Do you think conflict occurs in a vacuum? You couldn’t! There are many factors that play a role. This course creates an overview of those factors most prevalent in regions prone to conflict and looks closely at the relationship between democratic governance, development, poverty and conflict.
Over the last couple of decades the world has witnessed a transformation in the nature of conflict. Traditional inter-state conflicts have become rarer as non-traditional intra-state conflicts, whether in the form of civil wars, armed insurrections, violent secessionist movements or domestic focused warfare continue to rage across the globe, touching both hemispheres and every region of the world. Unfortunately, due to the interdependence of states and ill defined borders, intra-state conflict has a tendency to move beyond the boundaries of one particular state; this process of diffusion and contagion mean that low-level intra-state conflicts can potentially escalate into more intense inter-state conflict. The evolving nature of conflict has created an impetus to reassess which actors can contribute to resolving this latest incarnation of conflict and more importantly how these actors can contribute to the peacebuilding process, particularly in conflict-affected countries.
As was noted in the 2011 World Development Report, strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to provide citizen security, justice, and jobs is crucial to break the cycle of violence in a country. Parliaments are coming to the fore, more so than ever before, as one of those institutions which is uniquely designed to address drivers of conflict, contentious issues and relationships in conflict-affected societies thereby contributing to peacebuilding efforts.
Parliamentarians are uniquely positioned to play leadership roles in their societies and to strengthen peacebuilding from below. They are more representative and their members more accessible to the general public than the executive or judicial branches; therefore, care often called upon to address contentious issues and relationships in conflict-affected societies. In addition, parliaments are created to avoid violent conflict and to institutionalize non-violent conflict. They are designed, by their very nature, to include disparate sectors of society, and to reflect and express the divergent views of those diverse groups. At its most general level parliaments are able to contribute to peacebuilding and conflict prevention by helping to create national consensus around commonly held values and goals through national policy dialogue. However, they often contribute to conflict-prevention whilst undertaking normal functions.
The role of parliament in conflict-affected countries becomes even more important when considering the contribution parliaments make to poverty reduction and the well-recognized correlation between conflict and poverty; namely that poverty increases societies’ vulnerability to conflict, while conflict itself generates poverty. The objective of this parliamentary training module is to bring these two correlative relationships together to examine the nexus between conflict, poverty and parliament from the perspective of parliaments. A closer examination of the parliament, conflict, poverty nexus suggests that parliaments have a vital role to play in managing conflict not just by addressing contentious issues and relationships but by helping to avert poverty, particularly in conflict-affected countries.
A conflict-affected country, narrowly defined, often means those countries that have recently experienced, are experiencing or are widely regarded as at risk of experiencing violent conflict. However, this is a relatively blunt definition of the intricate concept of conflict. For the purposes of this parliamentary training module, conflict is defined as, the “pursuit of incompatible goals by different groups.” This is a much broader definition than armed or violent conflict and enables parliaments to consider ways they can manage and transform conflict at all stages of the conflict cycle, not just when conflict reaches the crisis stage.
Adopting this broader definition of conflict enables us to examine how to stop emerging conflict from developing into violent conflict. This is important as there has been a decline in the incidence of civil wars over the last couple of years, shifting the focus away from the resolution of violent conflict to an examination of how emerging conflict can be better managed to prevent an increase in the incidence of violent conflict. It is believed that the strategies discussed in this parliamentary training module have a broad application, but are most applicable to those nations that are prone to civil and political violence.
Irrespective of the stage of the conflict cycle one is examining there is a general consensus that conflict is a phenomenon that results when people with competing interests seek to fulfill their specific interests, sometimes at the expense of others. It is not the purpose of democratic institutions to resolve tensions; rather there has been recent recognition that all societies are inherently conflicting, and that democracy acts as a system to manage and process conflict. Therefore, the issue is less so how to eradicate conflict and more so how to manage conflict in a non-violent manner when it emerges.