From war to work

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

There is no deny­ing that con­flict has far­reach­ing neg­a­tive ef­fects, in­clud­ing on em­ploy­ment. But the pre­vail­ing un­der­stand­ing of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween con­flict and em­ploy­ment does not fully recog­nise the com­plex­ity of this re­la­tion­ship – a short­com­ing that undermines ef­fec­tive em­ploy­ment poli­cies in frag­ile states.

The con­ven­tional wis­dom is that con­flict de­stroys jobs. More­over, be­cause un­em­ploy­ment can spur more con­flict, as un­em­ployed young peo­ple find val­i­da­tion and eco­nomic re­wards in vi­o­lent movements, job cre­ation should be a cen­tral part of post-con­flict pol­icy. But, while this cer­tainly sounds log­i­cal, th­ese as­sump­tions, as I de­tailed in a 2015 pa­per, are not nec­es­sar­ily en­tirely ac­cu­rate.

The first as­sump­tion – that vi­o­lent con­flicts de­stroy jobs – ig­nores the fact that ev­ery con­flict is unique. Some, like the 2008-2009 Sri Lankan civil war, are con­cen­trated in a rel­a­tively small area, leav­ing much of the coun­try – and thus the econ­omy – un­af­fected.

Even en­demic con­flicts, like the re­cur­rent con­flicts in the Congo, might not have a ma­jor im­pact on net em­ploy­ment. Af­ter all, the jobs that are lost in, say, the pub­lic sec­tor or among com­mod­ity ex­porters may be largely off­set by new jobs in govern­ment and rebel armed forces, informal pro­duc­tion sub­sti­tut­ing for im­ports, and il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties like drug pro­duc­tion and smug­gling.

Like­wise, the sec­ond as­sump­tion – that un­em­ploy­ment is a ma­jor cause of vi­o­lent con­flict – misses cru­cial nu­ances. For starters, the for­mal sec­tor ac­counts for just a frac­tion of to­tal em­ploy­ment in most con­flict-af­fected coun­tries. The ma­jor­ity of work­ing peo­ple are in the informal sec­tor, of­ten en­gaged in low-sta­tus, low­pro­duc­tiv­ity, and low-in­comes ac­tiv­i­ties that can, just like un­em­ploy­ment, gen­er­ate dis­sat­is­fac­tion and po­ten­tially mo­ti­vate young peo­ple to join vi­o­lent movements.

Given this, sim­ply ex­pand­ing for­mal­sec­tor em­ploy­ment is not enough, un­less it also im­proves the sit­u­a­tion of young peo­ple in low-in­come informal-sec­tor jobs. Yet post- con­flict em­ploy­ment poli­cies al­most in­vari­ably ne­glect the informal sec­tor. Worse, new reg­u­la­tions – such as the ban on com­mer­cial bik­ing in Free­town, Sierra Leone – some­times block pro­duc­tive informal ac­tiv­i­ties un­der­taken by youth.

But even a fo­cus on the informal sec­tor is in­suf­fi­cient, as re­search has shown that poverty and marginal­i­sa­tion are not, on their own, enough to cause con­flict. If they were, most poor coun­tries would be in con­flict most of the time. And that is not even re­motely the case.

Vi­o­lent con­flict oc­curs when lead­ers are mo­ti­vated to mo­bilise their fol­low­ers for it. That mo­ti­va­tion can stem from a va­ri­ety of sources, among the most com­mon be­ing ex­clu­sion from power. In that case, lead­ers will ap­peal to a com­mon iden­tity – for ex­am­ple, re­li­gion in the case of con­tem­po­rary con­flicts in the Mid­dle East, or eth­nic­ity in many African con­flicts – to mo­bilise fol­low­ers.

Of course, more than a shared iden­tity alone is needed for mo­bil­i­sa­tion to oc­cur. Peo­ple will gen­er­ally re­spond only if they al­ready have griev­ances – in par­tic­u­lar, if they feel that their group faces dis­crim­i­na­tion in ac­cess to re­sources and jobs. In this sense, em­ploy­ment is rel­e­vant, but what mat­ters is not the ab­so­lute level of em­ploy­ment so much as the dis­tri­bu­tion of good jobs among re­li­gious or eth­nic groups.

In other words, sim­ply cre­at­ing more jobs, with­out re­gard to their al­lo­ca­tion, may not ease ten­sions; if im­bal­ances per­sist, job cre­ation may even make things worse. Yet post-con­flict em­ploy­ment poli­cies al­most al­ways ne­glect so-called “hor­i­zon­tal in­equal­i­ties.” For ex­am­ple, em­ploy­ment poli­cies did lit­tle to re­duce the strong re­gional im­bal­ances and dis­crim­i­na­tion within re­gions that per­sisted in Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina af­ter the war there in the 1990s.

Given th­ese fail­ings, it is not sur­pris­ing that em­ploy­ment poli­cies’ net ef­fects are of­ten very small rel­a­tive to the size of the prob­lem. In both Kosovo and Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina, job cre­ation was thought to be cen­tral to post-con­flict peace­keep­ing ef­forts. Yet, in Kosovo, un­em­ploy­ment stood at 45% six years af­ter its war ended. In Bos­nia, new pro­grammes gen­er­ated just 8,300 jobs, while 450,000 peo­ple were de­mo­bilised; 20 years af­ter the end of the con­flict, the un­em­ploy­ment rate stood at 44%.

There is one ex­am­ple of a suc­cess­ful postcri­sis em­ploy­ment pol­icy. Nepal’s govern­ment sought to ex­pand op­por­tu­ni­ties in the informal sec­tor af­ter the coun­try’s civil war, im­ple­ment­ing pro­grams fo­cused on build­ing in­fra­struc­ture, is­su­ing mi­cro-credit, and pro­vid­ing tech­nol­ogy as­sis­tance, tar­get­ing the most de­prived re­gions and castes.

Recog­nis­ing the role that caste and eth­nic ten­sions and dis­crim­i­na­tion played in fu­elling the con­flict, the govern­ment de­signed em­ploy­ment schemes specif­i­cally for ru­ral ar­eas, along the same lines as In­dia’s em­ploy­ment scheme, with 100 days of work per house­hold guaranteed. The pro­grams were sup­ported by the Nepalese govern­ment and ex­ter­nal donors, and fo­cused on poorer re­gions and vil­lages (and, within them, on the poor­est castes).

The pe­riod im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing a con­flict is a del­i­cate one. Lead­ers must make the most of that time, en­sur­ing that ev­ery pol­icy they pur­sue is as ef­fec­tive as pos­si­ble. When it comes to em­ploy­ment, that means de­sign­ing pro­grams that re­flect how peo­ple ac­tu­ally spend their work­ing lives, as well as ad­dress­ing the real griev­ances gen­er­at­ing ten­sions. Oth­er­wise, they risk al­low­ing, if not en­cour­ag­ing, a re­lapse into or­gan­ised vi­o­lence.

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