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Countries Emerging from Conflict

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May 8, 2007 — In 2002, Sierra Leone—a small West African country with 5.5 million people—emerged from a brutal civil war over what came to be infamously known as “blood diamonds”. The legacy was 50,000 dead, many more mutilated and handicapped, and an urgent need for reconstruction.

Countries like Sierra Leone must receive well-planned assistance to promote economic growth and stable government that is capable of providing essential services, and, most importantly, to avoid slipping back into conflict.

But an overwhelming 40 percent of these countries do slide back into conflict—within just ten years. To help countries escape this conflict trap, the development community needs to adjust and strengthen assistance policies based on the latest post-conflict research, as well as country-specific analysis.

Typically, there is an immediate spike in official and humanitarian aid to post-conflict countries, followed by a rapid decline—usually about five years after the conflict ends—as international attention wanes.

For example, in Guinea-Bissau, official development assistance (counting humanitarian aid but not debt relief) following the 1998 war increased from $46 per capita in 1999 to $79 per capita in 2000, but rapidly declined to $53 per capita in 2001.

And in Sierra Leone, aid as defined above, was just $21 per capita at the end of the civil war in 1999, shooting up nearly fivefold by 2001 to $97 per capita—but declining again by 46 percent to $58 per capita in 2003.

Sierra Leone





Peace holds in Sierra Leone, which has introduced universal primary education. But 40 percent of post-conflict countries slide back into the conflict trap within ten years.
(Photo Credit; Arne Hoel)

Aid to Tajikistan was extremely volatile after the civil war, nearly doubling in 1996 and 1998, but dropping by 13% in 1997 and nearly 25% in 1999.

“Aid flows to post-conflict countries also tends to fall off before an election, and pick up again after the election is over,” said Sarah Cliffe, Manager, Fragile States, at the World Bank. “The lag-time is far too long.”

“For sustained peace and development, aid must be timely, but must gradually increase with the country’s capacity to absorb funds,” said Paul Collier, Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies (CSAE) at Oxford and author of a recently published book entitled “The Bottom Billion”.

Collier was one of the lead researchers for a World Bank-coordinated conflict research project undertaken jointly with CSAE and the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO). The project was managed by Ibrahim Elbadawi, Lead Economist, and Gary Milante, economist and project administrator, of the World Bank.

Collier's conclusion was among many findings highlighted at an April 30-May 1 conference in Washington DC at which 25 research papers were presented.

Anticipate where conflict is more likely to occur

“Zoomed in” data show that conflict is more likely with higher population density, greater distance from the capital city and proximity to international borders, and with higher strategic and natural resource value of the location.

Government victories in conflict are more likely in autocratic states with large populations and low industrialization. Examples include multiple government victories in Nigeria, Burundi and Zaire (DRC). These predisposing conditions are often most common in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At a broader level, the numbers show that conflict is less likely in states with democratic neighbors even in low-income areas. This suggests that as democracy grows in Latin America, the southernmost regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe, states in these regions will become more peaceful. Civil war is found to be much more likely in low-income areas in non-democratic neighborhoods.

“Consistent with most other findings, this research by Indra De Soysa and Eric Neumayer of PRIO also reveals that ethnically diverse societies are actually more peaceful, and less vulnerable to conflict than more homogenous societies,” said Gary Milante.

However, more recent research by Elbadawi and Cristina Bodea of Michigan State University suggests that ethnic fractionalization can increase the risk of civil war in non-democratic areas.

Reduce small arms availability through regulations and trade barriers


Analysis of a new dataset on small arms (AK-47s) suggests that the price of these weapons is determined by regulation and supply costs rather than by income and motivation, and that the collapse of the Soviet Union had no significant effect on arms availability.

“This research demonstrates that International regulations and trade barriers can help make AK47s tougher to purchase, reducing the arms available for conflict,” said Milante, referring to work by Philip Kilicoat of Oxford University.

Demobilized AK-47 magazines in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Photo Credit: MONUC/Martine Perret/2006

Strengthen institutions and encourage credible political commitments

The risk of civil war drops when institutions are able to enforce property rights and the rule of law. Research indicates that to mitigate conflict, the focus should be on building or strengthening such institutions rather than on poverty reduction.

When political actors can’t make credible commitments to a broad section of society, overall welfare in the country is reduced, leaving the state more prone to conflict.

"Once conflict occurs, a lack of political credibility undermines the government’s anti-insurgency efforts," said Philip Keefer, Lead Economist at the World Bank.

“Merely holding elections in a post-conflict situation—an expensive undertaking—is not a good benchmark of success,” said Mark Mattner of the World Bank’s Conflict Research Program, “New leaders need help with resources to demonstrate ‘quick wins’ from peace, the research finds.”

Emerging post-conflict leaders should also operate in a politically and economically inclusive manner. Inequalities along ethnic, religious and other lines are strongly associated with civil war.

Elections in Central African Republic
Elections in the Central African Republic.
Photo Credit: Evan Schneider/UN/1998

Forced democratization doesn’t guarantee peace and freedom

Military interventions by democracies can promote democratization in the short run. However, states that are the target of such efforts tend to remain unstable semi-democracies. Iraq is the best known current example of this.

“Forced democratization is unpredictable with regard to achieving long-term democracy and potentially harmful with regard to securing peace,” concluded Håvard Hegre, Research Professor at PRIO and one of the lead project researchers.

Economic development determines long-term peace-building


Blue UN helmets lined up in Bubanza, Burundi, 2004
Martine Perret/2004

The main benefit of UN peacekeeping is in supporting stability, containing risks, and building trust in the medium term.

"The impact of this sort of peacekeeping fades with time and the cost of maintaining such forces is very high," said Nicholas Sambanis of Yale University.

In the long run—typically a decade—peacekeeping and peace-building are determined by economic development rather than by peacekeeping forces.

Supporting development and security are complementary, the research suggests, and neither can be achieved overnight.

“We need a less sequential way of thinking,” said Anja Kasperson, who directs the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ project on Multidimensional and Integrated Peace Operations. “Right now, security is first and development actions are add-ons. The shift in thinking is happening, but not quickly enough.”

Negotiate peace agreements carefully

A minority view in a recent research paper suggests that partial peace agreements need not necessarily be all-inclusive to have a chance of success.

However, Lual Deng, Sudan’s State Minister for Finance and National Economy, reinforced the opinion of the majority. “Darfur is a clear case where we should not have accepted a partial peace agreement,” he said. “There are now seven rebel leaders where there had been only three during the rebellion.”

Clearly, future research must define a “tipping point” or critical mass for peace settlement support.

The  2006 Human Security Report notes a far from positive trend: “The fact that more wars now end in negotiated settlements rather than victories is encouraging news for peacemakers. But it turns out that wars that end in negotiated settlements last three times longer than those that end in victories and are nearly twice as likely to restart within five years.”

Another sobering finding is that integrating former rebels into national military forces—rather than back into civilian life—has not helped build peace, perhaps because integration agreements need to be better structured and implemented.

Establish the right macroeconomic agenda

As institutions for contract enforcement start to break down during civil war, transport and commerce can break down fast. Other sectors such as manufacturing or export agriculture then feel the knock-on effect.

“These features of conflict and post-conflict economies have implications for how monetary and exchange rate policies are defined for these countries,” said Elbadawi. “Standard money-based stabilization may be deflationary if it does not account for the anticipated rise in demand for money that is associated with increased market-based transactions after a period of conflict.”

“Aid can play an important role in stabilizing inflation in post-conflict, but it could also negatively affect exchange rate competitiveness and, therefore, slow down potential recovery of exports and agriculture,” he said.


“The Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier

In this new research book, Paul Collier, Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, asserts that the “real crisis” in today’s world lies in a group of about 50 failing states—the bottom billion—where problems defy traditional approaches to reducing poverty.

“The core problem in the bottom billion is the lack of growth,” said Collier, while presenting his book at the World Bank.

We have to focus down on this smaller group of typically small countries, whose total population is less than that of India.”

The problems of the bottom billion are not fixable using today’s approaches and instruments, asserted Collier, who believes that aid is only part of the solution, and advocates a broader range of tools including trade policy, security assistance, and governance.

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