Conflicting Development

In collaboration with Alyssa Gebert and Supal Desai.

The relationship between conflict and development is a highly complex one. With recent news coverage of the atrocities in the DRC, conflict has been on the minds of many in the development community.  Even the World Bank launched a website devoted to conflict and development depicting images, videos, and maps for a more interactive approach to understanding the role of aid in fragile and conflict sensitive areas.


Vivek Namana, at AidWatch, offers a critical overview of the role of UN peacekeeping forces in the Congolese rape epidemic.  Recently, the New York Times reported that UN peacekeepers in the Congo failed to protect the people of the Luvingi tribe during the brutal gang-rape of 242 men, women, and children.  Additionally, The Guardian claimed that the UN provides logistical support to the Congolese army and the Rwandan FDLR rebel army, who are responsible for terrorizing the Congolese people and igniting conflict in the region.

How can donors work in conflict areas without adding fuel to the fire? At a recent event hosted by John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), experts discussed the role of aid workers and donors in vulnerable regions that are prone to conflict and war.  The event began by noting reports by Transparency International (TI), a coalition aimed to fight corruption in the world, claims that much of the aid money intended for relief and development in conflict nations has instead found its way into arms trade and military training, thereby exacerbating the problem. The core objective of the donor countries to help cash strapped developing countries in relief and rehabilitation appears to have backfired.

With aid rising to conflict ridden regions, how can the development community prevent the flow of aid resources into the arms of the bad guys? Dr. P Terrence Hopmann, director of the Conflict Management Program at SAIS, noted that accountability needs to be set up at the local level.  By putting more emphasis on the role of civil society, the donors will know where the funds are going and who the beneficiaries are.  Another speaker, Marshall Wallace, Project Director for the  CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, stressed that aid policymakers should “do no harm and [to] guard against unwittingly aggravating existing or potential conflicts.” This is just one step to effectively address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict.

Corruption at the local level of developing countries is rampant, and if unchecked would have far reaching ramifications, which would ultimately undermine aid effectiveness.  The participation of local people is necessary in the creation of successful development programs.  With the lack of a single policy agenda, issues erupting from the implications of peace-building (from the aid donor side) and containing armed conflict (from the local government side) continues to hinder aid effectiveness.  As such, development assistance without conflict sensitivity can inadvertently encourage conflict, ultimately doing more harm than good.


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