant vs. commercial farming; vulnerability to supply chain or market risks.
  • Human capital: The capacity and capability of individuals and groups, and society as a whole to make economic and social progress through the application of spirit, knowledge and skills.
  • Relationships: Functional relationships across and between societies enable communication and foster predictability and trust; which in turn underpins functional relationships.
  • Justice: The availability of formal and informal mechanisms, based on clear a priori rules, for avoiding and adjudicating disputes, and punishing those who break rules and norms. Justice relies on the predictable production and execution of judgements by authorised parties; and in this predictability resides its preventive power.
  • Security: The degree to which individuals, families, communities and organisations are and feel safe, now and in the foreseeable future. Security is a function of service provision by state and other providers, individual and group capacity, and of the strength and quality of social norms, relationships and social capital.
  • Infrastructure: The existence of and access to an enabling physical infrastructure, especially in terms of energy, communications and transport, and essential services such as health facilities and schools.
  • Capital including land: The opportunity to accumulate or borrow financial capital for investment, and/or to acquire the rights to use land for an economic purpose.

These swim in a sea defined by the political economy (i.e. the sum of interactions between values, incentives, interests and institutions), which influences them and is in turn influenced by them – hence a good understanding of the political economy is essential in determining which of the levers can be shifted, and how far.

As I develop this, I’d be interested to hear from both peacebuilders and economic development promoters if this framework makes any sense as a lens through which to plan and judge economic development which proactively aims to be conducive for sustained peace.


How peace gets stronger in society

January 28, 2015

I am writing an International Alert report about how peacebuilding can be more routinely and effectively integrated into economic development, for publication in mid-year. I.e. going beyond conflict-sensitive business practice, to promote peace-conducive economic policy and economic activities. I plan to publish a few blog posts over the next few weeks related to this, and am particularly interested in feedback, challenge, ideas and examples for the report. In this post, I summarise five ‘lessons learned’ which seem particularly relevant to this subject. Very interested in your comments and feedback, either posted here or to, for which, thanks in advance.

Some of Alert’s learning about how change happens in fragile societies can be captured in terms of five broad lessons of relevance to anyone seeking to embed peacebuilding within economic development:

  • Change is indirect, multi-dimensional and incremental
  • Sustainable significant change often implies changes in the political economy
  • Many important changes happen from the particular to the general, rather than vice versa
  • The importance of opportunities and opportunism…
  • … and of leadership and agency.

1. Change is indirect, multi-dimensional, and incremental

Important changes happen indirectly, making it hard to plan long-term processes of change with confidence. To add to the complexity, the implications of actions in one area or sector spill over readily into others; and of course not only is progress non-linear, but is also liable to checks and reverses.

For example the enactment of a land reform law intended to open land access to wider sections of society leads to violent local responses on the part of landowners against those newly entitled to land, or their co-option of political leaders into a land-owning cabal to neutralise the new law. This turn increases the rate of urbanisation, which supports industrialisation, but also the prevalence of gang-dominated political economies in new urban areas. This in turn favours improved citizen-engagement by newly-urban populations wanting to reduce levels of violence, and so in the longer run contributes to improved governance, the re-capture of the monopoly of violence by an increasingly accountable state, and increased stability and prosperity.

This game of development snakes and ladders makes planning hard. But it also shows that change is incremental, and that one can recognise specific and simpler steps forward within larger, complex causal networks. These, at least, can be planned and implemented.

2. Sustainable significant change often implies changes in the political economy

For significant changes to be sustainable within society (at whatever scale), tends to require actual changes in the way power is held and resources are allocated, and thus in the spheres of institutions, values, interests and incentives.

Changes to governance systems in Mali through the decentralisation project of the 1990s are now seen not to have increased accountability and responsiveness as intended, because budgets were not genuinely decentralised institutionally; the locus of local decisions over important local resources such as land was never really moved to the new system, hence there was no interest or incentive for local power holders to take account of it; and thus the value of democratic accountability and responsiveness was neither felt nor embraced (indeed, was probably undermined). On the other hand, the economic incentives provided to the elite in parts of eastern Europe linked to accession to the EU, provided genuine incentives to adopt changed economic practices and institutions which later became open to others, in what remains a work in progress.

However, trying to ‘change the political economy’ directly is probably a fool’s errand – or at least a mission reserved for risk-taking political leaders seizing rare historic moments of opportunity. Political economies do change, but they usually evolve rather than undergo major disruptions, because of the power of incumbency, or because new incumbents exploit the system which ‘works’, rather than trying to change it. When the features of the political economy do change, it is as a response to changed circumstances which require adaptations to incentives, interests, values and institutions in order for the powerful to retain and use their power. Thus theories of change in the political economy need to identify the changes in circumstances which may lead to these adaptations.

3. Many important changes happen from the particular to the general, rather than vice versa

Despite the grand language of political science, and the tendency among some politicians, economic developers and peacebuilders to define their ambitions in terms writ large, important changes often happen at first at a relatively narrow or granular scale, and are later generalised.  It is well documented that communities demanding more control of their affairs, or civil society demanding a voice, can be a more sustainable mechanism for systemic political change, than a top-down ‘decentralisation’ process or the formal recognition of the role of NGOs.  Work on a specific economic sector or sub-sector – or even a particular project in a particular locality – if promoted in a way conducive to peace, can have knock-on impacts on other sectors through systemic change.

4. The importance of opportunities and opportunism…

Moments occur which are propitious for change, and these are opportunities for progress, provided they are seized and good leadership is engaged. The risks of conflict associated with the arrival of a large mining or oil project in a fragile context, for example, are well-known, and can be illustrated with many examples: the experience of conflict linked to oil production in Nigeria’s Delta over many years is probably the best known.

On the other hand, the arrival of a large mining or other economic project, with multiple stakeholders and potential winners and losers, can also serve as an opportunity to demonstrate good governance, since the project itself needs such a high degree of participatory governance, to succeed. By engaging multiple stakeholders and respecting their interests, those leading such a project can create an experience of participation and win-win compromise which may be relatively rare in the context, and improved relationships among citizens and between citizen, state and economic actors which can be built upon for other governance purposes.

Likewise, new technologies, the end of a period of violent conflict or reconstruction after a natural disaster represent opportunities to use or test new approaches. It has been suggested that the response to the pacific tsumani disaster in 2004 contributed positive progress for peace in the long-running civil war in Aceh, but the opposite in Sri Lanka, because of different approaches and different circumstances. Likewise the unexpected death of a political figure can provide opportunities; or a change in external circumstances. Changes in drugs policy in Europe or the USA could have a significant impact on the political economy, incomes, access to land, and other factors in drug producing nations affected by conflict.

5. … and of leadership and agency

Finally, and despite the preceding paragraph, leadership and agency are also essential in determining when changes happen, and the nature of those changes; and can be critical in harnessing opportunities to progressive ends.

This might be done by politicians and government, as in the case of structural changes to the rural economy underway in Rwanda, designed to promote economic growth and long-term stability; by businesses, as in the development of roads and the fair allocation of jobs by investors; by civil society activists promoting local livelihoods, education, etc.; or by international agencies operating within the country in question; or by international actions with cross-border impacts, such as the implementation of anti-money laundering measures or moves to legalise drugs. Despite concerns about ‘doing-no-harm’, and the complexities and limits of cause-and-effect models, the role of progressive agency remains critical, at whatever level or scope.


Much of the foregoing appears to render ‘theories of change’ very limiting and limited as ways to think about progress, unless they are either very short term and project-based, or contain multiple possible scenarios of cause-and-effect, and remain under regular review. Despite the best intentions of Karl Marx, the whig historians, and Francis Fukuyama with his End of History, there is no room for a teleological perspective in either economic development nor peacebuilding: both peace and economic development require a combination of circumstance and agency.

One final point here: despite what I have said above, people want the changes they want, and as soon as possible. So one of the important elements for promoters of peace-conducive economic development to bear in mind is the need to seek short-term changes which are reasonably progressive in delivering sufficient dividends to new beneficiaries, and seem like incremental steps in the right direction, while maintain a sufficient flow of benefits to incumbents and enabling further change to occur, as in the following diagram.

three outcomes


Seizing the new opportunity for peacebuilding in Sri Lanka

January 26, 2015

Now that we’ve had a little time to digest the democratic ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa by Maithripala Sirisena as president of Sri Lanka on 8th January, what are the peacebuilding opportunities and challenges?

Rajapaksa’s regime was effective in many ways: it had defeated the twenty-five year Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebellion in a crushing military victory in 2009; it implemented a great deal of infrastructure improvement, including in the war-ruined north; attracted much inward investment from elsewhere in the region; and improved living conditions for the growing middle class.

But its manner of governing proved its undoing. The Rajapaksa family circle dominated not just the reins of government, but also large swathes of the economy, seeming far more corrupt than earlier regimes. The cost of living rose sharply recently, partly as a result of the government taking out huge foreign loans – some of which were transparently used to promote the family’s economic and political interests. President Rajapaksa’s governing clique was closely allied to Sinhala Buddhist hardliners, and he did little to foster reconciliation with the ‘defeated’ Tamil minority, while allowing new conflicts with Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority to be stoked. His modernisation agenda paid scant attention to the needs of tens of thousands of poor families whose homes were razed to make way for new economic projects; and the new infrastructure built in the post-war north was designed with little involvement of the people living there, who were simply expected to take it or leave it. Human rights violations allegedly committed during the final stages of the civil war, and afterwards, were not investigated. A common popular comment on his rule was that “he simply went too far” – and this is also given as one of the reasons why security forces and political allies refused to go along with the coup he is alleged to have attempted, when he realised he would lose the election.

President Sirisena is popularly known by his nickname “Maithri”, or “blessings”, but we should be careful not to expect too much. In a political system known for shifting loyalties, the strength of his power-base will be determined by the parliamentary elections due in April; he may not show his full hand until after then, for political reasons. The coalition which he led in the presidential elections includes a variety of unnatural bedfellows, all of whom must be satisfied. And the margin of his victory was small, with 51.3% of the vote. While in a nice piece of symbolism he was sworn into office by a Tamil judge, and he has promised to rebalance the political institutions in favour of the judiciary and parliament, and to investigate alleged human rights violations by the state, it is not clear how far he will go in promoting much-needed national reconciliation. Although he won the election largely on an anti-corruption ticket, it will be hard to root out the corruption which is endemic in the political system; or to hold together a wide coalition without allowing some members to ‘benefit from power’.

I have written before about how political systems and political cultures tend to be resilient to change. Ironically, even though he is not personally from a political elite background, the natural result of President Sirisena’s election could eventually be a restoration of the pre-Rajapaksa status quo, in which a narrow elite political class ran Sri Lanka in a way which allowed its members to retain their political and economic dominance while providing technocratic government but failing to resolve political issues like the need for nation building and inter-community reconciliation, and the need for jobs for young people; nor to prevent a 25-year civil war. If that were to be the case, there are risks of more instability and insecurity down the road.

Expectation management will be key, and beyond that from a peacebuilding perspective, it therefore seems critical to seize this opportunity to:

  • Open up government to as much transparency as possible
  • Prevent conflicts and promote reconciliation between Tamils and Sinhalese, and with Muslims
  • Increase the genuine power of local government, so that people can participate better in decisions which affect them
  • Create a policy environment which supports economic opportunity for young people from all groups
  • Support the emergence locally and nationally of young leaders from diverse backgrounds who are committed and have the talents and skills to promote a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka – the next generation of politicians.

Making SDG #16 work for peace

December 10, 2014

This article, written in August, was included in the UK UN Association’s recent publication Global Development Goals: Partnerships for Progress


The proposed SDGs are no substitute for an activist, context-based approach to development. But they represent a marked improvement on the MDGs, not least by the recognition that development is meaningless unless it includes human security, governance, inclusion, justice and peace. So all development activists should aim to integrate these in their initiatives. Fortunately, this is relatively simple, as almost all of the more than 150 proposed sub-goals are connected to goal #16. Thus, progress on goal #16 will be achieved not only by specialists in peace, justice, security and governance, but by all development actors, provided they take it seriously into account.


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were too narrow, and they undervalued the political aspects of development in favour of more technical issues. They also failed to recognise that development processes are context-specific, and cannot be defined from a vantage point in New York. Despite their unstrategic nature, in the absence of a clear alternative they became for many the default narrative of what “development” looks like, and acted as a set of perverse incentives.

The Open Working Group’s (OWG’s) proposal partly addresses these problems. It is broader than the MDGs, and it accepts that “development” will look different in every context, and must be led by the people and countries concerned, within a system of global cooperation and partnerships.

Crucially, the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise the importance of peace, good governance, justice and security – critical building blocks of human progress which are glaringly absent from the MDGs – in goal #16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

But the proposal fails to lay out an overall narrative of what “development” actually means: it reads as an incoherent list of seventeen goals and over 150 subsidiary targets sparkling like as many coloured lights festooning a Christmas tree. This is particularly relevant here because without an overall narrative, the issues included in goal #16 appear to have been somewhat marginalised. Surely any student of history would allow that peace, governance, justice and security represent more than one-seventeenth of the story – i.e. deserve more attention than merely being thrown together to make one out of seventeen goals?

The OWG also failed design a system in which the SDGs can provide incentives for positive change, built around carrots and sticks and based on subsidiarity, i.e. the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, doing only what cannot be done effectively at a more local level. Incentives for change are especially important for goal #16, to encourage powerful incumbents to adopt more inclusive and accountable governance – which might undermine their access to power.

Justice, good governance, security and peace do not lend themselves to short-term goals and targets. The English took seven centuries to progress from Magna Carta, which provided for habeas corpus and limited the power of the king in 1215, to universal adult suffrage in 1928. Certainly things are moving faster nowadays, and England’s is not the path to follow, but progress on goal #16 will inevitably be linked to changes in the political economy, which are seldom linear. Nor is progress on peace, justice, security and good governance made in the abstract, rather in relation to factors included elsewhere in the SDGs: this provides an important clue as to how to operationalise goal #16.

With all this in mind, how might goal #16 be used, and by whom? Broadly, I would suggest five mutually supportive pathways for this.

  1. Activists

Reducing violence, promoting the rule of law, combating corruption and bribery, building effective institutions, ensuring responsive and inclusive decision-making, ensuring public access to information, and promoting non-discriminatory laws and policies…. These kinds of targets can only be achieved by the efforts of activists in the countries concerned, i.e. people in politics, the civil service, civil society or business who are committed to change. They can:

  • Use their government’s commitment to goal #16, in public and private advocacy, as a reference against which to monitor and encourage progress
  • “Domesticate” goal #16, by formulating strategies which make sense in the national and local context, and develop locally relevant indicators and milestones against which these can be publicly measured and used for accountability
  • Collaborate with and seek support from outsiders: such as peers seeking similar changes in other countries, and international agencies with relevant expertise.
  1. Businesses and others associated with economic projects

Economic growth is partly achieved through investment projects which need careful governance if they are to avoid having negative impacts on human security, justice and peace – especially in land- and natural resource-based sectors. So they provide concrete opportunities to enhance governance, security, peace and justice, on issues which matter to a diverse range of stakeholders. Businesses, governments and civil society can promote popular participation in planning and execution; ensure benefits are transparently and genuinely shared and reinvested; and that communities are protected from harm. Given the international nature of many economic sectors, there is an important role for international institutions to play here too – for example the UN Global Compact and the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights.

  1. International development institutions integrating goal #16 into their programmes

International development institutions – the International Finance Institutions, the UN, donors and NGOs – will continue to focus the bulk of their efforts on the other sixteen goals. Initiatives focused on social protection, food security, climate change, health, education, water and sanitation, etc. are linked to goal #16, and can be implemented in ways which either enhance or diminish peace, security and governance. From the location of a community well, through the management of schools and the elaboration of education curriculums, to national health policies: all need to be well-governed, and designed and implemented conflict-sensitively, with explicit and careful strategies for social inclusion. Thus all “development” actors can integrate goal #16 into their strategic assessments, project designs, and evaluation frameworks.

  1. International institutions monitoring progress

While most interventions will be initiated and conducted in specific countries and localities, international bodies have a critical role to play by:

  • Conducting empirical research to measure the changes taking place, comparing these with the published strategies, and publishing the results internationally and nationally so they can be used to hold governments and others to account, and to adapt strategies where necessary
  • Building up an international dataset showing how progress towards peace, justice, security, inclusion and better governance happens – a narrative of change – and sharing this widely.
  1. Governments, international institutions and other international actors collaborating on supra-national issues

The progress made in international peacekeeping and peacebuilding in the past few decades must to continue: the UN, regional blocs and informal groupings of nations must continue to seek ways to reduce the risk of intra- and inter-state war and to intervene more effectively and earlier to prevent it, and to end it when it occurs. Meanwhile, many of the structural factors enabling violence, corruption, poor governance, etc. are international in nature, and require an international response, often through international institutions and agreements. International institutions play a particularly important role providing leadership, knowledge and solidarity, and enforcing norms, for example on human trafficking, money laundering, drug and arms trade, and all forms of organised crime; as well as in holding licit businesses to common, high standards of behaviour.


The proposed SDGs are no substitute for an activist, context-based approach to development. But they represent a marked improvement on the MDGs, not least by the recognition that development is meaningless unless it includes human security, governance, inclusion, justice and peace. So all development activists should aim to integrate these in their initiatives. Fortunately, this is relatively simple, as almost all of the more than 150 proposed sub-goals are connected to goal #16. Thus, progress on goal #16 will be achieved not only by specialists in peace, justice, security and governance, but by all development actors, provided they take it seriously into account.



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