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by Paul Collier (2003)

Public presentation and debate at the Royal African Society



Professor Paul Collier, author of the recently published "Breaking the Conflict Trap", spoke on Wednesday 19 November 2003 about civil-war and post-conflict challenges.

He drew on his recent discussions with 13 African finance ministers from conflict-affected countries.

Alex Vines, Head of the Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, introduced Professor Paul Collier.

Professor Collier began his talk by expressing how he had come to research conflict situations in Africa. Prompted to study these situations after becoming concerned about the specifically economic consequences of conflict; he decided to use economics to understand why Africa was suffering such a high prevalence of civil war since 1960 compared with the rest of the world.

The main premise of Professor Colliers talk, held at SOAS on the 19th November, was that 'proneness' to civil war could be measured by looking at three specific factors,

- Low per capita income

- Economic decline

- High dependence on natural resources

If a country has just one of these then all is well. If, however, a country has all three of these trends they are, he asserted, "playing a game of Russian roulette".

Professor Collier confidently reaches this conclusion after looking at all civil wars worldwide since 1960. By looking at the social, political, ethnic, religious and economic composition of the affected countries his evidence led him to suggest during the talk that, "as far as I can see…civil wars are as likely to start in democracies as dictatorships". That ethnic and religious composition had only a very mild effect on a country's potential for conflict and, in fact, the more diverse a population is the "less prone" it is to civil war. Africa, he explained, had some very worrying trends. In fact a large majority of African countries show the signs of all three factors of 'proneness'. The concerns for Professor Collier about countries with a tendency to conflict were three-fold. The accruing post-conflict costs, the regional spill over effects and the fact that the majority of costs were borne by non-combatants. Bearing these in mind he believed it essential that new policy initiatives were sought.

Having acknowledged the "economic cocktail" of "proneness" is present on the continent, he went on to make some suggestions as to what the "international community" can do to decrease the potential of civil war in these countries. These can be summarised as the following intervention points,

i) Prevention

ii) Shorten the duration of conflict

iii) Breaking the "conflict trap" (a stage post-conflict that Collier asserts is the time when a country is most at risk of going back to war)

He does not advocate ONE policy but a range of them or what he terms "policy coherence". In general terms he defines this as the joining of aid policy and trade policy, but in relation to those at risk of civil war, when trade is less important, he asserts that aid and military policy are the most important aspects to be brought into greater synchronization.

Using this analytical background and economic data the speaker took at closer look at the intervention points he outlined previously.

i) Prevention
Problem: Unconvinced that "poor but peaceful" was a stable alternative (at this point he used the example of Cote d'Ivoire that had been at peace for 40 years but had now "stumbled into conflict"), he reasserted that policies to reverse economic decline were vital in preventing conflict. Pointing to the "unacknowledged" world statistics, one billion rich - four billion on track for development - one billion in decline, he stressed his point that serious input was needed to reach the poorest yet the Millennium Goals were simply not attempting to target these billion at the bottom of the scale.

Solution: Need to look at poor governance and containing the rebel groups that rely on the revenues of natural resources of these poorest countries.

E.g. Kimberley Process, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

ii) Duration of Conflict
Problem: Conflicts now last much longer. Their duration has doubled up to 20 to 30 years.

Why? They are much easier to sustain financially now. There used to be a need for superpower support, now the whole 'business' of war has been privatised.

Using the dataset, Professor Collier told how there was no systematic evidence that one international intervention has worked.

Solution: Kimberley Process has proven that if natural resource price goes down, the chance of peace goes up. If a discount for illicit diamonds was created then conflict could be shortened.

iii) Post-conflict ("Breaking the Conflict Trap")
Problem: Half of all civil wars are the result of failed post-conflict situations. If there could be an increased focus on these small number of places with;

1.Aid: currently wrong in two respects according to Collier

a) Not enough aid for economic recovery

b) Phasing of aid post-conflict completely wrong. Aid is not effective for the first two to three years because the state's absorptive capacity is very low. Should be built up until the fifth or sixth year when it should be phased out to normal levels. At the moment aid is tapering out at just the time when it is becoming effective.

2.Economic policy: Social inclusion is the most important focus of economic input post-conflict, according to Collier, building capacity and increase growth.

3.Military policy: During civil war a country's military expenditure is very high (5-6% GDP), post-conflict this figure hardly alters at all to perhaps on average 4%. So there is relatively no peace dividend. This is why there is an increased risk of conflict.

The big problem in civil war is that it is very difficult to get a settlement that everyone trusts. The rebel group are concerned that the government will renege on settlement. Professor Collier interprets an increase in military expenditure and a decrease in social expenditure as signalling a repressive future (he uses Mozambique as an example of where a decrease in military expenditure and increase in social spending has seen a peaceful settlement). There is a limit to what social and economic policies can do.

The key element, even with successful military, aid and social policies, is to give post-conflict governments reassurance to decrease military spending. There needs to be an external military force to manage the situation in Professor Collier's assessment. This, he claims, can be demonstrated in Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and by Australian troops in the Solomon Islands.

Questions and answer
Q. I think the Cote d'Ivoire example you gave, as an illustration of your argument was a bad one, as its growth is good and it relies not on natural resource but cocoa. Is it not a case of institutions being very weak and personalities strong?
A. No in fact its growth is not so good. From the 1970s there has been stagnation and decline. Yes I agree that all conflicts have multiple causes. Naturally, low income and economic decline are associated with weak institutions but I am hesitant to say that this is "a cause" of conflict. It is one of the things associated with "proneness".

Q. Do you accept that your analysis works for post-colonial, post-liberation civil wars but cannot explain the Namibian, Mozambican and Rhodesian Wars? You seem to neglect regional politics and Cold War dynamics?
Malawi and Tanzania, in terms of your variables, are headed for conflict as they have low growth, I don't agree.
A. Yes, of course there is a pattern of external involvement in most civil wars, I may be an economist but I'm not an idiot. I think that malicious external actors are an endogenous variable. If you have bad conditions then "nasty neighbours" are able to act. These depend a lot on a country's "proneness" to conflict.

Q. What are you views on Geography and civil war? Most conflicts of this sort you are describing happen in landlocked countries. In economic terms they are restricted in trade, tourism and have poor transport routes. Could something be done to increase aviation routes to those countries?
A. Coastal, non-natural resource economies should have made it out of the bottom billion poorest. Land locked countries are the most problematic by far. Uganda, for example, has doubled growth in the last decade but is still liable to poor economic performance and as I said earlier I am sceptical of poverty and stagnation as realistic ways to exist.

Q. The emergence of warlords who have learned to extract natural resources surely increases the length of conflict?
A. In conflict, assets that are useful for people decline (people and assets go elsewhere). There is an increase in armaments and increase in people's "willingness to kill". Epicentres of criminality thrive on weak governance. What is needed is to build up the rule of law. Bilateral assistance is best suited for this type of work as countries can twin policing and law systems, this is something the World Bank or other unilateral agencies are not best placed to do.

Q. Would you say that the World Bank should focus on things like the arms trade and trade policy?
A. There are certainly new international governance issues beyond just aid. Action should not be focussed on "trade" export policies because these are no use in the short term. Certainly, SOROS, Britain, World Bank and Global Witness have got together to lobby over the global arms trade. Not just about "bashing the west" with regard to this - main epicentre of arms is Eastern Europe. Main way to tackle this trade is through the financial systems. The events of September 11th have meant an increased tightening of scrutiny with regard to financial transactions; this has had the effect of curtailing the arms trade.

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