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Governance and conflict: Breaking the vicious circle

A symbiotic relation exists between conflict and weak governance. One feeds into the other, establishing a vicious circle of violent conflict, which further exacerbates the fragility of governance systems, and weakens further the already frail State and its ineffective institutions, which contributed to the eruption of the conflict in the first place. In a conflict setting, it is very challenging to introduce change and chart a path towards reforms, socio-political stability and durable peace. Fragile states, some of them nascent or struggling polities, face many hurdles in attaining anything close to a stable peace, let alone achieving sustainable development, in the absence of a strong and effective rule of law-based institutional framework. Outright violence committed by non-state actors, the potential presence of vast numbers of refugees, weak or non-existent government infrastructure, limited access to basic services…etc., are all symptoms of the essential ill, i.e. weak governance and public institutions. In a post-conflict setting, in the context of an overall absence of the rule of law, more often than not, many of the key public institutions that should be spearheading the country’s reconstruction lack rudimentary systems of capacity, accountability and oversight. (or: and an overall absence of the rule of law). In these situations, governance institutions need to be strengthened and reformed to be able to carry out their roles in serving citizens and achieving sustainable peace. Institutional reform is essential to breaking the vicious circle of poor governance and conflict, which have been devastating many regions around the world, in particular the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for several years now.

Intra-state armed conflict increasingly poses a major threat to international peace and security

Intra-state armed conflict increasingly poses a major threat to international peace and security. Since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, there have been 95 armed conflicts worldwide. Of these, 87 have been civil wars of some sort, while only eight pitted states against each other. In 2015-2016, all the 16 conflicts recorded were intrastate.[1] Intrastate conflicts wreak havoc with devasting long-term consequences, causing immense human and material losses, and often usher in the vicious circle of chronic instability and conflict by undermining the capacity of states to deal with the root causes of the conflict.

 
An absence of a rule of law culture, chronic human rights violations, poor developmental achievements, weak governance structures, inefficient and unaccountable institutions, in particular the inability of state institutions to provide efficient public services to citizens, are among the most immediate causes and severe effects in conflict countries

The global proliferation of conflict and crises, reflecting a growing climate of uncertainty and instability, is impacting many regions, particularly the Middle East and North Africa. The multiple causes of these conflicts involve a combination of factors, most of which are related to governance deficits and socio-economic grievances, as well as international and regional geopolitical rivalries. Some of these factors are historically entrenched, while others are the result of more recent developments. An absence of a rule of law culture, chronic human rights violations, poor developmental achievements, weak governance structures, inefficient and unaccountable institutions, in particular the inability of state institutions to provide efficient public services to citizens, are among the most immediate causes and severe effects in conflict countries. It is important to note that the immediate effects of conflict at the regional level are catastrophic in terms of scale and impact, in both the short and long term. These effects will only serve to further exacerbate conflict dynamics, confining countries in crisis to a vicious circle of conflict and civil strife. The Arab region confronts a deadly web of intense, complex, and interlocked armed conflicts. Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have fragmented due to civil wars that have been exacerbated by regional and international politics. Many other countries in the region are facing less-intense brewing conflicts. Forty per cent of Arab countries are engulfed in or have suffered spill over effects from violent conflict in the current decade. The legacies of the ongoing violence will persist for decades.

The Syrian conflict resulted in the largest wave of internally displaced and refugees since the Second World War

The Syrian conflict resulted in the largest wave of internally displaced and refugees since the Second World War. By 2015, 12 million Syrians, half the country’s population, had been forced to seek refuge abroad or become internally displaced. An estimated 2.3 million people, 10 per cent of the population, have been killed or wounded, with thousands more unaccounted for. In the almost decade-long fierce conflict, the country’s infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, sustained heavy damage. Half of the remaining population lives in poverty, compared with 13 per cent before the conflict, and the rate of primary school enrolment dropped from almost 100 per cent to 60 per cent. Gross domestic product (GDP) has contracted by 55 per cent. All indicators of human development have suffered a catastrophic regression. In Yemen, the conflict has had a devastating impact on the population, making an already bad socio-economic situation much worse. Multidimensional poverty is at 60 per cent. The number of children deprived of education doubled in just one year and GDP per capita declined by 42 per cent. There is an outbreak of cholera, two thirds of the country’s children suffer from malnutrition and thousands are recruited to fight alongside various militias. Fourteen million people are in desperate need of international humanitarian aid.

 

 

Comparable woes befell other Arab countries, some of which are oil rich such as Libya and Iraq. In 2016, UNICEF reported that one in five Iraqi children was “at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction or indoctrination into a violent extremist group” (UNICEF, 2016). Libya, an oil-rich country with a small population and an immense geography, is being torn apart by the civil and proxy wars, with severe losses sustained by almost all segments of the society. GDP per capita is half what it was before the eruption of the conflict, and around 20 per cent of the population suffers from food insecurity. With Palestine suffering from the longest occupation in history, the MENA region is now home to 31 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced people, and the risk of becoming a refugee is 30 times higher than the risk one might face if one was born anywhere else in the world.

the MENA region is now home to 31 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced people, and the risk of becoming a refugee is 30 times higher than the risk one might face if one was born anywhere else in the world.

To break the vicious circle of conflict in the MENA region, to chart a way out of conflict towards political stability and sustainable peace, one needs to explore the root causes and chronic drivers of conflict in this region, as well as learn from best practices in conflict resolution from countries around the world. Sustainable solutions need to take into account the need for the renewal of a social contract, good governance, the rule of law, institutional reform, institutionalization of the decision-making process, as well as learn from the historical experience of developed and developing societies, and the particular characteristics of crisis of the Arab state and the challenge of reforming institutions. For instance, a key issue in crisis and conflict situations is the need to reform security sector institutions. Security Sector Reform (SSR) is often understood as the sine qua none of post-conflict reconstruction, as it helps bring stability to fragile environments and security to individuals who have suffered from conflict. However, it requires careful planning and consideration of existing power structures and relations. Furthermore, national dialogue processes are crucial to allow the people to envision a peaceful and inclusive future and to transform social interactions in divided societies. In the MENA region, such processes are necessary considering the failure, so far, to create strong and inclusive governance frameworks. However, successful national dialogue processes should be locally owned and not imposed from without with competing and alien agendas. A minimum level of trust must be established, on both the national, regional and international levels to prevent spoiling these dialogue processes. Good governance can prevent the seed of instability and conflict from taking root. Of many requirements of good governance, some key components are participation, institutional effectiveness, accountability, transparency, and rule of law. It is the aggregation of these principles that contribute to erect a peaceful society. In a polity where the rule of law prevails, citizens have an equal standing under the law regardless of their political affiliation, social status, or economic power. Public participation greatly helps mitigate conflict risks because there are legitimate public fora, institutions and mechanisms for peaceful debate and effective representation. Public participation through public and social institutions can provide a check on the government and keep political authorities accountable. Such accountability is enhanced by the rule of law, which encompasses the institutional processes, norms, and structures that hold the population and public officials legally responsible for their actions and accountable before their constituencies. Good governance and accountable institutions are sine qua non elements for the stability of polities and conflict prevention.

Good governance can prevent the seed of instability and conflict from taking root

No quick and simple solutions exist when it comes to breaking the vicious circle of conflict and weak governance systems, as (re)building institutions is an arduous and time-consuming effort. Strengthening fragile states necessitates the challenging task of building a good governance framework and effective and accountable institutions, by promoting participation, accountability, transparency, rule of law, besides other important components which contribute to a stable and peaceful society.

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ICDI Admin