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How Economic Growth can contribute to Peace in Uganda

August 24, 2016

Much remains to be done to invest in peace and prosperity in Uganda. Provided the will is there, plenty can be done to build stability and peace, as an integral part of building economic growth. The need for new oil infrastructure is one opportunity to do so.

(A version of this article also appears on International Alert’s website. )

Conflict is born of unresolved differences, and violent conflict is when these get out of hand. This happens when the mechanisms for managing and resolving differences and conflicts are overwhelmed. Ugandans experienced this almost continuously from Independence in 1962, until 2006 when the Lord’s Resistance Army left Uganda to inflict its mayhem, pain and sorrow elsewhere in central Africa.

Since then the government, NGOs, religious and cultural leaders, international agencies and others have implemented many peace and reconciliation programmes, especially focused on northern Uganda, the last part of the country to be pacified. These have included reintegration projects for ex-rebels and their ex-captives, amnesties, inter- and intra-community dialogues and ceremonies, trauma healing, post-conflict investment in human capital and infrastructure development, local government capacity-building, and helping thousands of war-displaced people return home. Nevertheless, there is still a great deal of peacebuilding to do.

But ten years on, people have had enough of peacebuilding. Civil war has not returned. Neither the government nor its international partners are keen to keep harping back to the difficult past. Reminding people of the violence and unrest Ugandans have lived through does little to inspire confidence in potential investors, and the focus is now much more on ‘development’ than on post-conflict reconciliation and recovery. Dealing with the past requires examining the underlying causes of conflict, and because Uganda’s wars were strongly linked to communal disagreements and mistrust, which have not necessarily been resolved or overcome, many feel that now is not the time to bring these formally to the surface, for fear they create new tensions which are so powerful they may overwhelm the capacity to address them. Fair enough, perhaps. Anything for a quiet life.

Underlying conflicts persist

And yet, many conflicts persist, even if they are not expressed through widespread violence. Land is scarce in many parts, especially the south-west, and land-poor families have been migrating to other parts of Uganda for years. And yet land is hardly less scarce in many of the districts in which they have settled, and their arrival has often upset delicately balanced land-use and local political systems, such as for the co-management by farmers and pastoralists. Result: mistrust and local conflicts, sometimes violent – local stresses are overwhelming the capacity to manage them.

Meanwhile the famous north-south division persists as a political and conflict trope, as it has for decades, alongside other identity-based tensions. Result: an uneasy coexistence. This is not at present overcoming Uganda’s conflict management systems and mechanisms as it has so often in the past. But these underlying tensions are not being addressed, and could become inflamed again in the right circumstances, for example if exacerbated by problems over access to land or other resources.

Uganda’s population is overwhelmingly young – 78% under the age of 30 – with a high rate of unemployment. Young people are increasingly dissatisfied with their lot and what they see as poor prospects for their future, and many don’t feel their issues are being heard, much less addressed, by the government; yet despite voting for opposition candidates in increasing numbers, are frustrated by the lack of change. Nor are the traditional mechanisms for mediating between the interests and needs of young and old working as they used to, to maintain order and stability in many communities. Result: increasing levels of frustration, tension and unrest in cities, often attracting violent – seemingly disproportionate – responses from the security forces which merely serve to increase the tension.

President Museveni’s Movement Party has remained in office continuously since it won power in 1986 following a civil war, and appears to be using increasingly aggressive tactics and the resources of the state to retain control, undermining people’s faith in democracy in a country which has never yet seen a change in national leadership through elections, and therefore where it is easy for people to believe power is being consolidated beyond their ability to have any influence by democratic means. Result: increasing alienation from and dissatisfaction with Ugandan democracy as a method of having one’s voice heard, and thus the risk some people may seek other approaches to do so.

Meanwhile, unhealed trauma from the years of war in Uganda continue to undermine too many individuals’, families’ and communities’ attempts to make progress in their lives. Result: dysfunctional relationships, a sense of lingering grievance, and a mistrust of the status quo.

Peacebuilding remains a priority

These are just some of the conflicts and stresses present in Uganda, and likely to persist, potentially contributing to instability. And further stresses will surely be added in coming years. The long process of developing Uganda’s oil resources appears to be getting closer to the production phase. A refinery is to be built in Hoima, along with an international airport close by, a huge network of roads and other ancillary infrastructure, and a pipeline to the Indian Ocean through Tanzania. The process has been slow enough so far, but it’s common to hear in Kampala’s bars that the president is determined that the oil will start to flow as soon as possible during his current term (due to end in 2021).  Once oil does flow – and further deposits are expected to found as exploration continues – vast new wealth will enter the economy – no-one knows for sure how much, but some are saying that oil revenues will boost annual GDP growth rates to 10% within a few years, and could propel Uganda to Middle Income status by 2040. The economy is therefore heading for disruptive change – in a context where corruption is widely accepted to be rife at every level, with bribes, kick-backs and other acts of fraud from the petty to the grand scale. So, Ugandans will experience massive change and disruption – putting yet more stress on inadequate governance systems –  even as some of the changes many Ugandans wish and expect to see are not happening. Tensions could spill out of control.

And in the meantime, both the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Allied Democratic Forces – two rebel groups with their roots and origins in Uganda – remain active in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) respectively, with no apparent plan to bring either rebellion to a peaceful end. This reflects that conflicts in the region are often uncontained by porous national borders: Uganda is affected by conflict and instability in DRC and South Sudan and the consequent proliferation of light weapons (a recent report  claims Uganda has over 400,000 unregistered guns).

So those people and institutions for whom the era of peacebuilding is now over should perhaps think again. The alarming return to armed violence in Mozambique in recent years – after the peace process was widely considered to have been successful – is one among many reminders of the need to take nothing for granted. But there is no reason why violent conflict should be allowed to return in Uganda, provided Ugandans and their international partners continue to invest in increasing resilience to the kinds of stresses which can engender violence.

This means it’s important to make sure that public and political discourse explicitly recognises the need to invest in peacebuilding – so mistrust and dissatisfaction are not pushed into darker recesses where they can fester. More public discussion and debate – locally and nationally – about how to achieve the vision of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Uganda benefiting all, would therefore be welcome.

Building peace by other means

Nevertheless, I recognise that many prefer to focus on prosperity – and fortunately, they too can make a difference for peace. As International Alert pointed out in the report Peace through Prosperity last year, there are many ways to do so, provided business and other economic initiatives factor peace and stability objectives into their plans, alongside economic goals. The oil sector provides many opportunities for this. As Alert argued in the seminal report about oil in Uganda in 2009, it is critical the oil sector is developed as transparently as possible, under excellent political leadership, and that the opportunities which oil provides to manage and resolve Uganda’s various existing conflicts are seized. What might this look like over the next few years?

Infrastructure for peace and democracy

All decisions about new infrastructure have the potential to inflame or help resolve conflicts. The recent decision to opt for the southern pipeline route, over a northern alternative, has predictably fed pre-existing accusations that Northern Uganda  is somehow losing out on infrastructure investment – nourishing the North-South conflict trope. So it’s important to explain in as much detail as possible why the decision was taken, providing as much background data as possible to allow critics to review, debate and understand the rationale. This, surely, is also an opportunity to reinforce the notion that oil is part of the patrimony of the Ugandan nation, no matter where it is found – hence 94% of oil royalties accrue to the central state, with only 6% remaining in the producing areas – and ensure that all parts of the country benefit from improved infrastructure, whether or not linked it is directly to oil.

Since all decisions about new infrastructure will benefit some and disadvantage others, it is vital that enough time and effort is invested in local discussion and transparent decision-making, reflecting as far as possible the views and interests of those affected (and explaining why some of those interests can’t be met). All infrastructure decisions have implications for land, in an environment where primary production prevails, and access to and ownership of land is thus of prime political and economic moment. Imagine what might happen if recent migrants or land purchasers from outside an area turned out to be the main beneficiaries of compensation pay-outs when land was needed for a pipeline or a new road…  But alternatively, how beneficial it could be to local inter-community relations if all communities were brought into the discussions about potential routes, and the infrastructure designers opted for a route which served all communities more or less equally, as well as providing the access needed for the oil industry. Even if this meant taking a longer route, costing more, it would contribute not only economically but also to building trust and local peace – peacebuilding through infrastructure development…

If cynicism about democratic governance is an issue for stability and peace, as I suggested earlier, this too can be addressed as part of infrastructure development. Democracy is not just about holding elections every few years. It also implies that all citizens are considered equally, and have a right to be consulted over matters which affect them. The disruption to people’s lives where new infrastructure is planned provides an opportunity for the government to put this principle into practice, and give people (in often remote areas) a chance to participate in and contribute to Uganda’s development while also having their interests and views taken into account, and thus internalise the idea that governance can work for them: for people of all ages, women as well as men, and people from different language groups. So an investment in genuinely participatory planning processes can not only help guide infrastructure development for economic reasons, and thus be a sensible way to proceed anyway, but also improve people’s sense of citizenship and their relationship with and trust in the state – an essential public good, and good for peace. 

And finally – for this article, though the list of opportunities for building peace through infrastructure could be far longer if space allowed – the next phase of oil sector development is a wonderful opportunity to start putting to bed the widespread and growing view that public funds benefit the few, not the many. Large scale corruption has either worsened or become more visible in recent years. Either way, the apparent prevalence of cronyism in access to economic opportunity such as in the award of contracts, along with more blatant theft and fraud of public funds, is creating a groundswell of dissatisfaction and grievance. Whether this is a sense of genuine moral outrage, or simply envy that only ‘others’ are benefiting, it is creating a sense of widely shared grievance that can feed instability. And so it is of critical importance that extra measures are taken to limit the scale of corruption linked to oil-related infrastructure – and that any suspicions are properly investigated and where necessary brought to justice.

 Much remains to be done to invest in peace and prosperity in Uganda. Provided the will is there, much can be done to build stability and peace, as an integral part of building economic growth.

The UK can be a force for peace, post-Brexit

July 22, 2016

As the UK heads towards Brexit, and reviews its place in, and relationships with, the wider world, it must not lose sight of its role in building peace. (A  version of this article appeared on the Guardian website, Friday 22 July 2016).

Despite understandable anxiety, suspicion, mistrust and fear of what the future holds today, British people are still pretty likely to be living, some years from now, in a democratically governed, prosperous and peaceful country. That is more than many citizens in other parts of the world, from Syria to parts of Mexico, can say. We need to keep things in perspective.

Conflict will be one of the most important issues of the coming decades, as demographic and environmental pressures, combined with the unmet expectations of growing numbers of dissatisfied people, place inadequate political institutions under stress. Inevitably, there is a risk of unrest, destabilisation and violence.

Peace is more likely when people have access to opportunities, security, justice, education and health, and feel that this access is fair and takes into account the will of the people. Incremental – often very local – progress can be made, even in the most difficult conditions, and the UK can use its generous aid budget to provide support, and show others how to do the same.

But there is much more we can do, to help improve the international prospects for peace. Last year, the UN commissioned a report on its role in peace-building, entitled the Challenge of Sustaining Peace. The study said that the UN had lost its way, and led to security council resolution 2282, which mandates the UN to rediscover its original role in sustaining peace.

This will not be easy, but the UK is well placed to support and shepherd the policy. It is a permanent security council member, a major financial contributor to the UN, an active promoter of Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace and the Responsibility to Protect, and its 2015 aid strategy identifies building peace as a top priority.

The UK can therefore do a great deal to back efforts to reform the UN, despite the obstacles that will be placed in its way by member states whose interpretation of their national interests means they are likely to block progress.

The recent election of Sweden – a country committed to peacebuilding – to the security council will give the UK a strong ally. The UK should also strengthen its political relationships with emerging economies – middle-income countries mainly in Asia and Latin America – which will be influential in determining the future of a liberal order.

The flow of migrants and refugees shows that borders don’t mean what they once did. During the next few years, the UN will need to revisit international conventions about what constitutes a refugee, and about how the global community can support those in need.

The UN will also – surely – have to accept that non-refugee migrants have a right to seek improved prospects away from their homes. The UK ought to have a strong voice in this debate, standing up for the disempowered by enshrining their rights in new conventions.

The UN is resistant to reform – sadly all of its departments would probably claim they are already playing enough of a peacebuilding role, rather than risk a loss of power and resources by conceding the need for more thorough reform. And this tendency will be exploited by, and exploit the fear among, member states that any commitment to a more sustained and (as they see it) interfering UN peacebuilding role, implies their own loss of sovereignty and agency with regard to conflicts within or near their borders.

Creating a modern vision of global citizenship to replace the migration and refugee conventions of a bygone era will be yet harder – as the EU’s political difficulties in dealing with migrants have shown.

The UK should take a lead not just in setting the terms of international debates, but through its own actions. This means taking in more refugees and reviewing the ways in which its own actions create or reduce the likelihood of instability elsewhere.

It is also time the UK reviewed and reset its relationships in the Middle East, where its support for harsh and unrepresentative regimes is surely storing up trouble.

This international position can be strengthened if we recognise the issues that divide communities in the UK and in other parts of the EU, such as inequality and marginalisation, and have a strong vision to address them.

The UK is most certainly not leaving either Europe or the international community. It must not duck out of playing its part in helping to build a more peaceful and prosperous world, whenever that becomes possible; nor of accepting that – just as leaving the EU will require major changes – the kinds of changes needed to do so, will often going against the grain of public opinion in the UK and of some our international partners. That is exactly why leadership is needed.

The UK must continue facing outwards during and after Brexit

July 5, 2016

Let’s not allow Brexit to distract us from other important things happening around the world. The UK still has a vital role to play. 

(This blog post also appears on

The UK is now on course to leave the European Union after the Brexit referendum vote just over a week ago. Plenty has already been written and said about why most people voted to leave. Suffice it here to say that oversimplification would be a mistake, and that the referendum gave people an opportunity to say many different things. Different people had different reasons for wanting the country to leave: a protest vote, a two-fingers to bankers and the metropolitan elite, a desire for more democracy, concerns about incomes, jobs, farming, fishing, immigration, housing, red tape, a delayed reaction to the de-industrialisation of thirty years ago… or perhaps a wish to bring back some version of the past they either recall, imagine they recall, or have read or heard about. These are not new issues, and only time will tell which of these wishes will be granted.

In the background is the idea that we have managed globalisation and liberalisation – progress, perhaps – poorly; that the move towards a more liberal, internationalist world in the past few decades has hurt vulnerable people economically and emotionally, and that not enough attention has been paid to mitigating or managing this. Too many people are excluded from the fruits of progress, therefore they do not see it as progress. Hence the sense in many parts of the world, that people want something different: nationalist politics and isolationism in the rich world, even as growing numbers of people in poorer countries vote with their feet to seek a better life elsewhere. And hence the sense of ‘greed and grievance’ causing conflicts: grievance on the part of the excluded and disempowered, and greed on the part of those wanting to protect and enhance their access to benefits in the status quo.

Meantime, our planet seems an increasingly threatening and threatened neighbourhood, with a troubling present and future in which economic and demographic trends are placing more and more stress on the natural environment and political institutions (often themselves in flux, thus weakened) which are too fragile to cope. Something has got to give, and we see evidence of this in war and crisis in the Middle East and Afghanistan, worrying behaviour by Russia in Ukraine, and China in the South China Seas; and more subtly but no less harmful for that, in countless other political, social and economic conflicts around the world, including chronic violence linked to poor governance and organised crime. It is salutary to recall that according to the World Bank, 1.5 billion people live in places affected by violent conflict, which threatens their human rights and holds them back from development progress.

So what are the implications of Brexit for the UK’s role as a force for peace in the world?

One inescapable outcome of the Brexit vote is that political, civil service, media and civil society attention in the UK, Brussels and other parts of the EU will be overwhelmingly focused on negotiating a new relationship between the UK and the EU, and then on unpicking the myriad threads of the existing relationship, and weaving new ones. This could take many years. Meanwhile, relationships between the UK, Brussels and other member states will be soured; as will some internal relationships within countries across Europe. The UK’s economy could be affected by uncertainty and volatility, even if it doesn’t, as widely expected, contract or flatline. People, families and communities will – at least for a time – lose out. We could see more tensions and conflicts between identity and economic groups. All this means, I fear, that the attention of the UK and its European partners will be focused overwhelmingly inwards; the world – including here in Europe – will be the poorer for it.

The importance of staying engaged

During the next few years, the UK must avoid turning inwards. Yes, it will have to put some of its best political and civil service talent on the task of negotiating and implementing Brexit. And yes, some of our best journalists and activists should monitor the process and hold them to account. But we need to remain focused on the rest of the world too, and our role in it.

The UK gets plenty wrong internationally: Iraq, Afghanistan, its uncritical support for dictators over the years, its willingness to sell arms to those who misuse them, its inability to help reduce the harm done by the international drugs trade through decriminalisation at home, and its unwillingness to accept more refugees from Syria, to name a few accusations which have been laid at its door.

But it also tries to get a lot right, in a complex world where the right course of action is not always obvious: e.g. its recent attempts to prevent money laundering and corruption, its generous aid programme, its leadership on many aspects of international development and humanitarian aid, its promotion of the Responsibility to Protect in the UN (R2P) and on climate change, and its excellent work promoting the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the International Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Dialogue (IDPS). Through aid, trade and diplomacy it is engaged in many fragile and war-affected countries, providing humanitarian assistance and helping to build post-conflict institutions and prevent further violence.

Despite fears for the post-Brexit future, the UK’s economy remains the world’s fifth largest, it is a permanent (P5) member of the UN Security Council and a G7 member, has some of the best universities in the world, plays a leadership role in the Commonwealth with 2.3 billion citizens, is a cultural and financial hub, hosts significant diasporas from everywhere in the world and members of more or less every religious group, has one of the most professional and most effective armed forces, and is home to some of the oldest institutions of capitalism and democracy – key components of the kind of political economy to which millions of people in non-democratic and non-capitalist contexts aspire.

So where next?

All this to reaffirm that the UK is a country with a great deal of opportunity to do good. Britons must avoid letting their interest in what happens next for themselves, get in the way of their interest and desire to help people elsewhere. After all, despite their understandable anxiety today, British people are still likely to be living, some years from now, in a democratically governed and prosperous UK not beset by chronic violence, unlike their counterparts in Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan or parts of India and Mexico. We need to keep things in perspective.

So what should UK politicians, media and civil society focus on, outside the inevitable bubble of Brexit which is set to dominate our TV screens and newspapers, and the conversations in pubs, homes, cafés and parliament, in the coming months and years? Here are a few suggestions.

The Middle East and North Africa

Since we are about to revise our relationship with the EU, it is surely also high time to think about revising our relationships in the Middle East.

These are artefacts of post-colonialism, the first and second World Wars, the Cold War, our unwillingness to let go of past power, and energy security policies of days gone by. We have backed ourselves into a corner in which we – as a fully paid-up member of the liberal ‘West’ – are in bed with the House of Saud and Wahhabist fundamentalists, maintaining repressive power in Saudi Arabia, and with a murderous and torturing military dictatorship in Egypt; are part of the coalition which ‘broke’ – and thus has a responsibility to help ‘fix’ – the political status quo in Iraq and Libya; and which helped create the space in which the murderous ISIS and its affiliates have flourished in the Levant and elsewhere.

The UK is part of the coalition fighting ISIS. But as every student of war and peace has always known, and as every informed commentator on the Middle East continues to make clear, the war against Islamic fundamentalist extremists will not be won by military violence alone. It will be won – though this may take many years – when the governance of the countries from which many ISIS militants emanate allows a greater political voice and economic opportunity, and ensures the safety and access to justice of all those who live there. Because of its historic and present day ties to many of those countries and their regimes, the UK has a role to play in supporting change – at the very least, by no longer supporting repression. Perhaps violent extremism of one kind or another will always be with us. But it can be much reduced by reducing grievances at their source, which is local, i.e. where those vulnerable to joining violent groups actually live.

The eastern neighbourhood

There is unfinished business in eastern and south-eastern Europe. The future development prospects for Turkey, Ukraine, the South Caucasus and Russia itself, are uncertain. The EU has not always done a good job at managing its part in this story, but it certainly has a role to play through its relationship with its eastern neighbours. If the UK is leaving the EU, it is not leaving Europe, nor NATO, so it’s important it does not duck out of playing its part in helping to rebuild a cooperative relationship with Russia wherever and whenever that becomes possible. And it must also continue to help countries in eastern parts of Europe – as far east as the Caucasus – build the kinds of institutions and economies which help them become stable, prosperous and confident. This will be harder now that the shine has come off the EU in the past few years, and will do again thanks to Brexit, in the eyes of people in countries like Georgia and Moldova where the initial cost of reforms encouraged by the EU is not negligible, thus where the cost-benefit analysis of such reforms may be recalculated in favour of the status quo. Perhaps this gives the UK – once it has left the EU – a new role as an independent, honest broker.

Maintaining a liberal, peaceful global order

Liberalism has taken a knock over past years, not least because it is associated with a globalisation which seems to ignore humans. But this is to mistake ‘neo-liberalism’ for simple liberalism. Liberalism is founded on four basic pillars:

  • A belief in progress which is beneficial to people across society;
  • The need for governmental and other institutions to manage the conflicts and differences which inevitably occur within and between societies, non-violently and fairly;
  • The need to prevent government becoming overweening or repressive;
  • Respect for the freedom of individuals, associations and communities.

All this is highly compatible with, indeed supportive of peace.

But liberalism obstructs certain interests, thus is constantly under threat, nationally and internationally and thus must be nurtured and sustained. The UK in general identifies with these liberal tenets, which are embedded in British society and institutions. It thus has an important role to play in defending and promoting them wherever they are weak or under threat – international systems and relations, as within individual polities. For the UK, this means using its influence in specific countries through bilateral diplomacy, aid and trade, and through the work of British NGOs. It also means supporting international institutions, especially the UN.

Last year the UN commissioned a report by an Advisory Group of Experts, on its role in peacebuilding: the Challenge of Sustaining Peace. This pointed out that the UN had lost its way, and led to Security Council Resolution 2282 which mandates the UN to rediscover its original role in sustaining peace. This will not be easy, but the UK as a permanent Security Council member, a major financial contributor to the UN, an active proponent of Sustainability Goal 16 on Peace and the R2P, and whose own 2015 Aid Strategy counts building peace among its top priorities, is well placed to support and shepherd this policy in the UN system. It must do so, despite the obstacles which will be placed in its way by member states whose interpretation of their national interests means they are likely to block progress. The recent election of Sweden – a country committed to peacebuilding – to the Security Council would give the UK a strong ally in this endeavour. The UK should also strengthen its political relationships with the second tier of ‘emerging economies’ – middle-income countries mainly in Asia and Latin America in particular – which will be influential in determining the future of a liberal order.

Meanwhile the refugee flows of recent years tell us that we now live in an era where borders simply don’t mean what they once did: all borders are porous, and international communications and travel are increasingly easy. During the next few years the UN will need to revisit international conventions about what constitutes a refugee, and about how the global community combines its resources as a responsible duty bearer to those in need of support. The UK ought to have a strong voice in this debate, standing up for the rights of the disempowered by enshrining their rights in new conventions setting out how they must be fulfilled in a new era. And making sure that people everywhere are not left behind and enjoy the fruits of progress.

Aid and international development

The UK has long played a leading role in international aid, and is one of the few rich nations to meet the target of giving 0.7% of Gross National Income as aid – over £12 bn this year. Spending this much money effectively is hard, and so the nation must perforce pay great attention to where and how it is spent, to what purpose, and what difference it actually makes. If parliamentarians and the media keep scrutinising how aid is spent, this will keep the public’s attention on the plight and challenges faced by people far away, rather than just on Brexit.

‘Development’ has become an impoverished concept – associated far too often with aid programmes, rather than with ‘progress’ or ‘human flourishing’ as it ought to be. The UK has been in the forefront of recent efforts to redefine development, and was a leading voice in crafting the SDGs, which set out a fairly comprehensive notion of progress.

Perhaps even more important from the point of view of a peacebuilding organisation, the UK helped craft the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs), which are a simple way to consider what progress could look like in fragile or conflict-affected countries: more legitimate and effective politics which take account of people’s needs across society, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, safety for all, fair access to justice, and the provision of fair and decent services.

Both of these normative frameworks – the SDGs and the PSGs – will inevitably be ignored, at least in part, by leaders whose people would benefit the most if they were observed. As a major donor and P5 member, the UK has an important role to play in sustaining and financing progress towards the SDGs and the PSGs. And as a major trading nation too, it can help promote the kind of fair, participatory economic growth combined with good governance which is needed to overcome the twin forces of greed and grievance which so often undermine peace. It is critical the UK continues its efforts to implement peacebuilding programmes as a priority in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

In addition, as a major shareholder of the World Bank and funder of so many other international development banks and multilaterals, the UK should continue promote their adoption of the kinds of development programming and lending which are most likely to contribute towards the PSGs in fragile contexts.

Climate change

The EU is rightly applauded for its lead in creating rules and norms to help reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change: this exploits one of the advantages of a large, liberal, single market. Perhaps the Brexit negotiations will maintain the UK’s membership of these schemes. But in any case, climate change is the ultimate international public good issue, in which greenhouse gases respect no boundaries, creating negative impacts for people wherever sea levels rise, storms become stronger and more frequent, rainfall is less predictable, and where the consequently increased competition for resources can lead to violence.

The UK – as a wealthy and long-term carbon emitter, and a member of the UN – has an important responsibility and role to play both in adopting and promoting carbon neutral technologies for energy generation, and in assisting affected communities to adapt in ways which minimise conflicts. This means maintaining an externally facing stance and recognising its membership of the global community trying to deal with climate change, not remaining focused only on its links to Europe.

… and back at home

 Finally, coming back to home: to the UK and other parts of the EU. After decades without war, there are more reasons to be concerned about conflicts within the EU now than there have been for years. Inequality was on the decline for many years after the Second World War, but this has been reversed. Conflicts which need to be managed and eventually resolved include those between:

  • Young people and old;
  • Various groups of alienated people and the authorities – e.g. between disaffected young Muslims and the state, and between alienated, impoverished ‘indigenous’ communities and the state;
  • Northern and southern countries within the EU;
  • Different nations within and between modern states;
  • Metropolitan and peripheral communities;
  • Different ethnic and religious communities co-existing locally, including those who have moved there from far away, or whose parents or grandparents did;
  • Gender and sexual identities: sexual and gender-based violence remains far too prevalent across Europe, belying the modern and sophisticated feel of European culture.

It’s important such conflicts do not become violent, and are resolved. UK politicians, media and civil society must pay more attention to creating an environment at home which is propitious to shared prosperity and tolerance; and in so doing to collaborate with their counterparts in the rest of Europe.

As Francis Fukuyama has said in The Origins of Political Order, liberal democracy is not the natural order of things and needs to be nourished, and although Western Europe’s democratic norms and systems are far from broken, despite the worries of today, we must do our utmost to reinvest in good, functional relationships among people and peoples, and between people and the state, in which all parties have an opportunity to listen to the others, and act so that, as the SDGs have it, “no-one is left behind”.

Britain and Europe can only be a force for good in the world, if they are at ease themselves.

It’s right to question aid, but better to focus on effectiveness, rather than the 0.7%

May 26, 2016

A version of this post is on Huffington Post and International Alert‘s website.

In the UK, a parliamentary debate can be initiated by popular petition. On 13th June, Parliament will debate the proposition that the government’s approach to foreign aid is flawed. This is based on a petition, initiated by the Mail on Sunday newspaper and signed by over 230,000 people, as follows:

Despite spending cuts at home the Government is committed to hand over 0.7% of national income in overseas aid, regardless of need. The Mail on Sunday believes voters do not want this and instead, we should provide money only for truly deserving causes, on a case-by-case basis. A bill passed in 2015 required the Government to spend a fixed 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid. UK handouts will rise from current £12bn to £16bn by 2020. This is by far the highest rate of any G20 nation and is leading to huge waste and corruption. We believe this is the wrong approach because it fuels waste by focussing on targets, not outcomes. Foreign aid should provide money for the job, not jobs for the money.

Essentially the petition reiterates the perfectly rational idea that creating a budget before agreeing a task is back-to-front, and risks creating perverse incentives due to the need to spend a certain amount of money annually; whereas building a budget based on a set of agreed goals and tasks would be a better approach. On top of that, the petition implies this is unfair on UK taxpayers because most other countries contribute less money and/or less as a proportion of national income.

One can question whether the fact 230,000 people – less than four for every 100,000 people – have signed up really represents significant support for the point being made. After all, more than four times as many people signed a recent petition to reinstate a controversial TV presenter. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to agree with both the argument and the implied sentiment of the petition as they are articulated, so no wonder people have signed it. I’ve worked for overseas charities since 1985, and I completely respect the point of view of those who question aid. In fact, I’d go further and say that I welcome the attention this petition and the parliamentary debate brings. The role of civil society and especially the media is surely to cast a sceptical eye on all government policy, and why should overseas aid be exempt?

0.7%, need and allocation
It is right to question whether the 0.7% target undermines effective policies and actions. After all, it is a more or less arbitrary figure based on a calculation made decades ago of the assumed “investment gap” in poor countries, reckoned as a percentage of national income in wealthy donor countries. It was based on the idea that wealthy countries should transfer the investment funds for a period of years until the economies were more equalised. Not only have the data changed hugely in the intervening years, but the simplistic notion of an “investment gap” is no longer thought useful, if it ever was.

But by its rhetorical use of the expressions hand over, regardless of need, and truly deserving causes on a case by case basis, the petition does its own argument a disservice. It assumes the government simply ‘hands over’ the money, but in fact, funds are programmed for specific purposes. It also assumes that a wholesale commitment to 0.7% (£12 bn this year) removes the link between the volume of aid and the size of the need.

Would that it were so. If there are roughly 700 million people living below the poverty line today, as the World Bank estimates, the UK’s budget works out at £17  per person. And that only includes those living on less than $1.9 per day – hardly a king’s ransom.  So without getting into the complex economic jargon which is used to explain aid flows, and accepting that the UK does not and should not try to reach every poor person on the planet, it is quite easy to see that 0.7% is completely inadequate when set against the level of need.

As for the idea that aid should be targeted towards ‘truly deserving causes on a case by case basis’, this is quite right. Fortunately, the UK Aid strategy clearly sets out four causes towards which aid is directed:
• Strengthening global peace, security and governance.
• Strengthen resilience and response to crises.
• Promoting global prosperity.
• Tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable.

As sceptical as one may be about aid, it would be hard to argue that these are not all truly deserving causes. Not only that, but they benefit the UK too: the first three quite directly, and the fourth indirectly.

And the petition is also right that even within these overall categories, allocations should be made on a case by case basis. I have worked in the aid sector since 1985, and although no donor organisation or NGO is perfect, I can attest that UK aid money is already allocated based on an assessment of whether or not it will make a specific difference in respect of specific needs and contexts. Even when the funds are provided to other organisations – UN agencies, NGOs, etc. – they are required to spend them (and report) based on an assessment of whether they make a difference. It is true that not all aid programmes work as well as intended, but that’s another story which I will come to in a moment. They certainly are designed to do so, and on a case by case basis.

Disproportionality and Aid effectiveness
On the question of proportionality I think the petition has a point: why should we spend 0.7% if other rich nations don’t? The petition is right to draw attention to the risks of a budget-driven approach. Its conclusion is that the debate should be about the 0.7% commitment. But the 0.7% commitment is already enshrined in law, and there is no parliamentary time available to overturn the law. This would take many months of valuable parliamentary time, and would be unlikely to succeed anyway, given the views of a majority of MPs including party leaders and their whips. I therefore suggest a different conclusion to the petition’s concerns, and a different debate on 13th June.

On the question of disproportionality: because we have already enacted the legislation and are unlikely to change it, I’d suggest that the debate should be about how to encourage other wealthy nations to match our commitment. After all, arbitrary spending levels like the 0.7% figure only really make sense as a way to prevent free riders – as with NATO members’ commitment to spend 2% on their military capacity.

But most importantly I would suggest the debate should focus on be how to ensure that UK aid is spent most effectively in pursuit of the four goals listed above, so that taxpayers can have confidence that their money is well spent. Because none of the four aid goals will be easy to achieve. If they were, we would have achieved them long ago. And all public policy is contestable – that’s why we have a parliament and a proactive civil society and media. One has only to look at the UK’s education, justice, health or energy sectors to see that.

Nor do any “policy solutions” seem to last long. A decade ago, Finland’s education sector was the envy of the world, and Whitehall was examining Finnish policies for clues as to what we should do here. Now, Finland – with the same policies in place – has slid down the international education league tables and is looking for new solutions.

If international aid policy is not unique in being imperfect, it is perhaps unique in being multi-dimensional, operating as it does in diverse and changing local contexts, and covering a wide range of needs and sectors. This means all the more need for a healthy and regular debate about what works best. My suggestion is therefore that any parliamentary debate about the aid budget and aid policies should focus on how to ensure that our aid is spent as effectively as possible, and how parliamentarians can hold the government and its partners to account for how well they contributes to the goals which have been set.

Don’t forget how crucial the economy is to peace in Syria

April 22, 2016

This blog, written with Julia Karlysheva, was originally published in The Guardian on 15 March 2016, and is also on International Alert’s website.

Economy and peace are intimately linked. But the economy can also play a role in conflict, and competition over resources is at the heart of most of the conflicts we see today.

Syria is no exception. The erosion of livelihoods by prolonged drought, and a history of excluding certain groups, helped trigger the conflict, which is now in its sixth year. With more than 4.5 million Syrians living as refugees in neighbouring countries and unemployment in Syria at up to 90%, the need to generate livelihood opportunities for both refugees and people inside Syria is critical, as highlighted at February’s donor conference in London.

Those promoting economic development in fragile and conflict-affected places – including businesses, governments, and local and international organisations – can and must ensure their projects make a contribution both to livelihoods and peace.

While official peace talks are ongoing, it is not too early to begin planning post-war reconstruction of the economy, which should aim to improve access to livelihoods and gradually build bridges between those who have been divided.

This will not end the civil war: to do this, an urgent political solution is required. But economic reconstruction could help de-escalate the conflict at a local level, and reduce the risk that peace would be undermined.

A strong economy could:

1) Reduce the risk that people will be recruited by armed groups by providing alternative income sources and giving young people, especially, a sense of purpose, dignity and hope;

A young man with a reliable income – especially if he has several mouths to feed – is less vulnerable to the blandishments of armed groups seeking recruits. The sense of purpose he gets from being economically engaged in society also means there is less chance he will be swayed by ideological arguments.

2) build bridges between divided communities by bringing people together around a common purpose and need, and gradually create a web of connections through trade. Communities connected by trade are less likely to go to war than those who are not;

3) Sow the seeds for a “peace-supporting” economy. This means ensuring that businesses and entrepreneurs understand the causes of conflict and are conscious of how their actions can exacerbate or help resolve tensions. For example, they could ensure they do not restrict employment or supply chain opportunities to one preferred social group. By spreading the peace dividend across social divisions, they can do much to promote peace.

Clearly, the pre-conflict economy had within it the seeds of the war now being fought and these included the structural exclusion of some groups and the preferential access to opportunity granted to others, both nationally and on a local scale. Recovery must be based on the need to spread opportunities and benefits more fairly, and reduce the tensions which exclusion and unfairness can cause, while at the same time taking care not to create a situation in which former elites become the new excluded, storing up the potential for future unrest.

4) Galvanise regional private sector leaders into shaping and delivering a peace-supporting economy now and in the long term. Many business people are also civil society leaders, highly respected and often powerful and well-connected. Their voices are critical in lowering tensions and bringing people together in dialogue, especially during the dangerous period after any peace agreement is made, when mistrust and the desire for revenge will remain at high levels.

Leadership will be key – and business people in Syria and the region will have an important role to play.

In an interconnected world, security must be our shared responsibility

March 24, 2016

This was also published on International Alert‘s website
The UK government’s U-turn over changes in support to people with disabilities last week leaves a gap of over £4bn in fiscal plans for the current parliament. Some commentators have taken this opportunity to call for this to be plugged, or partly plugged, by reducing the overseas development aid (ODA) budget, which stands at about £12bn this year, and is set to rise annually in line with GDP growth.

I work for International Alert which receives some of these funds, which we use to help build peace in more than 25 countries and territories. Nevertheless, we have in the past questioned the need to fix the UK’s ODA budget at a somewhat arbitrary 0.7% of GDP, feeling that it would surely make more sense to base the budget on achieving particular policy goals, than on a rather arbitrary percentage whose origins are somewhat lost in the mists of time.

But now is not the time to raid the aid budget to balance the books. The terrorist attacks in Belgium and Turkey this week are a sharp reminder that we live in a world simultaneously connected and unsettled. Indeed, the two phenomena are related, both for good and for ill.

For good, because development progress (i.e. change) is by nature unsettling and is enabled by connections – travel, the exchange of knowledge and ideas, mutual support and learning, trade, etc.; and an unsettled status quo often creates opportunities for good changes (development) to happen.

For ill, because people’s ability to travel to other parts of the world and connect with others can be unsettling to the status quo and sometimes make life more risky for them and others; and an unsettled world drives some people to travel and create disruption elsewhere – whether intentionally or not.

The current ‘wave’ of refugees into Europe, linked as it is to war and international terrorism, is one obvious example of the latter. If one adds in the impacts of climate change – whose impacts will be felt by all nations, who therefore share an interest in doing something about it – it makes sense to recognise that we are living in an era when, perhaps more than ever before, it is possible to speak in terms of common or shared security (and common or shared insecurity), rather than only narrowly of national security.

So if the UK is – as a P5 member, historically a trading nation and the fifth largest national economy – a significant player in this unsettled and connected world, it makes sense to apply a portion of the government’s budget to reducing the risks the world faces in the next few years: the common or shared risks. If done in the right way, this has an impact not only on people’s wellbeing and security in the most obviously unsettled parts of the world, but on the wellbeing and security of UK citizens too.

So rather than call for the UK’s ODA to be reduced to plug the apparent fiscal hole in the budget approved by parliament this week, perhaps those who want to place the UK’s interests first should instead call for ODA to be used to help make the world a safer place – and a safer place for all, including British citizens. The UK’s aid strategy, released at the end of last year, already recognises this, with its headline focus on building peace and prosperity, reducing poverty, promoting resilience in the face of natural and political disasters, and responding to humanitarian crises when local resilience is insufficient.

While the UK alone is not responsible for fixing the world’s ills – and nor could it – £12bn per year or about 1.5% of government spending doesn’t seem too high a price set against the scale of the challenge, and certainly not if it helps keep people safe in fragile and conflict-prone countries and in the UK too.

As Cicero said, the safety of the people is the highest law. But safety is not just provided by people in uniform, it’s provided by friends, family and neighbours looking out for one another in prosperous and harmonious communities; by all people – especially young people – feeling they are part of that community with all the political, economic and social opportunities and duties which that entails.

These are some of the outcomes ODA helps achieve, by improving livelihoods, infrastructure and governance in conflict-prone and conflict-affected countries and regions. By thus contributing to stability far away in a connected and unsettled world, British ODA does have a domestic impact too.

Bread and Peace

February 18, 2016

Economic development and peace are both needed by the 1.4 billion people living in fragile, conflict-affected countries. The good news is, economic development initiatives can easily be designed to integrate peacebuilding.  

*This article was initially published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 1  (February 2016) by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), which is focused entirely on the links between Peace and Prosperity, and also on International Alert’s website.

Despite peacebuilding successes, the world is still too violent

The wars in Syria and other parts of the Middle East are a vivid testament that, despite major gains for peace across the world in the past few decades, much more needs to be done. The Global Peace Index score, as measured by the Institute for Economics and Peace, has decreased in recent years. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, at least 1.4 billion people live in around 50 fragile, conflict-affected countries. The situation of people in places as diverse as Yemen, Libya, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Philippines, Mali, India, Colombia, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Ukraine, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and the Central African Republic – and in countries where political, gang- and crime-related instability and violence prevails – reminds us of the need to focus local and international efforts on peacebuilding, as a critical part of development.

In places like Syria and Yemen today, few can deny that peace is the priority. But the truth in many fragile and conflict-affected countries is that although peace matters, the economy most often seems to matter more. Parents, young people, governments, businesses, donors and others tend to see the world first and foremost through a lens of economic opportunity, looking for jobs, taxes, votes or profits. As a young Congolese woman told me: “Of course we want peace, but you can’t eat peace. We also need bread.” One reason why up to half of all peace processes eventually fail is because once the fighting stops, people quickly turn their attention away from peace and back to the economy, but don’t fix the problems which caused the violence.

In any case, economy and peace are intimately linked. Competition over access to resources is at the heart of most conflicts. The Arab Spring was sparked by the public suicide of a chronically jobless young man in Tunisia who had simply lost all hope. Long-term peace within and between societies is really only possible when people have fair opportunities for a sustainable livelihood and the accumulation of assets, combined with general well-being, justice and security, in a context of good governance.

So those promoting economic development in fragile and conflict-affected places – businesses, governments, local and international organisations – need to make sure their projects make a contribution both to bread and peace. This fits well into the increasingly popular idea of ‘shared value’ propounded by Mark Kramer and Michael Porter of Harvard University – that businesses should aim to “advance the economic and social conditions” in societies in which they operate. And it also fits with the EU’s definition of corporate social responsibility as “the responsibility of enterprises for their impact on society”. But economic development doesn’t automatically produce peace – indeed, there are far too many examples of economic activities which undermine peace. So making a contribution to peace usually means adapting economic plans.

How to build prosperity and peace at the same time

Many businesses and development agencies feel they lack the knowledge to support peacebuilding.But it can be simpler than many people think: often it’s a matter of tweaking or supplementing what they might have already planned. International Alert, a UK-based peacebuilding organisation, has been supporting businesses, governments and others to integrate peacebuilding into their strategies and goals for many years, and recently published a report outlining how to do so entitled Peace through prosperity: integrating peace into economic development. What is critical is to include peace in the strategy from the outset. From our work, we have identified four generic goals which, when achieved, make an important contribution to peace, stability and prosperity:

  • Decent livelihoods. When people are gainfully employed in decent work (employed, or self-employed), earn enough to live with dignity, and are treated fairly, they have a stake in stability. Decent livelihood opportunities which are accessible to people from all sectors of society help minimise exclusion and maximise social mobility. This obviously requires per capita economic growth.
  • Capital. When people can accumulate economic assets securely, to provide them with a cushion in time of need, to improve their income, and to invest in and improve the economy, and can do so in a way that is fair to others, they not only have a stake in stability but are also more empowered to say ‘no’ when politicians and warlords try to foment violence. Their capital may be individually or jointly owned and managed, including by the community or the state as in the case of welfare safety nets.
  • Revenue and services. When the state, or other legitimate authorities, collect sufficient tax revenue, and invest it to provide the infrastructure and services needed for the economy and peace to flourish, they increase systemic resilience to violence. It is important they do so fairly and strategically, with both economic growth and strengthening peace as explicit policy intentions.
  • Environmental and social sustainability. The right kind of economic development can enhance or at least avoid damaging the environment, and enhance or at least avoid undermining peace-positive attributes in society. This implies effective governance.

Cutting across all four outcomes is the idea of fair participation. Economic activities which benefit and are accessible to all groups – women, men, young people, and members of different ethnic and regional groups and classes – are likely to contribute to peace. They do so by reducing grievances between people and towards those in power, reducing the likelihood people will be manipulated by those who would undermine stability, improving their sense of membership and participation in society, and increasing their stake in a stable and sustainable shared future.

Multi-stakeholder effort for peace

Development agencies, governments and businesses alike need to map how they will contribute to these four outcomes through their policies, projects, business plans and strategies. There are some – but not yet enough – examples of this happening. The government of Rwanda has invested heavily in the IT sector, not only for economic reasons, but also for social sustainability: to reduce Rwanda’s dependence on farming, and thus remove the imbalance between the demand and supply of land which contributed to the 1994 genocide. The hope is that over time, this change will underpin and reinforce what is still a fragile peace. In another example, banks in Peru require businesses seeking loans to undertake a ‘conflict mapping’ as part of their social impact study, to ensure projects are socially sustainable, and contribute to social improvement beyond their financial bottom line.

Some companies operating in conflict-prone places take care to employ staff from different ethnic groups, to help reduce tensions in society. Trade can often strengthen relationships. In Uganda the Lord’s Resistance Army – a rebel group associated with the Acholi tribe – attacked Lira town several years ago. People in Lira, predominantly from the Langi tribe, boycotted Acholi businesses. Commerce as a whole stagnated, and it was business leaders, rather than government, who initiated a process to reopen trade relations between people from the two groups. In an example from International Alert’s work, we support business people – mainly women – trading across the DRC’s eastern borders, helping them improve their livelihoods and cross-border relations; and we have helped convene business leaders with access at a high level of government in the Philippines, to give politicians practical advice on bringing the country’s long-running civil wars to a sustainable close.

Intentionality, ambition and early planning are key

In our report, we cite many other examples of governments, donors, NGOs and businesses making a difference for peace without undermining their economic goals. The critical points to make are first, that businesses and other economic development promoters in fragile and conflict-affected places have a responsibility to try and make a contribution to peace, through their economic projects. And second, that this is not rocket science: simply a matter of factoring into their plans at least one of the four peace-through-prosperity outcomes we have identified: fair access to livelihood and savings opportunities, improved tax revenues and government services, and improved environmental and social sustainability.

The idea of job creation for peace was popularised by the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report, Conflict, Security and Development, but has not yet been translated into practice on a wide scale. In some chronically conflict-affected countries it might make sense for international agencies, businesses and host governments to jointly develop programmes to create jobs in very large numbers, over sufficient time – perhaps 25 years – to provide work for young people who might otherwise become radicalised for violence, an economic boost, and peace-promoting infrastructure development, all at once. This would go against the orthodoxy that mistrusts long-term subsidy, but perhaps we need a new orthodoxy in which peace and stability is as important as the markets.

Of course it is much easier to see how integrating peacebuilding into economic initiatives can be done in fragile countries recovering from, but not currently subject to outright war – Uganda, Nepal or East Timor, say – than in those in the throes of outright violence such as Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. But the causes of these wars are at least partly economic: for example the erosion of livelihoods by prolonged drought, and a history of economic exclusion for certain groups, in Syria. So it is not too early to begin planning for an economic post-war reconstruction which aims to improve access to livelihoods for all Syrians, and improve resilience to weather disruptions and climate change. This will not bring the civil war to an end, but it can help reduce the risk that peace in post-war Syria will be undermined.