Making policies work

GREAT insights Magazine

Bread and peace: Linking economic development with peacebuilding

February 2016

Vernon, P. 2016. Bread and peace: Linking economic development with peacebuilding. GREAT Insights Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1. February 2016.

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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. 


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.

See www.international-alert.org for more on this topic.

About the author

GREAT_Insights_Vol5_iss1_Phil_Vernon

Phil Vernon is Director of Programmes at peacebuilding NGO International Alert. In 2015 he authored Peace through Prosperity, a major Alert report highlighting why economic development should include peacebuilding, and how businesses, governments and others can do so.


Photo: Female trader in Goma, eastern DRC. Credit: Carol-Allen Storey for International Alert

This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 1  (February 2016).

Economic Transformation and TradeSecurity and ResilienceBusiness and DevelopmentConflictFragile statesPeacebuilding

External authors

Phil Vernon