First, the good news: the world is becoming a less violent place, with the average of battle deaths arising from war declining from an average of 164,000 a year in the 1980s to 42,000 in the 2000s, according to the World Bank’s latest World Development Report on “conflict, security and development.”
Unfortunately, the bad news is that the statistics disguise more worrying trends, including a conflation of violent political or state actors with non-state – especially criminal – agents, while globalization has accelerated the contagious impact as conflict spills across borders, most tragically in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
And it takes an average of 17 years to get to “good enough governance.”
The DRC illustrates two more of the report’s central findings – that mass violence has complex causes, from unemployment and inequality to economic trauma and foreign combatants, but the critical factor is the “absence of legitimate institutions that provide citizen security, justice and jobs.” And that violent conflict is extraordinarily difficult to eradicate even after a political settlement, as in Central America, leaving a legacy of deeply damaged institutions and individuals.
The report’s central message is that bolstering legitimate institutions and governance to ensure security, justice, and jobs is required to break cycles of violence. But, it cautions, “the state cannot restore confidence alone” and confidence-building requires “inclusive-enough coalitions” of civil society groups and other non-state actors, as in Aceh, Timor-Leste or Chile’s democratic transition.
Delivering citizen security, justice, and jobs also requires other reforms “to be sequenced and paced over time, including political reform, decentralization, privatization, and shifting attitudes toward marginalized groups” as well as implementation of reforms through “a web of institutions (democratization, for example, requires many institutional checks and balances beyond elections) and changes in social attitudes.”
Elections can be an important factor, especially in accommodating previously excluded groups, but the necessary democratization is not an event, but a long term process.
“Historically, the fastest transformations have taken a generation,” the report notes:
Well-known institutional indices are relevant to reducing the risk of violence—the rule of law, corruption, human rights, democratic governance, bureaucratic quality, oversight of the security sectors, and equity for the disadvantaged. How much time has it taken to move from current average levels in fragile states around the world to a threshold of “good enough governance”? The results are striking. It took the 20 fastest-moving countries an average of 17 years to get the military out of politics, 20 years to achieve functioning bureaucratic quality, and 27 years to bring corruption under reasonable control.
South Africa provides an example of the dangers of premature celebration, writes Jay Naidoo, the former Minister for Reconstruction and Development, and the need to ensure that democracies deliver justice and jobs as well as peace and security.
“There was also too much of an assumption that 1994 marked the culmination of a process of democratization and reconciliation,” he contends. “Relatively little attention was given to what was meant by the transformation to a constitutional state; the continued role of civil society in deepening not just democratization and accountability but also delivery.”
The reform process itself may entail short-term security risks, the report suggests:
Taking on too many reforms too fast— such as decentralizing services and combating insurgents or traffickers—can risk backlash and institutional loss of credibility. Rapid reforms make it difficult for actors in the post-conflict society to make credible commitments with each other, since they do not know how the reforms will affect the “balance of power.” Elections, often seen as “winner takes all” events in fragile states, can evoke powerful reactions from those who lose.