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The African Aid Experience Stability & Development

By Robert Swope
A key condition for economic growth and development, regardless of context, is stability.
Stability can be thought of in two basic ways: political and economic. It is perhaps most
commonly viewed, however, through the lens of security. For the purposes of this paper the
concept of security will fall under the political category with the understanding that conflict or
crime represents a failure of politics and may be addressed either through increased legitimacy of
the state or the strengthening of its ability to maintain a monopoly on the use of violence. In the
following pages I will deal with political stability in Africa, specifically as it relates to conflict
and its relationship to economic growth and development, along with some questions donors
must consider when programming aid in African countries immersed in or emerging from

Stability and Development

Political instability may include too frequent transfers of power or the inability of a government
to develop and implement long-term policies, yet it is most pressing an issue when discussions
among competing political factions breaks down and devolve into violence. While it is certainly
not true that all African countries are in a constant state of war or have even fought one recently,
either with each other or within themselves, it is a fact that conflict has characterized much of the
continent, particularly since many nations gained their independence, and is a major issue
impacting Africas development and the aid it receives.1

One characteristic of African conflict is that the fighting is more often than not intrastate,
consisting of insurgencies, rebellions, and civil wars among competing groups, which tend to be
more violent and destructive than interstate conflict.2 In countries where the fighting has
remained endemic, such as Sudan, which has been involved in civil war in one form or another
since the 1950s, both growth and development have stagnated or regressed, leading to substantial
decreases in livelihoods and underdevelopment.3
The costs of conflict are numerous and extend beyond those who are directly affected by the
fighting with the loss of life or destruction of personal property. African aid expert Todd Moss
categorizes them into four levels: individual, national, regional, and global.4 Each level is
characterized by different impacts, yet they share the commonality of contributing to a general
decline in economic growth and development for conflict-prone countries, their neighbors, and
the continent as a whole.
Individuals, particularly those belonging to vulnerable populations, such as the poor, the
disabled, women, children, and minority groups, often suffer a disproportionate impact when
fighting occurs. Children are often kidnapped and forced to fight, (one estimate suggests up to
70 percent of combatants in recent civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia were under 18) while
women sometimes experience rape as a weapon of war or fall victim to the sexual appetites of
nearby forces, both friend and enemy.5 The poor and vulnerable lose out in terms of foregone
economic opportunities, the loss of their caretakers, or disappearing cushions such community or
government social safety nets that may have existed in the antebellum era. Minorities,
meanwhile, may be seen as somehow culpable for the conflict or simply easy prey without
protection due to their small size, and are therefore targeted.6 While the true impact on
individuals is hard to calculate and will never be known, and though necrometrics in conflict

zones leave much to be desired, studies show that direct battlefield deaths are relatively small
when compared to those who die as an indirect result of the conflict, and that a disproportionate
share of the conflicts negative effects fall upon non-combatants.7
At the national level instability may do great damage to infrastructure, the economy, and
government institutions. State institutions and governing capacity takes time to build and what
may take years of development and help from the international community can be erased
overnight in the form of the destruction of roads, bridges or buildings, and the death of highly
educated, productive, or unifying government officials who are killed in the violence. The
cumulative effect of this is usually seen in decreased or even negative economic growth rates and
lower levels of education, health care, and life expectancy among the populace. Not only are
scarce resources also diverted away from social services and into weapons procurement and
security forces payments, but foreign direct investment is curtailed and capital flight is increased
as those with money seek out other places to invest their money. According to Moss, a
conservative estimate is that a countrys GDP takes a hit of more than 2 percent for each year of
fighting and that this number accumulates over time.8
At the regional level, instability in one country has the unfortunate tendency of dragging
neighboring countries into the conflict.9 It may also increase instability in neighbors through
intensified strain on their social systems due to refugee inflows and the diversion of existing
resources to strengthen security or provide aid.10 Reductions in trade, the spread of disease, and
fighting between refugees groups and the host population may also result. In economic terms,
Moss estimates that real GDP growth is 1 percent lower in African countries when there is a war
occurring within or between its neighbors.11 Globally, conflict in Africa results in a diversion of
resources away from traditional development concerns and toward peacekeeping forces and

other security missions. Additionally, the continent experiences a significant loss of trade and
foreign direct investment that comes from having a reputation as a problem area while at the
same time becoming a staging ground for various global threats, such as international crime,
drug trafficking, and transnational terrorism.12
It is important to note that while the causes of conflict are no doubt varied and context
dependent, the results of instability may create a cycle of poverty, underdevelopment, and more
conflict. The question then becomes: does Africas poverty and underdevelopment result in
conflict, or is conflict responsible for Africas poverty and underdevelopment? Other
considerations needing to be taken into account are how much of the conflict can be explained by
the weakness of state institutions and a lack of legitimacy for the government, or struggles over
resources, ethnic and other social cleavages, poor governance and a lack of accountability among
elites, or external meddling.13 Answering these questions is important because they impact
decision-making for where to program assistance funding, how projects and reforms should be
sequenced, and at what pace progress can be reasonably expected to occur.
As Paul Collier states in his book The Bottom Billion, it seems conflict may be one of
four different traps developing countries (the geographic label he gives them is Africa +) get
caught in and cant escape, leading to long bouts of zero or negative growth.14 Collier also notes
that the longer a conflict lasts, the more likely it is that certain groups benefiting from instability
will become entrenched, thereby making breaking out of the trap less likely since these groups
would lose out as a result of stability or a peace agreement.15 While some of his solutions, such
as support for military interventions, may draw the ire of many in the international aid
community, he does argue that aid agencies should accept more risk and focus more of their

attention on countries stuck in the traps he mentions, which are where the majority of the worlds
poor, the so-called bottom billion, lives.16
Colliers idea of increasing attention on conflict trapped countries brings up the question
of donor strategies and how development assistance is currently being allocated to countries in
Africa that are immersed in or emerging from conflict. To be sure, helping those caught in the
throes of conflict is in and of itself an unmitigated good when done properly and without harm,
yet the issue preventing and ending conflict in Africa has also become increasing important as a
result of globalization. The prevalence by which domestic economies are integrated into an
international economy, and therefore somewhat reliant on each other, has some concerned that
trade disruptions in one country due to instability may have significant negative impacts on other
parts of the globe, particularly when it comes to energy resources such as oil, thereby
necessitating the need for the international community to become more involved. There is also
an international security dimension, most acutely seen in the problems associated with Somali
pirates off the Horn of Africa and their disruptive effect upon sea traffic. Additionally, failed
states have large tracts of ungoverned and difficult to access spaces that may provide cantonment
areas for transnational terrorist groups from which they may plan and organize attacks elsewhere.

Development Assistance Considerations When Addressing Stability in Africa

A variety of challenges present themselves when determining what role the international
community takes in addressing conflict issues in Africa or rebuilding post-conflict societies. As
previously mentioned, the first concern is to do no harm, ensuring that whatever programs or
projects are undertaken do not exacerbate the conflict or otherwise make things worse. Good
intentions are not enough. It has been suggested that the humanitarian response in late 1960s

Biafra, which kick started the aid movement, actually may have extended the war and been
responsible for causing increased suffering.17 Money, in-kind goods, and other forms of
assistance are fungible and whether a country is immersed in conflict or not, international
assistance funds allow governments to allocate money and other resources away from needed
social programs towards less optimal areas such as arms and soldier salaries.
Another important consideration involving security and the aid experience in Africa
regards selectivity, which are essentially decisions as to where to allocate aid among nations. We
live in a world of constrained resources and a valid question is whether or not money spent in a
conflict zone achieves the same bang for its buck as do funds spent in another country on the
continent where a peace agreement has just been signed and hostilities have ceased. In the first
case there appears to be greater suffering and therefore more need for help, yet as the case of
Biafra suggests, higher levels of misery may result from international involvement and an
extension of the conflict, leading to an overall negative impact and ultimately more deaths. The
second scenario, meanwhile, presents to us less of a need and may be the most useful allocation
of funds as the money may prevent a return to conflict and set the country on a pathway towards
increased levels of economic growth and development. Even so, greater total utility may be
found in targeting the money toward a country with a large poor population but with less risk and
enough stability and government capacity to ensure it will be used more efficiently.
When engaging in development assistance during or in the wake of conflict, there are
also significant questions with program selection and sequencing that must be answered. The
ultimate goal is to reduce poverty via increased economic growth and development while
preventing a return to conflict. How then should available aid money be spent? Must it be
focused on dealing with food security, health issues, and poverty reduction strategies for the

poor, or should it go instead to conflict resolution programs so as to build a more sustainable

peace? Should the money be spent by NGOs or the state institutional channels? Conflicts occur
because of a breakdown in politics. Does this mean assistance funds should go to good
governance programs and the building of voice and accountability mechanisms in the body
politic so that citizens feel they have a say and influence in the political arena and will be less
prone to rebellion? Or is it more important to engage in security sector reform and strengthen
the governments ability to retain a monopoly on violence and play the role of Leviathan? What
sort of balances and tradeoffs between long-term development goals and short-term stability
considerations should be implemented? Would elections help or hurt? And should those
believed to be guilty of war crimes be prosecuted, or will doing so reignite the conflict?
These are all difficult questions, some having more of a moral dimension than others, and
perhaps all of them are without ready answers. Obviously much depends on the drivers of
conflict, what the levels of assistance funding and international support will be, the quality of
any programs and projects chosen for implementation, local cultural considerations, existing
state capacity levels, and a myriad of other factors. Yet despite the difficulty involved in
answering them, they must be considered when addressing the issue of conflict-related aid in

Economic growth and development in Africa are inextricably intertwined with the issue of
political stability, which is most often considered in terms of security. When political discussion
breaks down and violent conflict occurs, countries more often than not realize lower levels of
development and economic growth as state institutions and governance deteriorate and capital

leaves. A country can become trapped in a vicious cycle where poverty and conflict feed off of
each other and keep a country from developing. More poverty, higher mortality rates, and lower
levels of education and other social goods are the outcomes. And there are a variety of different
impacts at the individual, national, regional, and global levels.
Understanding the nature of conflict in Africa and the pitfalls of intervention is important
for the donor community when it comes to allocating scarce aid monies. Perhaps the one truism
concerning conflicts in Africa is that they are each context dependent, resulting from a
multiplicity of factors. And just as there is no silver bullet when it comes to achieving economic
growth and development, neither is there one when addressing the drivers of conflict, securing
stability, or successfully managing the post-conflict reconstruction and recovery period so that
the country is set on a pro-growth path and realizes higher levels of development without a return
to violence.
This paper has sought to discuss the connection between political stability (read: security)
and development outcomes in Africa, in addition to exploring the many questions that come with
any intervention, regardless of scope. If the international community wishes to address conflict
in Africa, it would do well to ensure that those it sends to respond are well-versed in both the
nature of African conflict and the dangers of involvement, not just for themselves, but for those
whom they are trying to serve.

1 Moss, Todd J. African Development: Making Sense of the Issue and Actors. (Boulder: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 2007), pg. 55

2 Ibid, pg. 56

3 Ibid, pg. 59

4 Ibid, pps. 61-62

5 Unattributed. Wars Overlooked Victims. The Economist. January 13, 2011.

http://www.economist.com/node/17900482?story_id=17900482 (accessed: February 23, 2012)

6 Moss, Todd J. African Development: Making Sense of the Issue and Actors. (Boulder: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 2007), pps. 61-62

7 Ibid, pg. 61

8 Ibid, pg. 62

9 Ibid, pg. 62

10 Ibid, pg. 62

11 Ibid, pg. 62

12 Ibid, pg. 62

13 Ibid, pps. 63-64

14 Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion. (Oxford University Press: 2007), pps. 5-7.

15 See Colliers The Bottom Billion, chapters 7 & 8 for more on aid response and military

16 Along with conflict, Collier includes as traps natural resources, being landlocked with bad
neighbors, and the trap of bad governance in a small country. He notes that, according to his
estimates, 980 million people live in the countries of the bottom billion. See page 6 of The Bottom
Billion for specifics.

17 Gourevitch, Philip. Alms Dealers. The New Yorker, October 11, 2010.
KIMEZa7 (accessed: February 14, 2012).

Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion. (Oxford University Press: 2007).
Gourevitch, Philip. Alms Dealers. The New Yorker, October 11, 2010.
e_gourevitch#ixzz1mKIMEZa7 (accessed: February 14, 2012).
Moss, Todd J. African Development: Making Sense of the Issue and Actors.
(Boulder: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 2007).