Comment & analysis

The whole shebang? Why achieving development and security means working on governance

21 September 2013 Larry Attree

Recent work by ODI has suggested that peacebuilding CSOs have integrated the promotion of good governance into their vision of peace and development more to promote their values than on evidence that governance matters to development results. On the International Day of Peace, Saferworld’s head of policy Larry Attree explains why governance, peace and development are inseparable and need to be part and parcel of the world’s new development agenda.

If the post-2015 framework is to have the overarching aim of ending poverty, before starting, we should recall the findings of the Voices of the Poor: that poor people around the world define poverty not just as how much money is in their pocket, but also as their vulnerability to insecurity, injustice, and the indignity with which they are routinely treated.

Respondents to the MYWORLD survey also ranked honest and responsive government, protection against crime and violence, and freedom against discrimination and persecution among their top eight concerns. If we are listening to what poor people say, the world’s future development framework should surely define ending poverty as in part a question of achieving more just state-society relations and guaranteeing people’s security. When the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Framework recognised peace and good governance as ‘core elements of well being, not optional extras’, they accepted this argument.  

But for those who don’t agree, let’s review some other evidence.

One argument put forward is that while conflict and violence are the most significant factors holding back human development, addressing a range of governance, justice and equality concerns does not necessarily lead to better development outcomes. But there are at least two important cases to be made to counter this. Firstly, in Governance Matters, Kaufmann et al consider the development outcomes associated with six governance factors: voice and accountability, political instability and violence, government effectiveness, regulatory burden, rule of law and graft. Their conclusion? ‘As measured by these indicators, governance matters for development outcomes’.  

Secondly, addressing governance, justice and equality concerns does seem to lead to less (financial) poverty. The Institute for Economics and Peace has found that for every ten places countries rise on its Global Peace Index, they experience an income rise of, on average, $3,100 per capita. Higher placed countries on the Global Peace Index also have been shown to achieve better scores on a very wide range of governance and rights related measures, including: political democracy, accountability, corruption, honesty of elections, human rights, civic activism, internet access and ability to express political opinion without fear. So the most peaceful countries tend to be less corrupt, have greater respect for human rights, and offer their citizens the chance to have a greater voice and civic participation.

Tackling the roots of violence

These findings suggest that if you do want to reduce violence, and you don’t want to do this through a hard-line and short-termist approach to security provision, then you need to tackle the roots of violence – and most importantly to improve governance. There are a number of key sources of evidence on this point worth noting.

Paul Collier: finds that governance of natural resources matters for whether countries that have them remain poor, badly governed and conflict-affected. He also claims to have shown that democracy – and the quality of elections – matters for the level of governance and how well natural assets are managed by the government.

The World Development Report 2011 draws on research by Fearon which finds that high levels of political terror in past periods increase the chances of current conflict, and Walter, who finds that significant reductions in the number of political prisoners and extrajudicial killings decrease the chances of renewed civil war by between two and three times.

The findings of a 13-country study by peacebuilding expert Thania Paffenholz on civil society and peacebuilding found that while civil society can make important contributions to peacebuilding, the behaviour of the state is one of two key contextual factors affecting this.

A major research project by the Crisis States Research Centre also reports that cross-country variation in homicide rates is explained by a combination of traditional socioeconomic factors and variations in political institutional arrangements and that city-level qualitative research also underscores the significance of political factors in spurring violent civic conflict.

Quantitative studies by Chan, Ray, Rummel, Russet and Starr have also argued a causal link between democracy and peace. A wide range of other studies (by Rummel, Doyle, Small and Singer, Levy, Xenias) assert the link between democracy and lower levels of international conflict. At the same time, some studies (for example by Montalvo and Reynal-Querol) show that majority-rule (winner-takes all) type democracies that do not protect minority rights, have a much higher level of violence than inclusive democracies.

Relying on evidence not exceptions

The debate on whether democracy – or at least some form of inclusive politics – is necessary to reduce violence and achieve development is emblematic of a recurrent problem in the post-2015 debate. While some base their arguments on what is on the whole likely to achieve better outcomes, others counter this by raising examples of the ‘exceptional state’ – states such as Rwanda and Ethiopia that have achieved growth and remained relatively stable without improving their approach to accountable and inclusive governance.

However, exploring the evidence on this, the Center on International Cooperation emphasises three points:

  • Democratic systems are not the only stable option – and rapid movement to democracy can be risky.
  • Nonetheless, since the end of the Cold War, all countries that have lastingly exited from violence – with the exception of Angola – have done so by adopting an inclusive political settlement.
  • In the end ’authoritarian systems have a shelf-life’ – that is they tend to put their future stability and development at risk by following the authoritarian path.

The world’s new development framework should not be framed on what is exceptional, nor on approaches that store up risks for the future. Instead it should encourage governance approaches that the evidence shows have the real potential to lead to lasting violence reduction and better long-term development results.

Larry Attree is head of policy at Saferworld.

This post was first featured on the website.

Read more about our work on the post-2015 development framework.

“The most peaceful countries tend to be less corrupt, have greater respect for human rights, and offer their citizens the chance to have a greater voice and civic participation”

Larry Attree