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Conflict Prevention can (still) be highly profitable

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 24 February 2010

Several regions of the world profited from the ensuing peace at the end of the Cold War. Europe was one of the first to benefit from the end of the conventional weapons race. Southern Africa saw the end of open conflicts in Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique. Central America finally witnessed the end of the Contras and revolutionary fronts. Reaping the benefits of peace in these regions was only possible because the different agreements that ended the conflicts were accompanied by credible measures to prevent the return of tensions: military power accompanied disarmament measures, confidence and security measures, international deployment to reassure those who were disarming. Then, it was time to adopt social measures complete with reconciliation processes, followed by reconstruction, and the reintegration of opposing forces. After, there were economic measures with large sections devoted to regional development and economic restructuring. Finally there were symbolic measures that involved all the moral forces and the guarantors of the legitimacy of the agreement process: political parties, churches, unions, international institutions.

Investing in something other than weapons

There are still large peace dividends to be harvested in an impoverished world  emerging from an economic and financial crisis, a crisis that will have wreaked warlike damages in a time of peace. Across the globe , we must impose a principle of reasonable sufficiency over the desire for ever more weapons. In Europe, our neighbours have unusually high military expenditures. The Balkans, Greece, and Cypress are in the lead with Russia following close behind. Against whom and for what reason is the latter prolonging its stockpiling of weapons at three to four times the rate of Germany? As for the Near East and the Middle East, they still spend as much on weapons as before the war. Not to mention developing countries…

All of this money could go to alleviating social, regional, and public deficits that have worsened with the economic crisis! Potential investments have been utterly wasted!

Inventing new prevention tools

To succeed, we must invent new prevention tools: solid treaties we can trust on issues where none exist (conventional weapons in Europe is a case in point) or guarantees of security to reassure those who are sincerely starting to disarm, such as the populations around the Black Sea. Most importantly, we need exchanges, synergies, interactions between non-governmental entities, and common interests. Such efforts are impossible if frontiers are closed to migrant workers. Nothing can be achieved without a minimum of solidarity, developmental aid, and disinterested, third party support.

A new generation of opinion leaders must commit

However, a new institutional framework for security, trade, and development is insufficient. A new generation of opinion leaders must commit to prevention alongside the institutional elite: those who speak to youths, to women, to the poor, and to those at the extremes. Societies are more complex, less reined in, and directed than at the end of the Cold War. Political leaders strive to capture the media spotlight but their legitimacy is diminished. This is especially true when establishing the particular sort of trust that is necessary for opposing parties to fearlessly disarm during new conflicts. We need mediators with bare hands, opinion leaders at the local level, a dense network of peace and disarmament lawyers, capable of discovering in others a fellow man, a neighbour, perhaps even an ally.

In addittion, please read this article from Jacques Delpa : Greek Crisis: Ending (at last) the Trojan War

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The death of an old lady and of her ancient language

Posted by Rozenn Milin on 22 February 2010

On February 5, 2010, Mrs Boa Sr. passed away. She was the last speaker of Aka-bo, a language that dated back several millennia and spoken on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.

Her death was widely covered in the international press leading us to wonder why the death of an old lady and the extinction of her “little” language have triggered such emotions…

To understand the symbolic weight of this “double” death, of both the woman and her language, we must go back in time, not only of this part of the world but back to the origins of Humanity.

The Adaman archipelago is made up of 204 islands more than 1000 km off the Indian coasts, divided up between the Great and the Little Andaman. Four population groups live on these islands:

  • The Sentinelese, between 50 and 200 members who are extremely isolated and who, apparently, have never been in contact with Westerners. They are one of the most isolated populations in the world;
  • the Jarawa, who number a little less than 300;
  • the Onges, with nearly 100 individuals;
  • the Great Andamanese, whose language was composed of a dozen dialectal variants, one of which was the Aka-bo language. This specific language is now extinct and there are only 50 people left who speak one of the Great Andamanese languages.

Researchers generally believe that the Andamanese languages could be the last vestiges of pre-Neolithic languages…

These populations apparently left Africa 70 000 years ago to finally settle in Southeast Asia. The men and women who made up these communities were probably the first “modern” human beings to settle in this part of the world.

They survived throughout the centuries until the arrival of the English in 1858. From then on, the Andamanese were decimated – killed by the new settlers or from foreign diseases.

At the start of the 21st century, their long voyage is coming to an end. How can only several hundred individuals scattered across a handful of islands resist the massive uniformizing waves of globalisation?

The day the last speaker of an Andamanese language dies, the loss will be irreparable: an entire linguistic family will disappear. What is at stake here is nothing less than the disappearance of one of the most ancient cultures of our planet, one that dates back to the dawn of time….

“You cannot begin to imagine my pain and anguish as I witness a remarkable culture and a unique language disappear,” said Professor Anvita Abbi, the linguist who has been documenting the Aka-bo language, through recordings of Mrs. Boa Sr.

Today, we measure the full importance of her work. These are the last traces of a language that nobody will ever speak again. And this reminds us of the urgency of recording, filming, and documenting all the other languages and cultures around the globe that are currently threatened. The Fondation Chirac’s Sorosoro programme is committed to this monumental task.

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What role for development assistance in the face of violence?

Posted by Jean-Michel Severino on 10 February 2010

Development organizations such as AFD work in societies that undergo abrupt change. Economic and demographic growth, rapid urbanisation or the changes in identity that it precipitates change societies and their modes of organisations. Dynamics of violence can emerge in the absence of formal or informal mechanisms to manage these accelerated changes. What can be the role of development organisations in the face of states and societies considered as “fragile”? I would like in this post to trace the long learning process of development institutions in the quest for responses to such situations of violence.

The 1990s: failed state to rebuild

A wave of particularly murderous conflicts followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Civil wars that bloodied the 1990s called on an “international community” that was increasingly aware of its limits. A decade after the start of structural adjustment programs, the weakness of State structures risked eroding governance structures, as exemplified in the conflicts in the Gulf of Guinea, around the Horn of Africa and in Central Africa. This erosion of governance caused a loss of control over many territories and the piracy, drug trafficking and terrorism that we have seen in the aftermath. Hence, the issue of “fragile states,” low-income countries that are characterized by weak state capacity and/or weak state legitimacy, emerged in the space of a few years as one of the major challenges to our collective security. International development organizations worked urgently (and somewhat clumsily at times) to build or rebuild states’ capacities. These interventions aimed to “cure”: managing failures left little time to reflect on preventative action that could be taken in states that risked following a similar trajectory.

This decades’s turning point: analyzing situations of fragility

Susceptible of causing violence

The acceptance of the term “fragile state” that progressively came into use at the turn of the twenty-first century marks a change in the analysis of failing nations-states and the strategies used to help them. The change in terminology initially met an institutional requirement: providing aid to states that did not perform according to standard economic recommendations. Yet it also allowed the international community to think beyond “failed states” to consider the political, economic and social signs of impending failure – the stresses or situations of “fragility.” In the European Union’s definition, fragility refers to weak or failing structures and situations where the social contract is broken due to the state’s incapacity or unwillingness to deal with its basic functions and meet its obligations and responsibilities regarding service delivery, management of resources, rule of law, equitable access to power, security and safety or the protection and promotion of citizens’ rights and freedoms. Development professionals must be alert to many warning signs and think about what triggers conflict, such as the unemployed urban youth who took up arms during recent violence in Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya. Or the difficulty of managing precious natural resources – such as acute pressures on land use – that contributed to unleashing violence in Rwanda in 1994. Or access to water and grazing lands, which poisons relations between communities in Eastern Chad and Darfur. Or prolonged social and economic inequalities that create frustrations that engender violence.

Reducing ‘fragility’: a first step toward preventing conflict?

Lessons learned from two decades of experience dealing with fragile states and societies shows that there is a first fundamental requirement for any development operation: ‘do no harm’ (as famously recommended by Mary B. Anderson). That means not exacerbating stress and fragility inadvertently. It is both a fundamental goal and a permanent challenge. But can we go further than “doing no harm” today? At AFD, we have decided to create a specific strategy for action in fragile states that aims to identify the development operations that will treat some of the stresses that provide fertile ground for violence. This strategy requires an ongoing investment of resources to gain knowledge about the societies in which we intervene. AFD is pursuing this effort with its partner network. For example, AFD worked with non-governmental organizations on the preservation and reconstruction of social ties that are broken or weakened by certain social and economic upheavals. AFD will soon launch a research program to better understand the ways development projects can affect the political economy of violence by reducing certain vulnerabilities that feed violence.

Despite important progress over the last decades, this field of analysis and action is still in its infancy, at a time when new stresses emerge, such as the impacts of climate change. That is why investing in knowledge about the forces that animate developing societies is crucial if aid hopes to contribute to the peace and stability of developing societies with the tools at hand –and with all the humility the subject commands. The Fondation Chirac’s prize for the prevention of violent conflict is in this sense an important initiative to encourage steps forward in this collective learning process.

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Is man a spectator or an integral part of biodiversity?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 9 February 2010

Global warming, its effects, and the measures to be adopted have become major political issues. In 2010, the effects of global warming on biodiversity have clearly risen to the top of political and scientific agenda. The big news however is that it has also started emerging as part of business concerns. Firms address biodiversity in their economic models with great difficulty. In general, they list out their good deeds in terms of the preservation of natural resources and the balance of ecosystems. More often than not, they highlight their foundations’ virtuous efforts.

Urban Man still depends on nature and biodiversity

In general, regardless of his occupations, man (and of course woman) has become an increasingly urban creature, pacing the pavement, regarding biodiversity as a nice window to be opened every now and again with a hint of nostalgia. Humanity believes it does not belong to this biodiversity. We as humans admire it, take walks in it, but we never consider ourselves a part of it.

It is evident though that man cannot position himself beyond the reaches of biodiversity to which he (still) belongs. We are all tied to the Earth by an incredibly fragile umbilical cord of which we ultimately know so very little. We are not fully conscious of our vulnerability. Therefore, who is truly capable of measuring how much of our daily lives depends on the astounding favours Mother Nature freely provides?

“Climate Refugees”, an example of species dispersal

Should we decide to ignore the fate of the other species with which we share our planet, we could at least wonder about our own capacities to adapt within the final link of dependence that ties us to the living. Our species does indeed play a specific and major role in current and future climate modifications. It is equally a part of biodiversity. As such, it is not spared by the factors of biodiversity erosion, be they the effects of pollution on our health or the introduction of new species, bacteria, viruses and their vectors. Our adaptive mechanisms can be understood on the same levels as those of other species: physiological, behavioural, and genetic. Climate refugees are another example of biological dispersal, members of a species looking for a new, more favourable ecological niche when former habitats have been modified.

Consolidating the management of our planet’s resources

Biodiversity management cannot be separated from that of other natural resources with which it interacts and which are also heavily impacted by global warming. This is particularly true in terms of competition for land, flow management, and the handling other vital fluids: mobility, energy, water, natural and nourishing resources, waste production… To further compel man to a permanent awareness of his vulnerability and dependence, we must create without delay governmental instances that encompass all aspects of the sustainable management of biodiversity and threatened resources, avoiding if possible the trap of parcelling specializations and responsibilities.

Mission Impossible?

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