Addressing the economic dimensions of peacebuilding through trade and support to private enterprise

Addressing the economic dimensions of peacebuilding through trade and support to private enterprise

The impacts of conflict are as damaging to the economic potential of a nation as they are to its social and political prospects.

‘War kills development as well as people’. It destroys livelihoods as well as lives, and it undermines economic as well as political progress. Violence deprives people of opportunity as well as the physical infrastructure and social structures on which they rely. Above all, perhaps, it robs them of hope and belief in the future.

There is also a widespread assumption, although there is no direct causal relationship between the two, that poverty can be a factor driving violent conflict. Over the last decade, increasing recognition of these points has stimulated consensus on the nexus between security and development and has led to a greater appreciation that peace and economic development are inseparable.

Less clarity exists on what this means in practice. The relationship between the economy, conflict and peace is more complex than is often assumed. It has largely been approached in one of two ways, reflecting the different perspectives of those engaged in exploring this issue.

For conflict specialists, attention has focused on war economies and the economic drivers of conflict more broadly, emphasising the potentially destructive consequences of shadow economies, elite capture of natural resource revenues and the illicit trades in people, weapons and drugs.

For those concerned with the socio-economic pillars of traditional ‘development’, the focus has been on the importance of stimulating rapid economic growth as the most direct path out of poverty for the estimated 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day.

These are not mutually exclusive agendas but they have been pursued, for the most part, in isolation from one another, leaving a critical gap in understanding how to generate the kind of economic development which both addresses the underlying economic dimensions of conflict and also provides for the urgent priorities of creating jobs and ensuring basic services are delivered to the population.

The global commitment to poverty reduction, enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), is illustrative. The ambitious nature of the MDGs, and the difficulties encountered in making progress towards them, has focused greater attention on the importance of economic growth as the sine qua non of poverty reduction.

Applying this approach to countries threatened or affected by conflict is problematic, however, precisely because it risks ignoring the ways in which the economy itself may be a key feature of the conflict dynamic. Simply stimulating growth in an economy which may be characterised by structural injustices, horizontal and geographical inequalities, corruption and patronage may only succeed in reinforcing or reigniting violent conflict.