10 things I kind of believe about conflict and governance

That is the title of a talk I gave today in New York. Along with a few other academics, I’m spending a couple of days with the leadership of the International Rescue Committee as they rethink their approach to reduce conflict and improve governance.

The slides are here (pdf). The quick run-down of my top ten:

  1. Civil war is on the decline (while NGOs are on the rise)
  2. There’s little evidence that poverty causes conflict
  3. Poor and unemployed young men don’t seem to be a source of social instability
  4. Conflict and violence are at root a governance failure
  5. The MDGs and good governance may be at cross-purposes
  6. Elections do not good governance make
  7. Political development, like economic development, evolves slowly; Good governance will take a long, long time
  8. Institutions develop through internal forces, not foreign NGOs
  9. Just being there may be a governance intervention; outside the capitol you could be the only professional, impersonal, meritocratic bureaucracy in town
  10. We don’t really know how to build better governance systems (but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try)

The slides go into more detail, though they lack most of my text. (Sorry.)

Some of the main implications for international NGOs (as I see it):

  • It’s a good moment for conflict NGOs to rethink their future
  • Institutional change and peace-building are a local processes you can (at best) support
  • It’s harder than most of the things you do
  • Do it seriously or don’t mess around
  • Have realistic expectations of the pace of change
  • Experiment and innovate

There are many interesting speakers and staff. I will try to blog my favorite thoughts in the coming days.