Tag Archives: post-conflict

Democracy that Delivers Podcast #11: Brenda Oppermann of GameChangers 360 on the Importance of Involving Women and Youth in Efforts to Transition from Conflict to Peace

Podcast hosts Julie Johnson and Ken Jaques with Brenda Oppermann (left).

Podcast hosts Julie Johnson and Ken Jaques with Brenda Oppermann (left).

This week on Democracy That Delivers, Founder and Director of GameChangers 360 (Facebook, Twitter), Brenda Oppermann, talks about the importance of including women and youth in projects that assist countries transitioning from conflict to peace.

Oppermann, who has worked for more than 20 years in countries dealing with conflict, including Iraq and Afghanistan, shares best practices for involving women and youth in the rebuilding process.

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Girl Rising: Civic Education and its Role in Economic Empowerment

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Participants in the civic education program (photo: SEF)

Women comprise more than half of those displaced by the Syrian civil war, a conflict affecting more than 12 million people. As entire communities’ social services and educational structures have been upended and 3 million children forced to abandon their education, girls and young women have been disproportionately affected by the unrest. Those who would otherwise attend school, complete their educations, and pursue diverse careers are being forced into early marriages and motherhood, sexually exploited, and used as unskilled labor in dangerous working conditions in large urban centers like Amman, Beirut, and Istanbul.

There is a strong correlation between education and positive health and socioeconomic outcomes for women and girls, yet education is often one of the first things to be disrupted when conflicts break out. In areas where traditional educational models become unavailable or unfeasible, civic education courses that nurture cultures of peace, promote dialogue and non-violent conflict resolution, and build the cognitive and participatory skills of participants can help fill a critical gap.

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Keeping the Economy on the Radar, Even in the Hardest Times

A new job category in Aleppo -- "the crosser" who ferries good across the border under dangerous conditions. (Photo: Syrian Economic Forum)

A new job category in Aleppo — “the crosser” who ferries good across the border under dangerous conditions. (Photo: Syrian Economic Forum)

In Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war, people continued to go to school and attend theater performances. One woman once told me how, to get to her university, she would take a taxi to the line between East and West Beirut, dash to the other side behind overturned trash dumpsters to avoid snipers, and then catch another ride to university — always with a change of clothing in case she could not get home again for a while.

Not every war sees people able to defiantly and bravely continue school and go to the theater, but the story underscores an important point left out of most news reports: conflict is not a permanent state…even during conflict.

Media reports show the most bullet-ridden, shell resounding, civilian-fleeing dramatic moments, but even in situations of all-out war, pockets of fighting revolve and front lines move. Whenever there is a lull in violence, civilians generally try to make life go on as much as they can, however they can. And that includes the economy. Farmers will return to their fields and factories will resume operation as often as possible, and people will buy, sell, and barter what they need to survive. And yes, sometimes they even study for exams by candle in hallways lined with mattresses during shelling (another story I once heard from another Lebanese).

Recently, a group of CIPE staff with experience in conflict-affected settings formed a task force to do some more thinking about CIPE’s own projects in conflict-affected areas. We found it interesting that we work with local groups in areas that range from unstable to war-torn, but that we rarely think of them as “conflict projects” per se. So we started throwing around a lot of questions: is it worth even thinking of our projects through a conflict lens ? (Short answer: yes.) What is our approach to conflict and is it unique? What are the various ways CIPE has either reacted programmatically to conflict, or designed programs to be conflict sensitive?

We’re still thinking, but we have started to articulate what we think we know (more on that at the end of this post). So here it goes…

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Outcry Against Corruption Helps Drive a Change of Leadership in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)

While it is hard to identify all of the issues that drove Sri Lankans during the country’s recent – and for many observers, surprising – elections, a cry for change was evident. Voters had clearly grown tired of corruption, cronyism, and authoritarianism, and there have been widespread calls for investigations into a range of alleged human rights abuses.

On January 8, in an unexpected turn of events, 15 million Sri Lankans, representing a 75 percent voter turnout, went to the polls and ousted incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in favor of Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former Health Minister who shocked many by declaring his intent to run for office. Rajapaksa, who was South Asia’s longest-serving political head of state, in office since 2005, had turned increasingly authoritarian. He called these elections two years early, seeking a third term. It seems unlikely that he anticipated the defection of Sirisena and a number of other parliamentarians.

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Repairing a Shattered Syrian Economy in the Midst of War

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The common thread that unites all of CIPE’s partners around the world is their dedication to the principles of democracy rooted in private enterprise and free market economics. In all other respects, their diversity is remarkable and represents one of CIPE’s greatest sources of strength.

Ranging from the smallest of local business associations and youth groups to large chambers of commerce and some of the world’s most respected think tanks, our partners all work hard to advance freedom and secure new opportunity for their fellow citizens. They also operate under circumstances as varied and complex as the global geo-political landscape itself. Some of our partners work in conflict environments that require a particular blend of courage and creativity in order to advance their democratic objectives.

The current catastrophe in Syria certainly presents unique challenges to CIPE’s partner the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), an independent think tank formed in 2012 by business people from across Syria to inform the public policies that will be needed for the country to emerge from conflict and transition to democracy. It may sound starry-eyed to speak of peace and democracy with the war now in its fourth year, at a cost of more than 160,000 lives, over 2.8 million refugees, $143.8 billion in economic losses (as of the end of 2013), three-quarters of the population living in poverty, and incalculable social trauma.

However, SEF and the moderate business community it represents see no other alternative. Independent small and medium business people from across the country, representing the mosaic of religions and ethnicities for which Syria has long been renowned, are a unifying force with the potential to repair and rebuild a now shattered society.

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Beyond Cronyism, Beyond Violence: Reconstructing the Syrian Economy

This image from Aleppo Media Center, authenticated by the Associated Press, shows damaged buildings in Syria's former economic heartland.

This image from Aleppo Media Center, authenticated by the Associated Press, shows damaged buildings in Syria’s former economic heartland.

The stories coming out of Syria nowadays paint a picture of an economy taken over by violence, in which legitimate private-sector business activity has nearly ground to a halt. Rival groups raid a textile factory, promising protection in return for money; the factory is burned down when the two groups start fighting. The owner of a brake-lining plant does not know what happened to his machinery after it was looted—he only knows that his “entire wealth and life” have been dismantled. No longer able to rely on legal remedies, some businesspeople flee with their capital to countries such as Egypt, where they may remain even after the war has ended.

The statistics reported by the Syrian Center for Policy Research confirm this grim picture. Economic loss totals $103.1 billion. Almost half the population is unemployed, with 2.33 million job opportunities lost since the beginning of the conflict. The price of consumer goods has tripled. Energy prices continue to rise while private consumption and investment continue to fall. Sanctions have chopped oil exports in half, and the decreasing value of the Syrian pound has not led to an increase in non-oil exports. Manufacturing and mining barely contribute to GDP (just 4 percent), and textile factories—located largely in areas that have witnessed the most fighting—have closed by the hundreds, or possibly even thousands. A Byblos bank report estimates that 75 percent of production facilities in Aleppo are no longer operable.

It can be easy to lose sight of the importance of economic recovery amidst the urgent need to stop the fighting. But rebuilding the Syrian economy will be crucial to any long-term peace and reconstruction efforts, as will the manner in which it is rebuilt.

Before 2011, economic benefits mainly accrued to a small group of well-connected elites. Smaller enterprises could hardly expand, thwarted by contradictory laws, a weak financial system, corruption, and limited export capacity. Future reconstruction efforts should focus on rebuilding Syria’s economy in a way that replaces crony capitalism with a private sector in which all citizens have the opportunity to participate and thrive. Reforms that increase competition and bolster small- and medium-sized enterprises will stimulate economic growth and give more citizens a stake in the country’s economy and future.

The private sector should play an active role in reforming the Syrian economy once the conflict ends. To this end, the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), a CIPE partner, has already begun taking steps to organize the private sector to advocate for necessary economic reforms.

In its First Annual Conference in Gaziantep, Turkey, SEF gathered Syrian businesspeople from inside the country and abroad to discuss recommendations for rehabilitating factories, amending investment laws, and improving educational opportunities for Syria’s youth. While it will certainly take a long time before the dire economic situation in Syria can even begin to improve, efforts such as SEF’s will help to ensure a future democratic Syria with an economy that offers all Syrian citizens the opportunity to achieve welfare and prosperity.

Peako Jenkins is a Public Service Initiative Fellow for the Middle East & North Africa at CIPE.

How Democratic and Economic Factors Drive Conflicts in Africa

UN peacekeepers patrol the North Kivu, where democratic failures, lack of economic development, and a dangerous neighborhood have led to years of violence. (Photo: UN)

UN peacekeepers patrol the North Kivu region, where democratic failures, lack of economic development, and a dangerous neighborhood have led to years of violence. (Photo: UN)

Recently I heard Jakkie Cilliers present his paper “The future of intrastate conflict in Africa: More violence or greater peace?” at The Center for Strategic and International Studies (co-authored by Julia Schunemann for the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa). I went to the event thinking the discussion was going to focus on current conflicts and tensions in Africa, and I was going to leave debating whether or not intrastate conflict will ruin the progress African countries have achieved. I was surprised to find that instead the discussion focused on drivers of intrastate conflict in Africa and even more surprised to find that a majority of the drivers are related to democratic and economic factors.

The authors have identified seven correlations associated with internal conflict:

  1. Poverty and Instability
  2. Transitions from Autocracy to Democracy
  3. A Democratic Deficit
  4. Unemployed or Underemployed Youthful Populations
  5. A Tendency toward Repeat Violence
  6. The “Bad Neighborhood” Effect
  7. Poor Governance

Excluding a tendency toward repeat violence, the other six correlations can be grouped into two larger categories, democracy and economy. In terms of democratic factors, the authors purport that it’s a lack of democracy and democratic governance that correlates with violence in Africa. Research shows that “[s]tates that experience stalled transitions from autocracy to democracy or adverse regime changes” are more likely to experience intrastate conflict.

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