The centrality of good governance to peaceful and stable societies
Violent conflict is at a 30 year high, yet approximately only 1.4% of ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) is currently spent on peacebuilding efforts.
The past five years have witnessed higher levels of deaths compared with most years since the end of the Cold War, with countless communities around the world reeling from the effects of living with daily violence. Conflict is the greatest cause — and at times consequence — of humanitarian crisis that we see in the world today.
Fragility and associated conflict is driven by a number of underlying social, political, economic, and ecological dynamics, many of which connect directly to how communities and States are governed. Weak governance compounds natural resource challenges, perpetuates distrust and alienates young people and other marginalised groups, in turn fueling protracted violent conflict. These governance-related drivers must be tackled in order to effectively promote successful peace and development outcomes.
Within our work, wherever possible, Mercy Corps engages decision-makers and power-holders, endeavouring to ensure they are responsive, accountable to and equipped to engage with citizens, while also harnessing the collective resources, knowledge and capacities of communities and civic action.
Weak governance compounds natural resource challenges, perpetuates distrust and alienates young people and other marginalised groups, in turn fueling protracted violent conflict.
We frame our approach to tackling the complex drivers of conflict around “3Gs”. Through our work, we look to address past and current Grievances, inequitable or unsustainable Growth and weak Governance. Innovation, partnership with the private sector, and the ability to scale, are all key elements.
One example of where we are putting this approach into practice is through the IMAGINE programme in DR Congo. With substantial, multi-year funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, this innovative water and governance programme has established a water management entity and structure in the DRC that partners with Congolese national and provincial authorities, as well as the private sector and civil society, to improve the availability and affordability of clean water for the most vulnerable people in Goma and Bukavu.
Despite vast mineral and natural resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to be plagued by protracted humanitarian crises, particularly in the east, which has experienced more than two decades of conflict. Insufficient infrastructure and weak governance inhibit development, with widespread mistrust stemming from lack of accountability and transparency. As in many fragile contexts, weak governance fuels grievances and provides opportunities for non-state armed groups to gain community acceptance.
Only by addressing weak governance that results in injustice, real or perceived, will communities in countries such as DRC escape the nexus of extreme poverty-violence-fragility.
The DRC struggles massively to meet the basic water needs of its citizens — only a quarter of the population has access to potable water, despite the country holding half of the African continent’s water reserves. People fleeing to cities in eastern Congo to escape violence have contributed to the pressure on urban infrastructure. In Goma, over a million people depend on an aging water system that was originally constructed to serve a population of fewer than 100,000. These conditions facilitate the prevalence of waterborne diseases disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable: one in ten children dies from waterborne diseases before the age of five.
But the programme is about more than tap stands and water. While it is saving lives today and helping a vital sector in a fragile and conflict-affected economy adapt and open to healthy competition, it’s also helping address a significant governance driver of conflict in DRC.
Establishing transparent and inclusive governance processes that increase responsive and equitable service delivery, and increasing trust and accountability between the government and its citizens in eastern DRC will contribute to greater stability for years to come and can serve as a model in other countries and regions beset with fragility and conflict.
These activities support not only improved services but also vital legitimacy and trust building between governance actors and the communities they serve. Only by addressing weak governance that results in injustice, real or perceived, will communities in countries such as DRC escape the nexus of extreme poverty-violence-fragility.
Positive governance outcomes such as more transparent power structures, effective and legitimate institutions, low levels of corruption, inclusive political settlements, and equitable and efficient provision and access to public services are critical for creating an enabling environment for peace. From the example of our work on just one programme in the DRC, it’s abundantly clear more needs to be done to improve governance in many of the world’s most fragile places, if we’re going to accelerate progress towards a more peaceful world.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Simon O’Connell, Executive Director, Mercy Corps
With almost two and a half decades experience working for positive social change in a wide array of different countries and contexts, Simon O’Connell is an experienced and entrepreneurial leader. Since early 2015 Simon has been the Executive Director of the global organisation Mercy Corps — one of the
most respected international relief and development agencies, with a team of almost 6,000 and ongoing operations in more than 40 countries. With overall responsibility for Mercy Corps’ European headquarters, Simon oversees a global portfolio of programmes supported by the organisation’s European partners. Simon also spearheads Mercy Corps’ global partnerships and influence team and strategy, focusing on — amongst others — The Gulf and China, where he travels to regularly. Prior to hiscurrent role, Simon was Mercy Corps’ Regional Director for West and Central Africa, managing large teams and a substantial portfolio of programmes in some of the continent’s most challenging environments. Earlier in his career, Simon held several country leadership positions and has worked in over 20 countries in Africa.