A four-pronged approach to foster peace in MENA countries

Yemeni child observing a war-torn city Yemeni child observing a war-torn city © BBC

This article is a brief presentation of the report “Building for Peace” released by the World Bank

The World Bank (WB) is an international organization aimed at working for sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries.

The report follows a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach combining insights from cross-sectoral group of experts involved in collaborative work for more than two years. This was complemented by external in-depth consultations with experts on conflict, peacebuilding and development and three online surveys targeting civilians in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, carried out in between April and August 2019.

The report illustrates  the deadly scenario in some conflict-ridden Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. Concurrently, building on the Fragility, Conflict and Violence strategy (FCV) of the WB, the report lays down people-based approaches to recompose fractured societal relations in wartorn societies and to speed up transitioning toward sustainable peace. As evidenced by the WB, from 2013 to 2017, the MENA region alone accounted for 68 percent of global battle-related deaths. More in depth, Yemen’s civil war pitting Houthi rebels against a blend of government troops, Islamist militants, secessionist and residual factions has taken a heavy toll on Yemeni population. The WB estimates conflict-related deaths at more than 70.000 since 2016, 3.3 million of Internally Displaced People (IDPs), 24 million people, more than two-thirds of the population, in need of humanitarian protection and some 9.6 million on the brink of famine. Along the same lines, the protracted Yemen conflict has torn apart the social fabric and exacerbated existing sectarian divisions.

As for Iraq, although sizable international efforts were made since 2003, the country remains trapped in a cycle of portracted and relapsed violence. According to the WB, in retrospect, reconstruction interventions in Iraq unintendedly moved it farther from sustainable peace, weakened its institutions and further exacerbated civilian grievances.

Since the ousting of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been splintered by power struggles and undermined by mounting insecurity, with two-rival factions bitterly fuelling a civil war for territorial control. Consequently, state effectiveness is severely undermined and institutions have low credibility, thereby providing a fertile environment for pervasive war economies.

According to the WB, each spawning insecurity, mass displacement and disorder, the three conflicts are tied by a common thread, inasmuch as they test the limits of reconstruction and peacebuilding approaches centred on state-building, which in turn entails a consolidated state centrally administering source mobilization and allocation. In line with surveys results collected amid civilians of the three countries, the WB argues that a presumed social consensus favouring a central state may be no optimal solution, given that uprisings across the Arab region were allegedly born as a form of protest against oppressive social contracts. Accordingly, any approach primarily grounded on state-building may collide with absence of trust that such a state would be inclusive and accountable towards its citizens. Acknowledged the failing premises of state-building approaches to reconstruction and peacekeeping, the WB proposes in turn a four-pronged multidimensional approach that incorporates take-home lessons from failures to ensure enduring peace in wartorn MENA countries.

The first pillar consists in detecting conflict traps and lessons from peacebuilding to MENA. In retrospect, the WB notes that in MENA countries recurrent cycles of violence perpetuate due to the persistence of unaddressed grievances, such as exclusion of segments of population, injustice and inequality, that in turn sustain short-sight solutions fuelling “conflict traps”. Reportedly, unless core grievances are addressed and policy makers focus on the key drivers and enablers of sustainable peace, conflict traps cannot be escaped. Therefore, the WB stresses that state-building top-down models for reconstruction and peacekeeping should be complemented with community-based bottom-up approaches. If not, a mismatch between local needs and the focus of the reconstruction programs seems to leave the drivers of conflict and fragility intact and frustrates any attempt to achieve durable peace.

The second pillar of the strategy consists in endorsing integrated peace approaches that links past, present and future. As for the WB, making sense of the past is crucial to tackling long-lasting grievances and understanding the underlying local, national and regional context. Building on past and present legacy, an effective approach to peacekeeping and reconstruction must factor in individuals and their future incentives, so that structure of powers of the past are not replicated. Accordingly, in order to manage fluidity of incentives and heal societal fractures, any intervention intent on stirring the transition for peace must be underpinned by three entry points: building of inclusive and legitimate institutions; creating sustainable economic opportunities; exploiting resilient assets while addressing damages.

The third pillar entails understanding the trade-offs behind any reconstruction and peacekeeping effort. The WB clarifies that as local, national, and international policymakers seek a path toward sustainable peace, they are confronted with a dual challenge. First, they have to ensure stability by mitigating violence and by addressing its immediate consequences for the population. Alongside these efforts, they also need to initiate far-sighted political processes intended to cope with structural and institutional causes of conflict with a view to promote long-term prosperity, social cohesion, and inclusive institutions to ensure sustainable peace. According to the WB, both objectives are inextricably intertwined and progress in one may come at the cost of the other. Therefore, policy makers seeking durable peace must always consider if policy choices might backfire and how they would affect actors’ incentives and distribution of power.

The last pillar consists in maximizing information on the surrounding context as to select context-specific way forward to ensure peace. According to the WB planning for engagement in today’s protracted conflict situations calls for a dynamic process of assessment. For policymakers this implies updated knowledge of actors’ dynamics, structural factors and opportunities.


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Author: Gianmarco Italia; Editor: Barbara Caltabiano

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