The Peace, Security and Development nexus in Africa and its connection to the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Below is a piece by Adane Ghebremeskel (of the SADC Council of NGOs) that was presented at the Peace, Conflict and Security in the post-2015 Development Agenda meeting held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. In his presentation, Ghebremeskel briefly summarizes the lessons from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). On this basis he presents an argument as to why Governance, Peace and Security (GPS) has to be incorporated as a stand-alone goal of the post-2015 development agenda.

Lessons from MDGs

It is quite customary, if not necessary, to engage in the day after an end to an event, a process or an epoch. With this in mind, the raging debate on post-2015 development agenda cannot surprise anyone as the MDGs near their end in 2015. It is also quite normal that such debates involve assessment of the past experiences. Indeed, whether or not an all-encompassing global development agenda is needed depends on the conclusion one makes on the impact of the MDGs. In the same way, a determination has also to be made on form that a post-2015 global development agenda would assume, namely whether it will be an extension of the MDGs or a totally different agenda.

In this respect, there seems to be at least one aspect that is generally agreed on the MDGs; i.e., their usefulness for policy evaluation and as reference (Vandemoortel, 2009). Furthermore, the contribution of MDGs is also commonly acknowledged in three main areas:

  • In institutionalization of consensus on ending poverty;
  • In reshaping the concept of ‘development’ to meaning ending poverty; and
  • In institutionalising a definition of poverty as a multidimensional deprivation in the lives of people (Fukuda-Parr, 2012:3).
Nonetheless, there are several concerns that have been expressed about MDGs. A number of concerns focus on the composition of the goals, targets and indicators of the MDGs; another set of concerns are with regard to their development and implementation processes (ibid, p.11-13).
In respect to the former aspect, the concerns focused on:
  • Poorly designed development goals: the methodology for setting the goals has been inconsistent and apparently arbitrary, the levels set are unrealistic for many countries and biased against countries with low starting points.
  • Composition is too narrow and excludes important dimensions of development: the publication of MDGs led to strong reactions from many constituencies whose agendas were left out. These are sectors concerned about equality, employment, governance and peace, etc.
  • Lack of attention to important norms and principles in particular falling short of human rights standards. Despite overlapping with social and economic rights, MDGs were criticised for lack of emphasis on key human rights principles, such as issues of exclusion and marginalization, participation, accountability, etc.
  • Unbalanced international political economy: Goal 8 is weak and lacks hard quantitative 2015 target. It is narrow in scope. It is a poor reflection of the agendas advocated by developing countries, notably those related to the asymmetric rules of global trade, international investment and finance, reduced policy spaces and quality of aid.
As far as the latter aspect, process of formulation and implementation of the MDGs, is concerned, concerns have been raised in respect to:
  • Lack of broad consultation in formulation: The MDGs were introduced in the 2001 report of the UN Secretary-General, derived from the Millennium Declaration. Both documents built on the outcome documents of the UN development conferences of the 1990s, but the selection of these outcomes for these documents did not involve wide consultation.
  • Global or national goals? An important debate exists on whether the MDGs are applicable at national level. There are different positions on this question, however the UN Monitoring reports indeed apply the goals each of the countries. This creates a challenge of imposition of a one standard despite the divergence of premises from which countries depart.
  • Criteria for success and methodology of measuring progress: the methodology focused on the extent to which a country has moved relative to the MDG targets. This disadvantages the countries starting from a lower level. A more appropriate matrix, as suggested by Fakuda-Parr and others (2010) would be to measure the pace of progress.
  • Aid-Centric process: development aid has been a major focus of the MDG debates and their use. They are applied to developing countries and not to developed countries, and the international monitoring efforts focus on the performance of developing countries, rather than the challenges of poverty worldwide.

Given all these and without disregarding the progress made the general debate on post-2015 is running towards establishing a new Development Agenda; a development agenda that addresses the above mentioned shortcomings of the MDGs, but also building on the success of the same.

Though the other aspects are highly important, I would like to remain within the topic of our discussion today and focus on the nexus between development and GPS in the context of Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The Nexus between Development and GPS

The general wisdom that has been evolving says that a society has to have peace and security in order for it to develop. The flip side is also accepted to say that a society has to have development in order to be peaceful and secure with itself and its neighbours. Putting in African context this evidently means understanding the nexus between violent conflict and underdevelopment.

In the course of the years there are a number of explanations and analyses put forward in this respect. We all have come across Walter Rodney’s essay on “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” (1973). We also heard of a slightly technocratic understanding of Kofi Anan’s “The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa” (1998) and a highly activist view of Yash Tandon “Root Causes of Peacelessness and Approaches to Peace in Africa” (1999), etc. All these have their merits; the difference is in emphasis on the factors contributing to violent conflict and underdevelopment of Africa. The commonality is their acknowledgement of the intractable relationship and mutual reinforcement that exists between violent conflicts and underdevelopment in the African continent. Without delving into the scholarly debate any further, let me share with you a particular case from my previous work that may help us in building the argument we would like to build in this gathering.

Illustrating Case

There is a place called Insukamini in the district of Vungu in the Province of Midlands in Zimbabwe. I was working with a small local NGO called Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation (CCMT). At the start of a community-based peace-building initiative in the district my colleagues and I conducted a thorough consultation process with stakeholders. During the formal consultation process we met with the district council we were told that the district is quite peaceful. What was needed, we were told, were development projects, such us upgrading the high school. Remarkably though a top member of the local authority approached us at some point and shared with us about a long-standing conflict. The conflict was around access and usage of a dam, the Insukamini Dam, which was built during the early 1990s using EU funds.

As we investigated to understand the conflict better we learnt that the dam was never an issue in the early stage. It eventually became one when the demographics of the community started to change over the years. Different people, including retired civil servants, settled in the peri-urban centre of the area. The majority of the people who settled in the peri-urban centre were not indigenous to the area, largely Shona speaking in a largely Ndebele dominated area. Due to the economic crises the people in the per-urban wanted also to have access to the irrigation around the dam and make a living by doing small-scale farming. In the same way, the rural community, largely Ndebele speaking, claimed that the area was their ancestral land, hence, they felt that they have exclusive access to the dam and the irrigation opportunity it provides.

The Insukamini dam is a development intervention by the government of Zimbabwe to address the economic challenge of the community. However, as time went by the dam became a centre of contestation between various groups of the community who happened to be from two different linguistic groups with historical narrative of a relationship that is characterized by conflict. Given the difficult state the local government was, it was unable to deal with the conflict. If it had tried to do something, it was viewed to be highly politicized and partisan.

Another interesting aspect that my colleagues and I learnt was about the conflation of macro and micro issues. As we all know at that time 2010 the political contestation for power and post-independence redefinition of the state and society was in full swing and reached a stage of polarization. It is quite inevitable that macro level issues play out at community level, such as the Insukamini community. While the national actors garner support by sympathizing with the concerns of one or another group, members of the community use the opportunity to build alliance with national actors in order to advance their position vis-à-vis their contenders on the issues of local in their nature. Consequently, the effective use of the resources and facilities, such as the dam, for the purpose of driving the envisaged benefits and development is often hampered. In fact, as the dynamics of the conflict assumed a macro level the mistrust among community members increases with high propensity to take a violent dimension, especially during election period. Affected by the same dynamics as the governance structures, in particular the local authorities, become paralyzed to address the challenge.

The Argument

Of course, the case of Insukamini is a law intensity conflict and is at micro or community level. However, there are a number of such cases in the continent in which genuine communal conflicts assume macro level dimension. Given the governance challenge at macro level such conflicts often not only hamper development, but also destroy the very social fabric of a society.

In the context of debate on post-2015 development agenda, it is critical that we take cognizance of the reality pertaining on the ground. As illustrated using the Insukamini case, development is a process of societal change; and it is potentially conflictual. Consequently, the focus has to be as much on development as on conflict. In this respect, the role of the state is indispensable, mainly because it is the only social institution which assumes an authority and to some extent legitimacy to allocate resources and values. It is thus important that the state’s development role is also viewed in the context of its responsibility and ability to manage and eventually transform conflicts in the society. This is at the core of the governance. Any serious development agenda can therefore not afford to ignore this aspect.

In the raging debate there are several suggestions put forward on how to incorporate governance, peace and security (GPS) dimensions in the post-2015 development agenda. Advocating for a “pragmatic”, if not minimalist approach, Bergh, et. al argued that while GPS as a stand alone goal would mean greater participation and freedom to people, the likelihood that it finds acceptance at the state level negotiations is very slim. Therefore, the authors suggest a “less political but more practical” way have to be put forward. According to them, focusing on transparency and accountability has a better chance of being accepted in the negotiations mainly because calling for improved accountability doesn’t involve adversarial relationships.

I am not sure whether you would agree with this assertion. To make up your mind, I just want to draw your attention to what transparency would mean with regard to extractive industries and public finance in Angola, Mozambique, DRC, Zimbabwe, Sudan, etc. Moreover, I am not sure whether we can talk of accountability and transparency as outcomes without talking about governance structures and processes.

Transformation of the African State

For an African state to be accountable and transparent and be a true agent of development it is important that it shakes off its historical character, and be reborn as truly democratic and inclusive one. The fact that contemporary African state continues to define itself and function (dysfunction) in colonially defined parameters is the major source of its exclusive and coercive nature. Ayittey (1999) argues that instead of dismantling the authoritarian nature of the colonial state, “African leaders strengthened the unitary colonial state apparatus, expanded its scope enormously – especially the military,… set up autocratic state whose important key institutions filled up with members of their own ethnic groups or their political cronies.” Similarly, Kofi Anan (2002) argues that centralization of political and economic power and the suspension of political pluralism were pursued as a strategy of nation building in Africa. This, according to him, resulted in “political monopolies” which often led to “top corruption, nepotism, complacency and the abuse of power”.

Though modest progresses may be visible, the fact is that the African state remains highly constrained in its role as a development agency. Despite the prevalence of adoption of democratic constitutions in many African countries, we increasingly experience the constitutions without constitutionalism, prevalence of “tick box” democracy without substantive and meaningful participation of the people, the conflation of the “rule of law” with a subverted legalism which has no other purpose than to support the agenda of the elite and perpetuate their power and entrench “democratic” authoritarianism. Consequently, the state, the elite controls it, becomes a threat to development and peace as the elite increasingly adopt predatory behaviour and contemptuous attitudes toward the majority.

Therefore, the primary development agenda that must be put forward is redefinition of the nature of politics and by implication the state. It is only then that the state could fully assume the developmental role and gain full legitimacy as such in the society. It is such a state that will be capable of mobilizing the internal African resources, both human and material resources, for equitable development. Such a state is also able to manage and transform social conflicts and balance diverse interests in an accountable and transparent manner. Creating such a state is primarily a responsibility of Africans themselves. A global development agenda recognizing this imperative is highly desirable and should be advanced by Africans at all levels.

Article by Adane Ghebremeskel

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