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Conflict, Violence and Development

(Paper for Christian Council on Approaches to Defence and Disarmament)

Meeting in Christian Aid on 19th April 2005


Daleep Mukarji (Christian Aid)



1. Introduction


Since its birth, Christian Aid has fought relentlessly for a more just world. It began, sixty years ago in 1945 in a post conflict situation to respond to need – to help refugees and communities in Europe to rebuild their lives. Under the banner ‘Christian Reconstruction in Europe’, the British and Irish Churches responded to the post war situation in Europe – working on refugee rehabilitation, reconstruction, reconciliation and the long term needs for development. Over these past sixty years Christian Aid, the official relief and development agency of the Churches in the UK and Republic of Ireland, has grown and now it works in about 50 countries, with over 600 partner organisations still helping people in need – to help themselves.


Christian Aid’s essential purpose is to expose the scandal of poverty, contribute to its eradication and to challenge and change the structures and systems that keep people poor and marginalised. Today Christian Aid is in areas where we have to deal with post conflict or actual civil strife – in Angola, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East etc. These are high risk areas for local communities and Christian Aid staff. The reality of conflict, violence, child soldiers, demobilisation and the effects of war are issues my colleagues and I need to deal with fairly regularly. Poverty, conflicts and violence are often interrelated and unless we look at some of the causes and impact of conflict we shall not be able to contribute to long term development.


Our changing world has given a new urgency to the debate on conflict and development. Since 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’ the international community has increasingly endorsed a comprehensive approach to conflict. It in fact involves the ‘whole government’ – where economic development as well as diplomacy and defence resources are expected to play a role in preventing conflict and responding to it.


We have become aware since the Kosovo conflict of the links between the political, military and now humanitarian agenda of the big powers. So much so we see references to a ‘humanitarian war’ – to link the humanitarian agenda of helping people in need with other political and military intentions. This has been more obvious in Afghanistan and Iraq. States now seek to include humanitarian and development non governmental organisations (NGOs) in their definition of economic development not only for their ability to help people in need but for their ability to influence the development of an empowered civil society in conflict affected areas. NGOs thus need to fight for ‘humanitarian space’ – to be seen separate from the conflict, to be neutral and to help all people in need. This has not been easy.  Yet Christian Aid will have to be true to basic humanitarian principles (of the IRCC) that we have signed up to.


So the challenges for agencies like ours are very real – conflict, violence and the pressures from wars of various types are very much on the agenda of development agencies even in the early twenty first century.


2. Some Causes and Impacts of War


This is covered briefly to give some context to our development work. We will not be able to work with local partners and civil society organisations unless we attempt some analysis of the conflict and violence. As always the situation is complex and there are both underlying and precipitating causes. No war has only one primary cause of the situation.


a)     Causes of war, conflict and violence





Easy availability, export and exchange of small arms and even major armaments can sustain, fuel or aggravate a war zone. Often these arms are bought by dictators to stay in power, or are made available in exchange for minerals, diamonds, oil and other local resources that industry or the rich north needs.


Weak governments, the absence of a central state with its institutions and capability to maintain law and order does not make it easy to keep peace and to intervene in conflicts. Poor governance can, over the years, contribute to a culture of violence, disrespect for authority and collapse of basic services and infrastructure. In these situations war lords and local militia control communities and a region as private ‘fiefdoms’.


b)     Impact of conflicts and wars


Simply put these can vary and the list below are key points:





Ø      Rape being used as a method of violence; this has also helped to spread HIV/AIDS.


Ø      Children have got caught up in the wars – as child soldiers (often forced or because there is little else to do). Children are deliberately pulled in, used, abused and can even perpetrate the violence.


Ø      Problems of landmines, even after the wars, so there are areas where people cannot go, work or undertake farming. This means a massive need for clearance of the mines.


Ø      Social, economic or political impact of conflicts is often devastating. Development is threatened and can hardly take place in a context of insecurity and violence.


Ø      Wars can spread – from one nation to another as others are brought in for various reasons (the Great Lakes region of Africa).


3. Conflict and development: from recent Christian Aid experience and the wider debate


a)     An inclusive political system and vibrant, healthy civil society makes civil war less likely. In this context the prevention of war/conflict is better. Two UK government papers support this:


-          DfID’s “Fighting poverty to build a safer world: A strategy for security and development” and


-          the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit has produced “Investing in prevention” a major report on managing global instability and crisis response.


b)     In fact most donor policy is underpinned by the assumptions that poverty and social exclusion can cause violent conflict. Poverty eradication programmes are justified, in addition to their impact on poverty as a form of conflict prevention or management. This is not always supported by actual evidence.


c)      Conflict can cause poverty or the absence of development, but can poverty cause conflict? There are no simple instrumental or one-to-one relationships between the two outside of history and geopolitics. It is probably more accurate to say poverty may be one of a series of inequalities used as a source of grievance by leaders to mobilise followers and legitimate violent actions. Therefore tackling inequality may be as important as tackling actual poverty in the long term if we are to prevent recurrent outbreaks of violent conflict.


d)     The reality is that conflict is likely to be a ‘driver’ or maintainer of chronic poverty but the reverse relationship is less likely. The chronically poor are less likely to forment violent conflict. World Bank and other research has postulated that ‘greed’ or predatory accumulation rather than ‘grievance’ generated by poverty or social exclusion tends to cause violent conflict.


e)     Conflict resolution will require intervention at local, national and sometimes international levels. Often what is required is political intervention by concerned neighbours to bring the conflict to an end. The role of the Africa Union, the UN, the EU or other peace keeping forces may help. Development programmes cannot provide a political solution to a conflict – and most often it is a political solution. Yet our development programmes can help with reconciliation, rehabilitation, enabling demobilised young people find employment or a new life. Development has a critical role to play in rebuilding war torn societies morally as well as economically – restoring hope and turning hope into action. So a peace dividend is important. People should see an incentive in a ‘no war’ situation that benefits all.


4. Military spending and development








5. Christian Aid efforts in conflict and development







6. Conclusion


Since its early days Christian Aid has attempted to assist many of the people caught up in the variety of violent conflicts that have occurred over the years. It seems working in war torn areas, trying to contribute to peace, justice, healing and reconciliation at the local community level has become part of its overall approach to development. At the same time it works with others at the root causes of conflict, violence and civil strife. We attempt, where possible, to promote prevention, policies and practices that can contribute to solutions and work on larger issues such as the Arms trade, peace in the Middle East and speaking out for humanitarian space in international conflict.


The violent aftermath of the 9/11 attacks has resulted in a deep polarisation which has limited the space for dialogue on poverty, injustice, conflict resolution and the prevention of violence. This situation may deteriorate further if the war on terror intensifies. Our humanitarian work in areas of conflict and need is threatened by further decline in respect for international law, the Geneva protocols and other humanitarian agreements. For the first time, significant areas are simply off-limits for international development and relief organisations. This will seriously weaken the capacity of our local partners to implement effective programmes.


The first decade of the new century has been overshadowed by fear, violence, conflict, wars and ideological division – difficult and unpredictable conditions for a humanitarian organisation, such as Christian Aid, to work in. Yet, given our experience, our faith and our vision of a better, safer and more just world, we believe we can make a difference. We believe in life before death – and it gives us the courage and passion to turn vision into action.