$9 billion in Haiti. $10.4 billion in Afghanistan. $16.3 billion in Iraq.
The need for effective reconstruction efforts around the world continues to grow and financial support for it has never been greater. So why is reform languishing? An insightful report from NPR’s This American Life on Haiti’s road to recovery tries to make sense of this quandary as national elections in the country approach this year. With “unprecedented amounts” of money pledged to Haitian relief since March alone, in addition to the active work of some 10,000 aid groups and NGOs, the country’s development has stalled, if not regressed. Haiti’s case is all too common. The challenge is getting past simply the best of intentions and actually embarking on a policy that helps Haitians help themselves.
There is widespread understanding that social and economic reconstruction in the immediate post conflict phase is not only a key to preventing a recurrence of conflict, but is also a critical step toward long-term development. Despite the importance of foreign aid in this endeavor, ultimately, effective and sustainable reconstruction is largely determined by the commitment and capacities of local populations, including civil society and grassroots groups that are at the front lines of recovery, to maintain and cultivate the process.
In an in-depth look at the reconstruction of war-torn economies, CIPE Middle East and Africa Regional Director Abdulwahab Alkebsi appeared on Counting the Cost, Al Jazeera’s weekly television program that highlights business and economic news from around the world, to discuss how nations can begin “picking up the pieces” and restore economic prosperity.
The instability that conflict brings to a nation often leaves the economy crippled, with the Middle East being no exception. The program notes, however, that economic conditions are beginning to change for the West Bank city of Nablus.
I recently had the privilege of being on a panel at the United States Institute of Peace on “Promoting Business and Peace in Conflict-Affected Countries.” Let me share with you the summary points of my presentation there. Although security and humanitarian needs naturally predominate in the early months of reconstruction, it is never too early to start listening to the voices of local businesspeople. The private sector matters because it creates jobs, crosses ethnic and political boundaries, and sustains civil society. Listening to the private sector’s views is essential to building a framework of governance, markets, and sound economic policies that will support development and sustainable peace. Economic solutions that do not incorporate these views will be neglecting both economic needs as well as the governance need for popular feedback and accountability in policymaking.
- Listen to the local business community – give them ownership and accountability.
- Build the organizational capacity of business associations and think tanks. Treat them as partners and let them learn by doing.
- Plan for long-term institutional development.
- Promote dialogue on economic policy to create a market system that works for all segments of society.
- Foster entrepreneurship to create jobs and opportunity.
Hamid Karzai’s presidency seems to be failing, and some polls show that his support is flagging. Karzai is perceived to be ineffective in reducing corruption weak on the Taliban, and making moves that question his democratic credentials. Several Afghans I spoke to in Kabul believe that the Taliban attack against a military parade on April 27 marked a turning point in public opinion against Karzai as he made the culturally unacceptable decision to flee the scene rather than lead his security forces. The result was a chaotic scene and there is much talk here in Kabul about firing those high officials in charge of security. The Taliban have claimed that they purposely spared Karzai’s life, and this would appear to be true as a sniper could have easily killed the president from the vantage point of the attack. This was a propaganda coup for the Taliban and seems to be having a negative impact on morale in the country, while generating anger against the president.
Karzai’s ineffectiveness in dealing with corruption and the Taliban has been well established in the minds of too many Afghans. Meanwhile, recent trends against democracy (initiating and supporting bans on media content, and attempting to shut down Tolo TV, which has been critical of his government), recent statements against NATO’s conduct in the war, and conciliatory moves towards the Taliban are disturbing. Many believe he is losing support from Britain and the US as well.
With all this discontent many are wondering who could replace Karzai in a Fall 2009 election bid. The names that carry weight as potential presidential contenders at the moment are former US ambassador Khalilzad and Ali Ahmad Jalali. These two are close allies and it is unlikely that they would run against each other. Jalali seems like the more likely candidate as Khalilzad says he is not interested in the position. Jalali is an Afghan American, currently a professor at the National Defense University and former VOA journalist. He has a strong reputation for his work as a top military planner with the Mujahedin and an honest and effective Interior Minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 to September 2005. He is a member of the Ghilzai Pashtun tribe, which may give him greater legitimacy to negotiate with the Taliban than the Karzais, who are Durrani Pashtuns. Taliban leadership has been made up largely of Ghilzai Pashtuns.
Last week, we released the findings of yet another CIPE survey of the Iraqi business community. Why such a survey? Well, if you are going to do anything related to the economic rebuilding of the country shouldn’t you have an idea of what the private sector thinks? It helps to know business views because it is the private sector that must ultimately attract investment, create jobs, provide products and services, pay taxes, and become a key player in facilitating political stability.
So, working with our local partners, we went out and polled 1,630 Iraqi business owners. The sample was selected randomly from the registers of various Iraqi chambers of commerce and the Iraqi Businessmen Union. Although it is difficult task as one might imagine, we tried to cover the whole country – as a result, we surveyed business people in Baghdad (818 business people), Basra (121), Hilla (70), Kirkuk (42), Sulaymaniyah (510), and Arbil (69).
Some major findings:
- A significant majority of those polled believe that opening the country’s borders to international business will improve their businesses
- Apart from security, the most commonly perceived obstacle to economic growth is Iraq’s lack of legal and regulatory enforcement
- Iraqis are optimistic about the future. More than three-fourth of the business owners anticipate growth in the national economy over the next two years
- Almost half of the respondents say the business environment is better now than last year
- Four in ten Iraqi business leaders (39%) want to see more laws and regulations for business
- The number of Iraqi firms that employ women has significantly reduced in the last two years. In Fall 2005, 63% said they employed women; now, the number is 26%
- An overwhelming majority of all business leaders (84%) feel security is better now than the previous year
- The number one need of Iraq’s workforce is computer training (27%), followed by job opportunities (22%) and development of a better education system (12%)
And in a graphical form…
Business environment compared to last year:
Is the government transparent in awarding contracts?
Last week’s suicide bombing in Afghanistan, the deadliest in years, was devastating for many. We lost several of our friends and partners, whom we’ve gotten to know as individuals committed to building democratic governance, shaping the market economy, and promoting genuine reforms in Afghanistan.
Soon after arriving in Kabul in July 2004, I found myself in a certain kind of solitude, tasked with proving oversight for the formation of the leadership of the nascent Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) with which CIPE was working at that time to transform from a concept to a bona fide reality. The undertaking was not insignificant; especially considering that in the making was the first truly nationwide independent business association in the country’s history.
The term “nationwide” takes on as a specific meaning in Afghanistan as most anywhere. It first implies that Afghans comprise a nation (they do) and second, that there may exist sufficient common interests built on perspectives shared from Amu Darya to the once-capitol Kandahar. In respect to the first half of this term, perhaps surprisingly, in my eighteen months of living, working, and traveling throughout Afghanistan from 2004 to 2006, I found that by and large, Afghans identified themselves first and foremost as just that – Afghans.
Its combination with latter part of this term – “wide” – is, in a word, problematic when seeking accord amongst a people who are spread across a range of mountains, families, tongues, cultural spaces, deserts, and all the differences they realize, brutally exacerbated by a series of wars whose combatants were often first grouped by ethnicity and/or tribe, and then by tactics and convenience. Against this background, those individuals that chose to rebuild an Afghanistan not based on clan but rather consensus embraced the mightiest of endeavors.