Reaping the Dividends of Development: UNDP in Post-Conflict Nations

Eugenia Piza-Lopez is Team Leader for the Crisis Prevention and Disaster Preparedness Program at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Jago Salmon is the Crisis Governance Specialist at the UNDP. They are among the co-authors of the UNDP report Governance for Peace: Securing the Social Contract. 

In the preface to your recent report, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) administrator Helen Clark describes the “dividends of development” as “sustainable peace and prosperity.” Why frame development in terms of peace, in addition to prosperity? 

Piza-Lopez: Prosperity is a development goal that cannot be achieved without peace. There are so many ways in which economic growth and community development are affected by conflict; it is impossible to think about sustainable development in nations where there is violence and fragility.

Salmon: In the past, there was a clear division between peace and development: Peace was delivered by peacekeepers and development was about increasing prosperity. Recently, we have developed a more refined approach. Poverty is a root cause of insecurity and we strive to address both challenges. Moreover, we look not only at poverty, but horizontal and vertical discrimination, and the marginalization of particular groups as causes of conflict. This view has resulted in more conflict-sensitive development activities.

There is a yin and yang of peace and development: There cannot be peace without development, and there cannot be development without peace. There is not a linear relationship between peace and development, but the two are very clearly related.

In fragile states, how does UNDP balance and prioritize multiple development goals? Similarly, how do the short-term and long-term needs of fragile states shape UNDP’s strategy in those nations? 

Salmon: Prioritizing investments in fragile states is very difficult, because everything is a priority. Typically, in fragile states, there is a discussion of the sequencing of interventions, or a linear recovery: first a peace deal, then peace-building, and then state-building. But this model has proved challenging in reality. While there is rough sequencing at the macro level, there is also a need for more simultaneous action—specifically, more institution building early on in the process.

For example, the Liberian education system was nearly destroyed during the civil war. Only primary education remained intact, due mostly to the efforts of non-governmental organizations. Rebuilding a cadre of teachers so that Liberia could once again run its own education system required years of investment. These kinds of programs must be simultaneous with peace building and the prioritization of interventions must be context-based. 

Piza-Lopez: The prioritization of goals is very challenging for international actors, including UNDP. In the Governance for Peace report, we emphasize that the absolute priority of efforts in post-conflict nations must be in areas that immediately benefit victims of war and provide immediate dividends, such as building the capacity of local authorities to provide basic services.

The second priority focuses on the need for reform, in addition to reconstruction. In many post-conflict contexts, reconstruction does not take into account the original drivers of conflict, such as the systematic exclusion or discrimination of certain groups. If these drivers are not addressed, conflict will likely happen again.

Another priority is rebuilding the social contract by supporting capacity while also helping transform the relationship between citizens and the state. To rebuild the social contract, it is necessary to build people’s trust in institutions by making institutions more accountable, responsible, and transparent, so that people believe that institutions will respond to their needs and represent the plurality of society.

The challenge is also that no conflict context is alike. One cannot compare Liberia to Somalia, or Somalia to Colombia. Each context informs how we should intervene—and what is most important in terms of priorities.

How does UNDP collaborate with other United Nations agencies, such as the UN Security Council or the Peacebuilding Commission, in post-conflict nations? How does inter-agency collaboration advance or complicate UNDP’s mission?

Salmon: UNDP does not deliver our results as one agency, but as part of the UN, and collaboration is intrinsic to our success in post-conflict environments. Collaboration depends on context. In Burundi, for example, UN operations are highly integrated, with several agencies operating from a single office. In other nations, operations are partially integrated. In others, particularly in transitional states where peacekeeping missions are withdrawing, efforts are more individualized.

Piza-Lopez: UNDP is just one of many agencies and does not have the capacity to address everything. When the UN works together as a coherent system, it is a phenomenal actor in the reconstruction process because our assistance is bound by principles and international standards, rather than foreign policy priorities. But, if the UN as a system is not working well or if agencies are competitive with one another, we are not as helpful. Recently, the UN has sought more rigorous ways to improve the coherence of the UN system. We want to take collaboration beyond the strategic level down to the level of operations to facilitate effective partnerships.

The principle of the social contract between a government and its population is a key theme of this report. Can you elaborate on this concept, and why it is so crucial to political and economic development in fragile states?

Piza-Lopez: The principle of the social contract comes from our research on effective government interventions in post-conflict nations. We found that, while there has been a huge effort by international actors towards rebuilding government efficiency and institutions’ capacity to be effective, there has been much less emphasis on reconstructing people’s trust in state actors and the state’s relationship with the private sector or non-governmental organizations.

Also, while most of the effort, money, and energy of international actors go toward rebuilding state institutions, not enough goes toward non-state institutions, such as community organizations or the private sector. UNDP believes that we must focus on the process in which institutions engage with the people, and the people engage with institutions, so that they are included in the policy process. This is the importance of the social contract.

Salmon: The social contract is UNDP’s value-add niche: It takes development out of the technocratic realm and into the deeper process of linking institutions to the people, and vice-versa. In a post-conflict nation, the state and the private sector cannot rebuild without the people. Thus, focusing on rebuilding the state and the private sector without involving the nation’s population is a flawed approach.

Moreover, the social contract is fundamentally a sustainability question. There is a school of thought that advocates for peace first, then development. However, in the post-conflict transition, it is necessary to engage the entire population and ensure that they are the focus of development work. That is, the focus should not be the elites in the institutions, but the population at large. Without the notion of the social contract, we would be ignoring the complexity of the post-conflict situation.

The Governance for Peace report places particular emphasis on the future of interventions in crisis settings, encouraging development actors working in fragile states “to continue learning by doing” and to “build on evidence of what works.” This language seems to signal a change in UNDP’s approach to working in fragile states—how is UNDP’s vision evolving to meet contemporary challenges?

Piza-Lopez: In post-conflict nations, most international actors, including the UN, have viewed the post-conflict situation as the best moment to introduce a huge amount of reform, primarily for state actors but also for non-state actors. There is a push to reform the civil service, the health system, the education system, and so on. But, we have learned that in the immediate aftermath of conflict, states cannot rebuild and reform at the same time. Reform requires a level of political commitment that is not always present in the aftermath of conflict. Reform is often more successful after some rebuilding, meeting some of the most pressing needs of victims, and building at least a degree of national consensus.

For example, rather than holding elections immediately after the end of a conflict, it may be more prudent to allow some time to pass. In a democratic process, we must ensure that there is vertical participation, particularly so that displaced people are allowed to participate. In Liberia, for example, the exclusion of groups was a major part of the conflict. If such groups continue to be excluded after conflict, then we need to create new boundaries for the electoral process. In this way, it may be better to wait to hold elections, in order to ensure that the electoral process is legitimate and inclusive.

Salmon: The world is changing very quickly and in different ways. For example, 1.5 billion people––or the majority of the world’s population that lives below the poverty line––live in conflict-affected or fragile nations. This is a development problem. We used to think of development in terms of growth rates, foreign direct investment, and the human development indicator. We need to think differently.

Moreover, there are major policy shifts on the horizon. Post-2015, after the current Millennium Development Goals expire, the next phase of development goals will need to be identified, and set, and agreed to. Also, some nations that have been recipients of development assistance, such as India and China, are no longer aid recipients, but now deliverers of development assistance.

The core assumptions of development need to be questioned. We must go back to the first principles of development and rethink what we do, from the micro-level of program design to the macro level. Crisis management and risk management will be central to development going forward. We must help countries prevent conflict and reduce risk to reap the dividends of development.

Feature Photo: cc/riacale'
Louise McLarnan
Louise McLarnan is a staff writer for The Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in international development and human capital investment.

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