What does economic development mean for peace?

To mark the launch of Alert’s new report, Peace through prosperity: Integrating peacebuilding into economic development, author Phil Vernon, Director of Programmes at International Alert, answers our questions on how economic development can help foster peace.

Does economic development always contribute to peace?

Peace without economic development is impossible, for sure; but economic development does not automatically build peace. It can even undermine it. So we need economic development that is conducive to peace.

What does ‘peace through prosperity’ look like?

Peace through prosperity is the wide and fair participation in the creation and proceeds of growth: jobs, incomes and livelihoods. It means giving people the opportunity to save and invest, as well as ensuring tax revenues are raised and spent fairly, wisely and transparently. Economic activities that are both socially and environmentally sustainable also contribute to peace.

Doesn’t this require a lot of peacebuilding expertise, which many businesses don’t have?

You don’t need to be a peacebuilding expert to make a contribution to this, and Alert has produced a practical guide to help businesses, governments, NGOs and international agencies work out how they can contribute to peace through prosperity.

For example, there are certain ‘levers of change’ through which businesses and economic development promoters can build peace. It’s all about how they approach their:

  • Investments in human capital;
  • Choices about which sectors and activities to invest in;
  • Building relationships across and between societies;
  • Legal issues;
  • The security of their operations and people’s safety;
  • Matters of infrastructure; and
  • Access to land.

These are all things that matter to economic development, and they matter for peace too.

But they are not automatic, so people have to consciously link their economic planning to peace planning. They also need to think about the political economy: people’s interests, incentives and values – especially those of powerful people – and the institutions through which different interests, incentives and values are mediated. This helps understand economic development changes are possible, and also what changes are possible for peace.

Using our framework, incremental steps can be made towards peace through prosperity.

What are some examples of how peace and prosperity interact?

When Saudi Arabia ended its ban on Somali livestock imports, the level of maritime piracy fell. Why? Because clan leaders were able to tax the livestock trade, so no longer needed piracy as a source of income. It was a step towards peace.

In Peru, banks contribute to social peace by requiring borrowers to complete a conflict map as part of their loans process, so investing in the economy means investing in good relations.

Business people in Uganda helped improve relations between tribes by using trade to rebuild trust between them.

In Colombia, over 100 companies support progress towards peace by linking their own advertising to the peace campaign #SoyCapaz (#ICan).

There are many other ways in which businesses promote social harmony, for example by hiring workers from different gender and ethnic groups.

Mobile phone operators foster peace by bringing communications to remote areas in war-affected countries, and safe money transfer facilities.

For their part, governments and donors can help reduce the risk of youth radicalisation by investing in labour-intensive public projects. Western countries can help reduce violence in drug-producing and drug-transit countries by decriminalising the use of drugs.

And international organisations, such as the World Bank, can build infrastructure that improves the livelihoods for those who might otherwise fight, and involving them in the project design.