Progress can be made without conflict

Domestic conflicts

Marc Baxmann

To the Preson

is deputy head and advisor for international processes at the Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt). FriEnt is an amalgamation of government organizations, church aid organizations, civil society networks and political foundations. Marc Baxmann supports the members of the working group in accompanying international processes for peacebuilding and crisis prevention, organizes specialist and dialogue events and is responsible for the exchange of information and knowledge management. Before that he worked for the Association of Development Policy of German Non-Governmental Organizations (VENRO) and worked as an expert for scientific and civil society organizations. He completed his master's degree in political science at the University of Bonn in 2006.

Economic and social development processes are never free of conflict. Development cooperation must therefore go hand in hand with conflict management in order to enable peaceful change. The international community recognized this in the 2030 Agenda. In practice, however, there are still many challenges.

Road construction in Kigali (Rwanda). (& copy European Commission / EuropeAid)

"We are determined to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence. Without peace there can be no sustainable development and without sustainable development there can be no peace." With this statement in the preamble of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community has for the first time explicitly recognized the close link between conflict management and development. In the agenda, peace is defined on the one hand as a prerequisite for sustainable development, and on the other as an independent sustainability goal (SDG 16). This goal is about promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, giving everyone access to justice, and building efficient, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This recognized that development is only sustainable if issues such as peace, good governance, inclusivity, constructive state-society relationships and justice are taken into account.

At the same time, development cooperation (DC) claims that it should make a measurable contribution to violence prevention, conflict management and peaceful development and that it must develop new, flexible and integrated approaches and strategies for this purpose.

This is an expression of the historically grown importance of the field of action "Prevention of violence and conflict management" in development cooperation: As early as the mid-1990s, as a result of coming to terms with the war and genocide in Rwanda, peace work made its way into development work. The background was the experience that economic development and employment promotion do not "automatically" contribute to sustainable structural change and the prevention of violence and conflict transformation. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan once again changed expectations of development cooperation in crisis prevention and conflict management. It found itself exposed to increasing pressure to contribute to short-term stabilization and the fight against terrorism and to work directly with security actors. The different values ​​and goals, as well as the understanding of key terms such as "stabilization" or "cooperation", repeatedly led to points of friction between development, peace and security policy actors.

There are two other trends that explain the increasing relevance of prevention and conflict management in development cooperation: On the one hand, the global topography of poverty is changing. While extreme poverty is declining overall, an increasing proportion of the poorest of the poor live in fragile and conflict-affected states. According to the latest estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it will be around 80% in 2030 (OECD States of Fragility Report 2018). Around 65% of the partner countries of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) are already affected by violent conflicts, political and criminal violence and socio-political fragility. In order to live up to the claim of the 2030 Agenda of "leaving no one behind", development cooperation will have to concentrate more and more on these countries.

On the other hand, the significant increase in the number of armed conflicts in recent years shows that violence is by no means restricted to the poorest countries. It can break out wherever political, social and economic inequalities meet disrupted relations between state and society - and state institutions are unwilling or unable to shape social and political change in a peaceful manner.

Prevention and "sustainable peace": focus on development cooperation

These and other global trends have given new momentum to the international debate on prevention, sustainable peace and development. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has also made prevention a key issue in his term of office. A first result of this new attention is the joint study by the World Bank and the UN "Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict", which was published in early 2018. A key result: crisis prevention is effective, saves lives, protects development successes and is significantly more cost-effective than later intervention in violent conflicts. The study highlights the importance of development cooperation for prevention. The aim must be to give politically unstable states stronger and more effective support before a crisis breaks out and to eliminate the structural causes of conflicts.

According to the study, targeted, flexible and long-term development cooperation that strengthens local, national and regional structures forms the core of conflict prevention. A focus on prevention is important in all conflict phases, even if violent conflicts were a long time ago.

According to the study, prevention strategies in the context of development cooperation must concentrate on the main risks of violence and conflict, including access to land, the extraction of raw materials, security, justice and the rule of law, as well as the provision of basic services. Prevention requires the establishment of suitable dialogue platforms at local, national and regional level with the involvement of civil society, women and youth. The state is primarily responsible for effective prevention. It does, however, require cooperation with civil society, the private sector and regional organizations.

Embedding in a coherent overall strategy

Violent conflicts are becoming more complex and persistent. Not only are more non-governmental, regional and international violent actors involved, the conflicts are often also closely linked to global challenges such as climate change or international organized crime. Their consequences are mostly cross-border - migration movements are just one example. Global factors such as the smuggling of weapons, drugs and people, the trade in raw materials or land grabbing for energy and food security in the industrialized countries of the global north have massive effects on the dynamics of these conflicts. In Tanzania, for example, violent clashes broke out over the access of international corporations to bush and pasture land and over the question of compensation for land. In Cambodia, Colombia and Indonesia, the rural population was forcibly displaced for large-scale cultivation projects (Geuder-Jilg 2014). Conflicts over access to and use of land will intensify due to climate change and global competition for arable land.

Against this background, development cooperation must be embedded in an overall concept for conflict management and peacebuilding. In the guidelines "Preventing crises, managing conflicts, promoting peace" of the Federal Government (2017), the importance of development policy for crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding is firmly anchored alongside the instruments of diplomacy and security policy. And it is assigned a decisive role: in the best case scenario, it can prevent conflicts in advance and successfully overcome possible causes. In particular, participatory and structure-promoting approaches can make an important contribution to reducing the causes of conflict and building up mechanisms for non-violent conflict management. And after violent crises and wars, it helps to reconcile societies and advance their transformation.

The federal government's new guidelines are based on the 2030 Agenda and the model of positive, sustainable peace. The fields of action result in particular from the five Peace and State Building Goals of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States:
  • Legitimate policy making and inclusive conflict management
  • Security while strengthening the state monopoly on the use of force,
  • Justice and the rule of law,
  • Job creation and the strengthening of livelihoods,
  • fair distribution of state income and equal access to services.
The instruments of development cooperation should contribute to the achievement of the goals. The guidelines take into account the insight that short-term stabilization measures are not enough to put a permanent end to violent conflicts and crises. Rather, it must be about supporting social transformation processes as early as possible and with patience.

Fields of action and instruments of development cooperation

As part of development cooperation, a number of analytical instruments, procedures and specific measures have been developed to directly and effectively reduce the structural causes of conflict and to achieve substantial progress with regard to the long-term prevention of violent conflicts. Since every conflict context is unique, methods and instruments have been developed in the BMZ sector concept "Development for Peace and Security", among other things, to analyze the specific potential for conflict and violence in a differentiated manner and to align projects in a conflict-sensitive manner. In practice, it is no longer just about the prevention, termination and follow-up of armed conflicts in the conventional sense. Development cooperation is increasingly confronted with complex phenomena of violence in which the classic distinction between political, military, economic and civil actors is blurred. These include, for example, violent conflicts below the war threshold in peripheral regions, massive organized crime as well as youth and "everyday violence".

Violence and armed conflict place particular demands on the effectiveness and effectiveness of development policy. Complex problems such as chronic poverty, marginalization and structural exclusion of certain population groups are primarily of a political nature and cannot be solved with conventional technical approaches. Building on an in-depth analysis of the dynamics of political power and actors, based on local knowledge if possible, it is necessary to look specifically for ways of influencing the political process.

A one-sided focus on promoting employment and strengthening state institutions is not enough in these contexts. So far, there is no meaningful data to show the positive link between employment promotion and peace. Poverty and a lack of prospects make people more willing to join violent actors, but violent conflicts are usually ethnically or religiously intensified clashes among elites over power and resources. In order to make an effective contribution to conflict transformation, development cooperation should primarily focus on long-term support for reform elites and support for inclusive political processes (van Veen / Dedouet 2017). In the case of economic and employment offensives in conflict regions, however, it should first and foremost be ensured that they are conflict-sensitive, i.e. do not further fuel tensions and further promote violence.

Civil society organizations play an important role in peaceful and inclusive development. In fragile and conflict-affected states, they often have better access to the local population, carry out dialogue measures and demand human rights, democracy and the rule of law. If, however, their room for maneuver is restricted by restrictive laws, their positive contribution to crisis prevention and conflict management is also jeopardized. In development cooperation with fragile and conflict-affected states, special attention must therefore be paid to protecting civil society's room for maneuver.


All international engagement in a fragile environment, from planning to implementation, must be geared towards crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding in order to achieve the ambitious development goals (SDGs) in these countries. Above all, this requires increased analytical capacities (including on site), innovative instruments, coherence of approaches, instruments and strategies, greater willingness to take risks and a reliable and plannable provision of the necessary funds.


Working Group for Peace and Development (FriEnt (2017): Helpful Principles Riding: How the 2030 Agenda can enable peaceful change in conflict situations, FriEnt Briefing 12.

Federal Government (2017): "Preventing crises, managing conflicts, promoting peace". Federal Government guidelines.

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) (2013): Development for Peace and Security. Development policy engagement in the context of conflict, fragility and violence. BMZ strategy paper 4/2013.

Geuder-Jilg, Erwin (2014): Land grabbing and its effects on peace, security and stability. Conflict-relevant dimensions in large-scale land investments and "land grabbing", Analysis 43, Berlin: Bread for the World.

Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD): States of Fragility, OECD, 2018.

United Nations / World Bank (2018): Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, Washington, DC.

van Veen, Erwin / Dudouet, Véronique (2017): Hitting the Target but Missing the Point. Donor Support for Legitimate and Inclusive Politics. A Publication of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) of the OECD.


BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation)

German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) GmbH

FriEnt - Working Group on Peace and Development

OECD - International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF)

Platform for civil conflict management

UN General Assembly (2015): Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. General Assembly resolution, A / RES / 70/1, adopted on September 25, 2015.

Civil Peace Service (ZFD)