When greed is good

August 23 2012: Rob Kevlihan, author of Aid, Insurgencies and Conflict Transformation: When Greed is Good, discusses his idea that aid and social services can contribute to peace indirectly by contributing to changes within insurgent movements.

The aftermath of a PIRA car bomb in Belfast

New incentives provided by social services can result in changes within insurgencies.
© Burns Library, Boston College

It has been recognized for some time that the provision of aid during conflicts can intensify and prolong these conflicts. The remedy has been recommendations for aid providers to do no harm in the provision of such services, while seeking as far as possible, to build local capacity for peacebuilding. The apparent alternative – of not providing aid during civil wars – is clearly unacceptable because of the humanitarian imperative to assist those in need.

Are we then left, as Fiona Terry argues, condemned to repeat? Research to date has implied that we can do no more than try to minimize the negative impacts of aid during conflicts. This answer is unsatisfying, and led me to ask under what circumstances, if any, can aid contribute to the management and transformation of civil wars?

Aid and social services can contribute to peace indirectly by contributing to changes within insurgent movements
In an upcoming book, entitled Aid, Insurgencies and Conflict Transformation: When Greed is Good (available on Amazon), I argue that aid and social services can contribute to peace indirectly by contributing to changes within insurgent movements.

Looking at the impact of social services either provided through aid or as part of systems provided by welfare states, I trace changes that occurred during conflicts in Northern Ireland, Tajikistan and South Sudan. I believe that new incentives provided by social services financed by aid or provided directly by governments can result in changes within insurgencies.

These changes – including the development of political wings and/or of systems of civil administration, make political settlements easier to attain. These changes arise because insurgents are always greedy  – they will always look for ways to garner resources or support for themselves, including ways of maximizing gains from aid. But under certain circumstances this greed can be good.

These kinds of changes are likely to occur only under certain circumstances:

1. Services provided in areas with an insurgent presence should be relatively autonomous from both the insurgents themselves and any other combatants, including state forces. Services, under these circumstances, are neither part of the government’s counter insurgency strategy, nor are they provided directly by the insurgents, as it the case in Lebanon with Hezbollah provided services, or Hamas provided services in Gaza.

2. The insurgents themselves must be relatively dependent on the co-operation and goodwill of local populations. This typically arises when insurgents rely heavily on local populations for support of some kind – either for volunteers to fight, or for food and shelter. If insurgents garner most of their resources from the direct exploitation of natural resources – say diamonds, or hard woods, or if they are heavily financed by an external patron, they are less likely to be interested in the gains to be made from social services. It also helps if there is a history of services being provided in these areas before conflict begins; this places increased pressure of insurgents to allow such services to continue.

Service providers, including aid organizations, may be able to offer support that make political settlements more attainable.
These changes are not inevitable, and take time, but these research findings do offer the hope that our choices are not limited to only either minimizing the negative effects of aid during civil wars, or not providing aid at all. Instead, service providers, including aid organizations, may be able to offer support that make political settlements more attainable.

This piece draws from research conducted by the author as part of his doctoral dissertation completed at The American University in Washington D.C. and was part funded by a Hurst Scholarship and a doctoral fellowship from the university. All views expressed in this piece reflect the views of the author. They do not reflect the views of any government, organization or institution.

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Comments

There are 6 comments Show comments

Rey Ty on August 24, 2012

Comment via PCDN Network. View original

I respect Rob Kevlihan’s view but I respectfully raise a question about the overgeneralized premise according to which: “These changes arise because insurgents are always greedy  – they will always look for ways to garner resources or support for themselves, including ways of maximizing gains from aid.”

Marshall Wallace on August 24, 2012

Rob, that’s an interesting piece of work and I’m looking forward to reading the book!

I must take exception to your comment that “Research to date has implied that we can do no more than try to minimize the negative impacts of aid during conflicts”. The Do No Harm Project has always promoted creative options for supporting local capacities for peace – as you acknowledge in your first paragraph. Indeed, the original name of the project was Local Capacities for Peace. The name was changed at the request of local aid workers in conflict zones who could not use the word “peace” in their work. This has clearly led to some confusion about what can be expected from assistance.

Anyone who reads Mary Anderson seriously or my work would not find us stuck on the lowest common denominator. The experience we’ve gathered in DNH over the past 19 years demonstrates clearly that assistance can play a role well beyond “doing no harm”.

I am very excited that you have chosen to pursue some of the pathways by which that might take place.

Rob Kevlihan on August 25, 2012

Marshall, thanks for the post and I appreciate your point. Clearly building local capacities for peace is important. I remember first reading some of the Do No Harm literature as an aid worker in Sudan in the late 1990s; it had an influence on my thinking at the time and informed some of the programs we rolled out in in response to the 1998 famine in Bahr El Ghazal. Indeed the idea for this project came in part from that experience, and the realization that while building local capacities for peace was important, it remained a fragile exercise as long as the larger conflicts in which particular ‘locals’ are situated continued. The book is an effort to address how aid can potentially have transformative impacts to scale – but one that I hope is complementary to DNH. I really welcome your comments and engagement on this and look forward to continued discussion.

Rob Kevlihan on August 28, 2012

Rey Ty,

I actually don’t think the statement is that controversial – all insurgencies require resources to pursue their goals; aid provided during conflicts is one resource among many that insurgencies will seek to gain from. I would be interested to hear more on your objection to understand it better.

Marshall Wallace on September 4, 2012

Rob, you go way back! I don’t remember if we ever crossed paths with GOAL. Kenny Gluck was our DNH guy around Sudan – N and S – in those days. Did you ever meet him? It is great that you’re still working over those ideas and pushing them in new directions. But your book is $120! I’ll have to get it from a library. I do want to keep in touch about this. Are you ever around DC or Boston?

Rob Kevlihan on September 4, 2012

Hi Marshall – no, I never did run in to Kenny, but was fortunate to read some of Mary Anderson’s work while in Sudan in 1998 that informed our programming at the time. I’m hopeful the book will be become available in paperback in due course. I do pass through DC occasionally, although I am mainly based in West Africa at present.

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