Category Archives: Research

Introducing a New MICROCON Book: ‘The European Union, Civil Society and Conflict’

Posted by Nathalie Tocci and Nona Mikhelidze


The European Union considers conflict resolution as a cardinal objective of its foreign policy. It makes use of a number of foreign policy instruments to promote peace abroad, which cover a range of sectors affecting the conditions and incentives underpinning conflicts at macro and micro levels. Particularly when it comes to influencing the micro conditions of conflict, the EU has started recognizing the importance of engaging with civil society, especially civil society organizations (CSOs) that are present and active at the local level in conflict countries.

Engaging with local civil societies can both represent a goal in itself as well as a means to enhance the effectiveness of EU peace policies in conflict contexts. Yet the precise interrelationships between the EU, civil society and conflicts in the Union’s southern and eastern neighbourhoods has never been examined and the potential complementarity between civil society and EU actors in conflict contexts has never been explored.

Up until recently, the EU tended to view and tackle violent mass conflicts exclusively in a top-down fashion. It interacted with, presented incentives to and attempted to mediate between conflict leaders and powerful external actors. Yet particularly in those conflicts commonly defined as protracted and in which peace processes are “frozen”, the EU has increasingly appreciated the need to engage, work with and influence mid-level and grassroots civil society actors, who in turn impact upon the evolution of societies on the ground.

As civil society actors themselves have recognized for many years, particularly when top-level peace settlements prove elusive, acting at the grassroots level can represent the only feasible and effective peace strategy. Moreover, in view of the EU’s own sui generis internal nature, EU actors are prone in principle to viewing and intervening in conflicts in a bottom-up and structural manner.

Many EU foreign policy instruments, particularly those available in the neighbourhood, hold the potential of affecting the conditions and incentives playing out at the mid or micro levels of conflict. In particular, the European Neighbourhood Policy alongside complementary initiatives such as the Union for the Mediterranean and the Eastern Partnership, building upon existing EU contractual ties with neighbouring countries (e.g., the Association Agreements with the southern Mediterranean countries and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with the former Soviet countries), hold the promise of enhancing the depth and breadth of EU involvement in neighbourhood conflicts.

Not only does the ENP consider conflict resolution as one of its key priorities. But the manner in which the ENP is structured and developed raises the scope for the EU’s micro and mid-level involvement in conflicts. The ENP with its focus on civil society alongside governments could change the incentives and actions of mid- and micro-level players in conflicts, including NGOs, research centres, community-based groups, student and women groups, social movements, charities and foundations, media actors, and business and professional associations.  

With this context in mind, the aim of a new book published recently by MICROCON, entitled ‘The European Union, Civil Society and Conflict’ is to explore the role of the EU in conflicts at the mid- and micro-levels by engaging with local civil societies, as well as to identify how the complementarity between the EU and local civil societies could be strengthened at the service of conflict transformation. This book aims further to advance the current scholarly debate regarding the role of civil society in conflict and conflict transformation. These questions are tackled by analysing five case studies in the European eastern and southern neighbourhoods: Georgia/Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Israel/Palestine and Western Sahara. Through the comparative examination of these cases, this volume draws policy guidelines tailored to governmental and non-governmental action.

Over the course of 2007-2010, the project unfolded in three main phases (1- elaboration of a theoretical framework, 2- case studies in five conflict areas, and 3- comparative analysis). The results gathered in this volume have been intensely discussed both within the research project and with external audiences, and in particular with academics and civil society representatives in two conferences in Sofia (June 2008) and Berlin (July 2009) and one workshop in Rome (May 2009).

By exploring the nexus linking the EU, conflict and civil society the book is unique in the present market by contributing concomitantly to the literatures on European Union foreign policy, conflict resolution and civil society.


The Genesis of Terrorism in the Sahara: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Posted by Yvan Guichaoua

Yvan Guichoua

In January 2011, a terrorist group self-branded Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped a young French NGO worker and his visiting friend in one of the poshest restaurants of Niamey, Niger’s state capital. En route to a probable hideout in Mali’s mountainous north, the kidnappers and their hostages were stopped by the military intervention of French troops during which the two Frenchmen eventually died. This episode is so far the most spectacular action carried out by AQIM which stunningly demonstrated its capacity to hit any target in the vast Saharan zone it has been roaming for years.

The group is now considered a major terrorist threat in the area. Presently, it still holds five European hostages (four French workers of the multinational AREVA kidnapped in the northern Niger mining town Arlit and an Italian tourist abducted near Djanet in Algeria) and shows no hurry to release them. Many more Europeans have been detained by AQIM since January 2007, the group’s official birth date. One of them was executed, another one died in obscure circumstances but most of them have been released against the payment of generous ransoms. Crucially though, most of AQIM’s victims are nationals of the countries where the armed outfit operates: Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.

AQIM’s operational capacity in the Sahara today is the outcome of a gradual encroachment in a territory to which it did not originally belong. AQIM is the outgrowth of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), created by Islamist radicals during the Algerian civil war and repelled southward by Algerian security forces. Historically, it had little social support base it could rely on in the desert. It had little following, too (a few hundred men at most). The core of its combatants is composed of Jihadist fighters trained in Afghanistan and sharing a strong warlike ethos.

How can a violent group sustain itself in a region it is largely alien to? The hardly controllable Saharan terrain might be an enabling factor but does not constitute the sole explanation: AQIM didn’t fill in a political void. I would argue that the GSPC, which became AQIM in 2007, managed to gain a foothold in Algeria’s bordering Saharan countries through a combination of smart business strategies, astute efforts to foster a modus vivendi with local populations and, indirectly, permissive circumstances engendered by regional central governments’ policies. Importantly, too, taking the name Al Qaeda in the first place was a far from benign move: it almost magically upgraded the disparate gathering of Jihadists to the status of unitary transnational threat, making the fetishism of acronym work at full steam among the western diplomacies and media.

The economic and consequently logistical consolidation of AQIM was permitted by the bonanza of ransoms paid by the hostages’ home countries but also a deep involvement of the Salafist group in cross border trafficking. All sorts of commodities travel the desert illegally: food, electrical appliances, cigarettes but also stolen cars, drugs and arms. Another bountiful trans-Saharan business also consists in transporting human “loads” – as local drivers put it – of African migrants back and forth. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of AQIM’s most prominent figures, is said to control significant shares of these pervasive traffics and to extort taxes from other smugglers. Anecdotally, when I asked young inhabitants of Tamanrasset what they knew about AQIM in 2009, the first answers that came up pointed to their reputation as big traffickers and the mechanical excellence of their cars. It is worth noting that AQIM, while probably a big player, does not fully control cross-border smuggling which flourishes throughout West Africa and rapidly becomes institutionalised, reaching state circles. In the same way, ransom extortion does not just benefit AQIM but also intermediaries and negotiations brokers connected to states.

Along with carving out a sizeable space in the local political economy, AQIM chiefs built alliances with some local Tuareg leaders, involving sufficient collaboration to let AQIM’s activities prosper. Such alliances are by no means the rule and might only be temporary. They owe little to religious or ideological connections (although AQIM figures might have a fanbase among the region’s disenfranchised youths) and, more likely, a lot to the micro-politics of parochial and economic rivalries in the area. Some background circumstances also enabled them: for decades now, sections of the economically and politically marginalized Tuareg society have been taking up arms against the central governments of Niamey and Bamako without achieving much in developmental or political terms. Protracted low intensity insurgency in Mali and Niger’s respective northern provinces was not only accompanied by reluctance among some Tuaregs to cooperate with their national central authorities but it has also facilitated the proliferation of banditry in the region, providing AQIM with enthusiastic potential subcontractors. Many of the latest kidnappings claimed by AQIM were actually not perpetrated by AQIM members but by local criminals selling back their catches to the Salafist outfit.

Confronted by AQIM’s growing influence in the Sahara, the national authorities of the region  and their military backers, France and the United States, have provided discordant responses. The US seem to collaborate actively with Algeria, which has been infuriated by European governments’ proneness to cede to AQIM’s demands in exchange of the liberation of their hostages. Similarly, Algerian authorities point accusing fingers to the alleged incompetence of the Malian military. Meanwhile, France has developed privileged security cooperation with Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, which is not welcomed by Algeria, and whose results remain to be seen. One does not need to endorse conspiracy theories to realise that the countries supposedly involved in the counter-terrorist effort have differing agendas and views over the strategies to follow and their timing.

The spectacular rise of a secular revolutionary movement in Arab countries in the past weeks is certainly not good news for Al Qaeda on a global level. As far as AQIM is concerned though, there is much more to consider than just the weakening of an ideology. The criminalisation of the Sahel’s political economy might cause more enduring damage than the Jihad.

This article originally appeared in the openDemocracy Security section.

Darfur: In search of durable solutions

Posted by Chiara Altare.

While the world’s attention has turned to south Sudan and its preparation for independence on 9th July, life is going on in the region of Darfur, which has been affected by conflict since 2003. The question is: how are people managing to make a living?

In the past eight years of violence, the majority of the Darfur population has been somehow affected by the conflict, violence and displacement, either directly or indirectly. 2 to 300,000 people have died, some 3 million people have been displaced, livelihood opportunities have changed and people have adapted their livelihoods to the new situation.

Although violence has significantly decreased and humanitarian assistance has been provided, the overall situation has improved less than expected and desired: global acute malnutrition among children under the age of 5 has been decreasing since 2003 in many of the areas from which data is available, especially in West and South Darfur. However, it has not gone below the internationally recognized threshold for emergency (10%) indicating that the situation remains precarious.

In North Darfur, malnutrition and food insecurity remain high, which, in a situation of limited humanitarian access, can easily become a new emergency. The biggest improvement can be seen in mortality (both among adults and children), which has significantly decreased, thanks to both a reduction in violence and an increased provision of medical assistance. Both the crude mortality rate and under 5 mortality rate are well below emergency level.

This applies however only to the areas where humanitarian assistance is possible: unfortunately several regions are not accessible to any humanitarian assistance and therefore not covered with medical and nutrition programmes. This implies that the severity of the situation in these areas is unknown.  

Long term prospects do not promise any clear improvement: the current peace consultations in Doha are not reaching the expected agreement among the numerous actors involved and therefore no peace agreement seems possible in the near future. In addition, recent escalating attacks of the army and rebel groups on the civilian population caused new displacement in North Darfur where around 15,000 people moved to Zamzam camp (between December 2010 and February 2011), making living conditions in the already crowded camp even more critical. Assistance to the civilian population therefore remains limited due to both insecurity and governmental restrictions for humanitarian and peacekeeping interventions. 

In the meantime, the Darfur population is showing an extreme ability to adapt: through diversification of economic activities, adaptation to the urban setting, changing food and life habits, and accepting humanitarian assistance. However, how sustainable can this be? What are the real chances for the population living in camps or in the camp periphery or among the host communities? Which opportunities are available for those who may plan to return to their place of origin in rural areas?

The search for durable solutions is one of the key priorities of the government of Sudan as presented in the Humanitarian Assistance Strategy in Darfur (November 2010) which stresses the need for a shift from emergency assistance to recovery and long term interventions. This reorientation however has to be carefully planned so as to ensure that humanitarian needs are not underestimated. The call is for a contiguum approach, in which humanitarian interventions occur simultaneously with developmental interventions according to the different needs of the population throughout the large and diverse region of Darfur.

In this context, two of the MICROCON partners (IDS and CRED) together with the Ahfad University for Women (Omdurman, Sudan) have started a study on livelihoods, nutrition and public health in Darfur. The study is funded by the European Commission and involves the FAO, UNICEF, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the Humanitarian Assistance Commission. The study aims at investigating how livelihoods have changed since 2003 and how this has affected the health and nutrition status of the household members.

There are two innovations in this study: first, it combines information on both livelihoods, and nutritional/health characteristics of the Darfur households. Only by bringing together these two sets of information will it be possible to better understand the underlying causes of malnutrition and identify which types of households are more vulnerable. This will facilitate targeting specific population groups who are more at risk.

Second, the study will gather both qualitative and quantitative data. A household survey is currently being prepared: demographic, social, economic information will be collected, together with anthropometric measurement and data on feeding and care practices. With this tool, we aim to capture important information from a representative sample which will provide us with a comprehensive understanding of livelihoods in Darfur. Qualitative data will complement this information and provide a deeper insight into how lives have been affected by the conflict and what are the expectations of the population for the coming years. 

The results of the study will be available towards the end of this year and will be used by the Sudanese government and the international community for readdressing their interventions in Darfur.


Posted by Julie Litchfield

Julie Litchfield

This year’s World Development Report on conflict, to which some of MICROCON’s researchers have contributed, promises to place a renewed emphasis of the role of “grievances” in conflict, and not just in the extreme conflict scenarios of civil wars. One of the background papers, by John-Andrew McNeish of CMI Norway, stresses this in the context of natural resources, discussing the importance of the involvement of civil society, and of bargaining, which may be confrontational, in order to secure robust agreements about how resources should be managed and how resource rents should be fairly distributed. McNeish draws largely on lessons from the experience of managing non-renewable natural resources, but also highlights lessons we can learn from, for example, community forests and participatory water management.

Fairness is a principle that seems to underlie many of our everyday social and economic interactions.  An understanding of risk-aversion, information asymmetries  and costly monitoring of waged labour help us understand why share-cropping exists and persists as a common land tenancy arrangement in many parts of the developing world[1],  but it doesn’t help us understand why so many of these arrangements are based on roughly equal sharing of output and input costs. Indeed if the terms of these arrangements were based solely on these economic factors, we would expect to see variations in the sharing rule by such factors as land quality or the length of time that the tenant and landlord have worked together. Instead, the equality of sharing seems to be implicit in all these arrangements.  Another example is the Ultimatum game, often used in Economics class-rooms, that illustrates that fairness, or at least our desire to be seen as behaving fairly, is a commonly held value.

Some of us in MICROCON are working on understanding perceptions of fairness around land reform in Kyrgyzstan[2].  Secure access to land is widely regarded as being a crucial ingredient in contributing to economic growth and stability, as well as peace, and even land reforms with progressive aims can be highly contentious. Kyrgyzstan was one of the first former Soviet Union countries to embark on a land reform process, and remains the only one of the central Asian Economics to do so. Beginning in 1991 and over a period of more than a decade, land that had until then been farmed by state farms and by peasant collectives, was re-distributed to households. The very early stages of the land reform seems to be characterised by ad hoc  agreements involving local land commissions and land shares were often not well documented, but by 1994 the government enshrined a principle of fairness in the land reform policy, stating that every person had an equal right to an equal share. Even that though seems to have been open to interpretation, with farm workers taking precedence over other workers, and women reporting that they received smaller shares than men.

In 2006, a survey conducted by our partner, Roman Mogilevsky, asked households about their experiences of the land reform, and in particular whether or not they thought the reform was fair, and in 2010 we re-surveyed these households with a follow-up questionnaire. The data allows us to explore hypotheses around the features of the land reform that positively or negatively influence fairness. For example, are perceptions of fairness higher among those who received more land, or in villages and communities where land was indeed distributed more equally? Are perceptions of fairness influenced by the specific institutional arrangements that were applied at the time the household received their land share? Does receipt of the full set of formal documentation influence fairness perceptions? Are there gender differences in perceptions of fairness, and if so, are these related to, for example, the economic status of women at the time of the land share allocation? These are just some of the ideas we are currently exploring.

So far, we have observed variations in perceptions of fairness across regions of Kyrgyzstan, and also by the date on which households received their land share. Surprisingly, perceptions of fairness do not seem to be related to how much land a household received, in either an absolute sense or a relative sense. This might not yet tell us what does explain perceptions of fairness, but greed doesn’t seem to be a factor here. 

[1] See Stiglitz, J (1986) “The New Development EconomicsWorld Development, 14(2): 257-65 for a seminal contribution to the literature on share-cropping.

[2] This work involves Elodie Douarin, Julie Litchfield (both from the Department of Economics at the University of Sussex), Rachel Sabates-Wheeler  (Institute of Development Studies) and Roman Mogilevsky (CASE-Kyrgyzstan).

Education Does Not Save Lives So Why Should We Care?

Posted by Patricia Justino

Education is one of the hidden costs of conflict and violence. Almost 750,000 people die as a result of armed conflict each year, and there are more than 20 million displaced people in the world. Violent conflict kills and injures people, destroys capital and infrastructure, damages the social fabric, endangers civil liberties, and creates health and famine crises.

What is less known or talked about is how violent conflict denies million of children across the world their right to education. The reasons are multiple. Armed violence often targets schools and teachers as symbols of community leadership or bastions of the type of social order that some armed factions want to see destroyed. Children are useful in armies as soldiers, as well as to perform a myriad of daily tasks from cooking and cleaning to sexual favours. Children need to work when members of their family die or are unable to make a living, and families remove children from school fearing for their lives and security.

Should we care about this loss of education? Several studies report that aid and reconstruction efforts are quick to re-establish basic education structures. What is missing in this argument is an adequate understanding of the profound long-term effects of educational losses amongst those exposed to conflict.

In particular, relatively minor shocks to educational access – even as small as achieving one less year of schooling – can cause long-lasting detrimental effects on the children that are out of school, as well as on the human capital stock of whole generations. These effects persist well after the conflict has ended, with long-term intergenerational consequences in terms of school achievement, health outcomes and future earnings.

Children that lose out on school earn less, have worse job opportunities and poorer health than those that stay in school. This not only affects their living standards, but also the opportunities available to their own children, creating cycles of hardship and deprivation that persist for decades after the end of the conflict. We observe these effects still amongst those that were at school age during WWII, as well as in children that have lived through modern conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

These long-term effects are difficult to measure and therefore easy to dismiss in post-conflict planning traditionally concerned with the immediate recovery from war. But human capital is the backbone of successful economic and social recovery. Ignoring these long-term consequences will endanger any attempts to rebuild peace, social justice and stability.    

Results mentioned in the blog are analysed and discussed in Justino, Patricia. 2010. “How Does Violent Conflict Impact on Individual Educational Outcomes? The Evidence so Far”, background paper to the Global Monitoring Report on Education for All 2011, UNESCO.  

This blog post originally appeared on the Education for All World Education Blog.

The Art of Clinging to Power: Laurent Gbagbo and the Post-election Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire

Posted by Morten Bøås and Anne Hatløy


After a few relatively quiet years in West Africa, the region has once again returned to international headlines due to conflict and political violence. This time it is Côte d’Ivoire, and the turmoil started when the opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won the presidential election on November 29 last year. This election was supposed to contribute to peace and reconciliation, but it clearly did not. There is no doubt that Ouattara won the election, and Gbagbo must know that he lost it, but he also unfortunately seems to believe that if he just clings to power long enough, sooner or later ECOWAS, the United Nations and the international community at large will rest its case and allow him to remain in power: as the ‘rightful’ president or in the worst case, in Gbagbo’s eyes, forcing on him a national unity government solution of the same type as the one negotiated in the aftermath of the Kenyan post-election violence in 2007.

This would be a bad solution as it will set the democratic agenda in Africa several decades back, and therefore attempting to ‘master the art of clinging to power’ should not be rewarded. What is the point of an election if a losing incumbent president only needs to be as stubborn as possible to be allowed to continue to rule? It is possible that the ‘national unity government’ option was the correct solution in Kenya in 2007, but Côte d’Ivoire is not Kenya and the Kenyan solution should not in any case be seen as the leading principle for how such situations should be solved on the African continent. In that regard, it is gratifying that both the ECOWAS and the AU so far has been quite firm in their support for Ouattara. This stand should be encouraged and supported by all parties in the international community more broadly that want a more democratic African continent. However, it is also obvious that Gbagbo’s strategy is to wait for splits among African countries. He already seems to have some tactical support from Angola, not only in diplomatic terms, but also resource-wise. The South African support for the ECOWAS/AU line is reluctant, and even if Ghana has stated that it will stand by any sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, it has also made it clear that it will not contribute to any ECOWAS-led military intervention against Gbagbo. It is therefore of primary importance that the international community at large gives its unconditional support to the hard line against the Gbagbo regime that Nigeria and its president Goodluck Jonathan has taken. In this regard, important donor countries and foreign investors should make it clear that any attempt to break the international line against Gbagbo will have consequences for the country that undertake such actions. So far, the international community has not communicated this clearly enough to African countries such as Angola, Ghana and South Africa and they should do so.

It should also be noted that the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire also shows that the conduct of multi-party elections is not a prerequisite for peace and reconciliation. Elections alone do not create anything but winners and losers, and in a polarised society such as Côte d’Ivoire elections may be as equally conflict-enhancing as conflict-reducing. This is not an argument against democratic elections per se, but elections in a place such as Côte d’Ivoire should only be one of several measures adopted to ensure peace and reconciliation. Well in advance of such elections, substantial investments must be made to ensure civil society organisations that can reach across well entrenched political cleavages. Investments must be made in the institutionalisation of the political rules of engagement so that they or those that lose forthcoming election knows that such a loss will not dramatically alter their basic political and economic rights. In addition, the international community must have a backup plan when things go wrong. Unfortunately none of this seems to have been the case in Côte d’Ivoire. This is not only embarrassing, but tragic. Events as they unfold on the ground are no surprise. Rather, it was a high probability that exactly what we now see would happen if Gbagbo should lose and Ouattara win and the international community should have been aware of this.

It is therefore important both for the people of Côte d’Ivoire and the African continent that confrontation with the kind of destructive political forces that Gbagbo represents continues, insisting that the actual winner of the election also is allowed to assume power. If we let Gbagbo succeed, we will most likely see this kind of stubborn clinging to power in a number of other places on the continent in the near future, as there are a series of crucial elections forthcoming in Africa this year as well as in 2012.

This is the blog of the MICROCON research programme, featuring the reflections and opinions of MICROCON’s 60-strong team of researchers. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MICROCON as a whole.