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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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Christianists and Islamists in Africa: face to face

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 27 January 2010

It was a personal privilege to meet Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye; they are warriors and men of the cloth. They invest as much energy and conviction into disarming Christian and Muslim militia today as they had consecrated in the past to training and encouraging these same militia to fight.

Religion upturns classic conflict typologies

Meeting them also opened my eyes. I thought I knew what caused the conflicts in Nigeria, in Africa in general:

- inappropriate frontiers, interference, and destabilization between neighboring states,

- armed competition for natural resources,

- armed ethnic minorities resisting against the dominant State power of an ethnic majority,

- wars between military dictatorships for power,

- the hardening of Cold War conflicts.

The interactions and effects of reinforcement and appropriation exist amidst these five types of conflicts, as well as the constant possibility of criminalizing conflicts. All these factors contribute to a brutal, complex, yet familiar landscape. According to the Pastor and the Imam, this geopolitical tangle has masked another reality, one that is more discreet because it has long been hidden in the depths of civil society, more difficult to define because it is largely covert, less talked about because it has long been considered a secondary issue by the States. A low intensity, religious based conflict endures between Christian and Muslim militias who both feel mutually threatened. This slowly burning conflict between Christianity and Islam could potentially spread throughout the Sahel; extending across the eastern edge of the continent where successive migrations and influences have resulted in the co-existence of both religions.

Low intensity, religious based conflicts

The type of mobilization discussed by the Imam and the Pastor follows a precise sequence:

- the feeling that the “provocations” inflicted by others remain unpunished by a weak and partial State, determined to look the other way,

- a desire by minority groups to defend themselves,

- the parallel organization of an armed, secret community at the periphery of the official community of faithful,

- the militia’s tactical organization of the territory (training fields, arsenals, surveillance networks, front lines to defend, positions to maintain),

- tension mounts in the society at the thought that others are armed; any incident can lead to conflict,

- desire to make a portion of the territory safe by deporting, destroying, and/or disarming the military structures of the other side. Confronted with the different options – surveillance, defense, demonstration of strength, frontal attacks – factions of the militia eventually diverge, divide, and break off.

A complex pattern that holds true throughout the continent

When listening to the Pastor and the Imam, who have become advocates for disarmament and conflict prevention between « Christianist » and Islamist militia, several things become evident:

- the disparity between what drives the religious force and what mobilizes the militia. Both the Pastor and the Imam describe communities of intense faithful searching for a new authenticity in their faith, looking for a more personal appropriation of the legacy of tradition. This can give rise to not only a temptation for a religious radicalism, but also to changes in affiliation due to the search for a reformed faith: changes in spiritual leaders, brotherhoods, churches. The religious landscape is changing but this change does not provoke political mobilization.

- The misleading overlap of two levels: the majority of the faithful and the religious leaders call for civil peace and harmony but prove to be incapable of controlling military logics of self defense that is implemented undercover of an apparent peace, logic they ignore or tolerate;

- the profound similarities that the Pastor and the Imam acknowledge in the military context of Christian/Muslim confrontations in different African territories;

- the generalized criticism of all the States, presented as corrupt, weak, passive, manipulating…

Civil society, a solution to State failings

This leads us to two possible conclusions:

- the potential for destruction between Christians and Muslims remains intact and constitutes a serious, endogenous threat to peace;

- the State is so discredited that grass-roots initiatives are the only credible entities capable of reducing tensions. International intervention would not be any more efficient. This is why using a purely religious desire for a more authentic faith to call for forgiveness and harmony between militias is perhaps, despite its utopian appearances and inherent risk of excess, one of the more realistic paths.

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An Ethical Framework for Debt Management?

Posted by Jean-Michel Severino on 14 January 2010

Some time ago I met with leaders of several NGOs from a ‘Debt and Development Platform’. The quality of our exchanges gave me the idea to continue our discussions on debt.

This issue regularly finds itself repositioned at the forefront: large waves of debt cancellation at the bilateral (HIPC) and multilateral (MDRI) level; the emergence of new sovereign lenders, particularly China; the renewed activity of the so-called “vulture funds” (investors who bought the debt of poor countries on the secondary market to recover its nominal value). At the same time, the renewed attention on the duties of creditors with respect to domestic consumers, brought by the subprime meltdown, is reminiscent of debates about the responsibility of developed countries during the Third World debt crisis of the 1980s.

Today, the issue of developing country debt is raised in a very different context. Current circumstances call for reviving a policy of loan financing, drawing on lessons from history and using new tools. In my view, the real issue is the definition of rights and duties of each stakeholder, within a context of both desirable and responsible borrowing. Three major pillars can provide a solid foundation for such a policy.

A new debt policy

The first pillar concerns debt cancellation programs, which have allowed for the restoration of solvency in most countries. African debt was reduced to one-third of its original value, freeing up resources for social policies. The success of these debt cancellations – which were necessary – should not lead us to discard loan-financed assistance, as loans remain useful instruments in the diversified pallet of financial tools that should be placed at the service of developing countries.

Offering responsible loans

Take the example of Africa. Business on the continent is developing and its economy is growing (more than 6% on average between 2003 and 2008). And this emerging Africa has a crucial and pressing need to invest. Without access to long-term financing, there could be no public investment with positive externalities – in infrastructure, human capital, and health – and thus no long-term growth. Clearly, given the current volume of development, the financing of the infrastructure projects that African economies need (ports, airports, dams, water systems, etc.) cannot be limited to grants. I am therefore convinced that our role as stakeholders is to offer new financing mechanisms to African countries while addressing their vulnerabilities. In view of the opportunities available to them, African states will not hesitate to look elsewhere for the resources required to support this renewed growth. New donors offer attractive and significant financing opportunities but the conditions they impose are often less than clear. That’s why it is urgent to offer responsible propositions to African countries that allow them to measure the comparative advantages of each partnership.

A historical example :  the 1970-80 crisis

The second pillar is forged on the memory of past failures – the best means to prevent their resurgence. During the 1970s-80s, the international community demonstrated a lack of foresight. It allowed developing countries to be engulfed in the so-called “scissors crisis” – that combination of a drop in commodity prices (which proved to be lasting) and rising interest rates that has fostered spiraling, unsustainable debt. To confront the problem of budget-gouging debt, donors had recourse to Structural Adjustment Programs, a form of shock therapy that, although it allowed the return of a balanced budget, constrained investments in African infrastructure and social capital. But what was true yesterday is not necessarily applicable today. The sources of African growth -beginning with its demographic weight – are considerably more stable and sustainable than in the 1970s. As for commodity prices, it’s a good bet that they will remain high in the years to come. The question today is not so much whether we should reject the loan instrument but how to promote sustainable and responsible borrowing.

Finding appropriate instruments for a new type of debt governance

The third pillar stems from current developments. There are two major lessons learned from the debt crisis that are well illustrated today: the need for international coordination, and the need for better diagnosis of credit problems. The first requires greater cooperation between all stakeholders within a clearly defined framework. The establishment of an international monitoring tool, the Debt Sustainability Framework (DSF), is based on that logic. In September 2008 was held the Accra conference on aid effectiveness. This gathering dealt with, among other issues, the problem of collective discipline – a major and timely issue as we intend to offer a new loan packages to Africa, since transparency, mutual responsibility, and collective discipline are the three conditions of our success in this area. The second lesson calls for finding appropriate instruments for a new type of debt governance. These tools already exist. My agency has introduced a “countercyclical loan”: this instrument includes an insurance mechanism in the event of exogenous shock – the financial translation of force majeure – which reduces debtor vulnerability. In order for these innovative instruments to come to fruition, however, they must be applied on a larger scale.

These developments thus point to a convergence toward the concept of shared responsibility between debtor and creditor. In order to carve “in stone” the rights and duties of each, would it not be possible to identify an international corpus of debt practices or customs, based on past and present experience, both good and bad? By demonstrating that they are able to both learn from their mistakes and develop instruments to avoid the recurrence of future crises, donors could build the foundations for a type of international debt law. It would be based on the three pillars mentioned: analysis of the failures of the 1970s-80s, the practice of debt cancellation, and current borrowing practices, proposing reliable mechanisms and using responsible instruments.

It would not be the first attempt to bring sovereign debt into the realm of law. Anne Krueger, then number two at the IMF, proposed in 2001 a mechanism for restructuring sovereign debt, based on the model of U.S. bankruptcy law – an interesting initiative, but one that was not followed up.

Initiating a debate on this subject would help fill the international void on this topic and provide useful discussion.

I would appreciate hearing your views on this issue, which seems to have reached a new turning point in its evolution.

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“Climategate” Who profits by the crime?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 22 December 2009

Indifference is a dangerous posture when confronted with the growing importance of those who dub themselves “climate sceptics”. The latter really and truly exist; they appear powerful, organised, and indulge in subversive techniques with means that certain, rather pugnacious, environmental NGOs would use readily. A number of people have expressed legitimate concerns about their influence on international opinion, which has just recently been sensitized and mobilized concerning global warming.

De facto, it is always wise to remain humble especially in scientific domains and to ensure that all voices are heard in a rigourous and exacting peer review such as the IPCC members perform amongst themselves. The real question is elsewhere. The violence of the accusation against climatologists, accusations of conspiracy and falsification, make you wonder if certain individuals  wouldn’t suffer steep losses if the international community went forward with global agreements at Copenhagen.

A closer examination shows these attacks are particularly predictable. Those who are living very comfortably off of fossil fuels do not defend a non-carbon based economy. They can easily see that we are on the cusp of a new world, which will surely gnaw away at their privileges. Paradoxically, by stooping to such intimidation techniques, stirring up trouble, and discrediting the most covered summit of the decade, these detractors very clearly show that yes, global warming is a real threat to them and their business.

These methods therefore are not new and have been largely deployed, sometimes successfully by other industries who have felt threatened. Above all else, they are  proof of the immaturity of a segment of economic and political actors who categorically refuse to consider clearly and bravely the immense stake that awaits humanity at the dawn of this century. The rarest of resources is not oil, nor the collective intelligence that we can all deploy together. The rarest of all resources is simply time. We cannot buy time. Let us not waste our strength. Let us not confuse our battles. Yes there are obviously margins of uncertainty. Yes, nobody can exactly predict the earth’s temperature in 2032. We have however, an important mass of information that supports the theory that humans have contributed to global warming. A cyclone is approaching and several extremely violent storms are converging at high speeds on us. Each of these fronts in and of itself would be a major disruptive event, destabilizing our social, economic, and ecologic models. Together, they form a revolutionary challenge, bringing together a number of actors with differing agendas, who must find a single, common solution within a very narrow timeframe.

How much longer will we wait before realising it is already too late?

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Copenhagen: Requiem for a summit?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 22 December 2009

With the Copenhagen summit only a few weeks away, it seems everyone is either predicting a stalemate in international negotiations or listing all the reasons it is useless to hope for an agreement in principle on a global roadmap towards an economy based on new energy paradigms.

Indeed, it is already a given that promises to reduce greenhouse gases established by the Kyoto protocol will not be respected by the end of the first commitment period in 2012. Prospects are even more bleak as the latest assessments by the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – demonstrate that these initial goals will be insufficient to restrain climate change within a “reasonable” limit.
Bringing players with such divergent interests to an agreement and ensuring they honour them seems illusory at best. The path of international diplomacy has indeed been paved with failures and compromises in all fields: developmental aid, agriculture, trade, human rights, fight against corruption. Why would global warming be any different? Why shouldn’t we simply allow technology to accomplish miracles and the invisible hand of the trade market to slowly go green?

This kind of thinking is intolerable and irresponsible. It is particularly dangerous to give up on our only arena and tool of international negotiation by holding up as pretexts our eternal rivalries and our incapacity to fairly share the planet’s resources. We have reached a point of no return. The very foundations of our societies are shaken. The fragile balance of our social, economic, and political organisations are threatened. We can no longer get by with lukewarm sentiments, with opportunistic haggling. We need to grow, we must learn to live and talk together differently.

We must invent a new economic model that is fairer, which fully integrates the environmental constraints for 7 billion human beings within the next 10 years. We are helpless and incapable of finding the determinants of this green growth for which we so ardently hope, as though it were a magical wish. Before we can enjoy the fruits of this new golden age, we must first start on a long and delicate transition period. If we look closer, this passage closely resembles the eye of a needle. We can either go through it or fail. This passage demands each and everyone of us to become thoroughly aware of climate and energy stakes. To get through the eye of the needle together means collectively choosing the right path. There is very little room for error and
We must cut away the extraneous and increase our adaptability.

Both these questions are at the very heart of the Copenhagen negotiations and all together we must find an answer as soon as possible. We cannot precipitously dismiss the rudiments of the only green alphabet at our disposal. Our future common language depends on it.

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