15 November 2012

Africa: Jan Pronk - There Is No 'Post Conflict'


At the Hans Singer Memorial Lecture last night (a joint initiative of IDS and the German Development Institute in Bonn), Jan Pronk gave us his views on peace building and development.

Hans Singer was co-generator of the Singer-Prebisch hypothesis about the gains from trade being skewed away from primary goods exporters due to declines in commodity prices and Redistribution with Growth which he developed with Richard Jolly which argued against the conceptual and policy separation of growth and distribution so popular in the 70s (and today for some).

Hans passed away in 2006 and this series in his honour fluctuates between the 2 places he spent most of his academic life - at IDS in Brighton and in Bonn.

Jan Pronk was a fitting person to give the 4th lecture in the series. He was the Minister for Development Cooperation in the Netherlands in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. He held senior positions in UNCTAD, was Assistant Secretary General of the UN, the UN Special Envoy on Sustainable Development and Kofi Annan's Special Representative to Sudan in 2005-6. He one of the few development economists who understands politics - in theory and practice. I could go on - his Wikipedia entry runs to 8 pages!

Pronk made some key points:

- get rid of the term "post-conflict" there is always conflict in change, and development is change - what we need to worry about is preventing and containing conflict escalation

- peace keeping by military forces runs many risks - particularly the entry of foreign interests to inadvertently or deliberately undermine the whole peace process

- enduring peace processes are home grown, go with the grain of development and cannot be imported

- the data that show conflicts to be declining and that support analyses that conclude greed rather than grievance drives conflict, use definitions of conflict (death on a battlefield) that are too narrow

- peace keeping, peace making, and peace building don't happen in sequence - we need to be integrating them and practising them simultaneously

He concluded that peace building is complex and needs to take a comprehensive view, it needs to employ caution and wisdom and it is OK if it slow and does not oversell expectations.

These are refrains we hear frequently in development, and we are struggling with many of the same issues (not terribly successfully it should be said).

What I missed from his talk were the implications for external actors of his view of peace building. Nevertheless a fascinating and provocative presentation. Hans would have loved it.

Watch out for it on the IDS website.

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