Key development challenges facing the Arab world
May 26 2019 02:35 AM
Sadeq al-Keheli (left), the interim speaker of the Libyan Parliament, visits the headquarters of the House of Representatives after it was targeted by a rocket in the Libyan capital Tripoli, on May 24. Addressing the particular needs of each of the war-affected countries and societies in the Arab world is a precondition for a successful post-conflict reconstruction.

By Dr Darim/al-Bassam

Among the key development challenges that will face the Arab world in the coming decade is the daunting task of reconstruction, recovery and peace-building in countries emerging from the long ordeal of struggle and emerging radical political changes (uprisings, armed conflict, civil wars, foreign invasions).
There will be a need to take steps aimed at articulating an Arab response to the challenges at hand and at making it possible to co-ordinate the multifaceted efforts that are required to address the needs of countries and communities emerging from conflict.
Similar to what the Africans have collectively achieved through their regional organisation (the African Union), the Arab League needs to develop a home-grown regional policy document on Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD). Such region-specific document could serve as a guide for the development of comprehensive policies and strategies, able to elaborate measures that seek to consolidate peace, promote sustainable development and pave the way for growth and regeneration in  the countries suffered from the wounds of conflict. These tasks should also be undertaken in tandem with regional efforts toward regional integration and socio-economic regeneration.
Given the peculiarities of each conflict situation, the recommended policy document should develop a flexible platform that can be adapted to, and assist, affected countries. Today, reconstruction and development modalities are in process of redefinition, undertaking a radical turn towards the reality of conflict-affected societies. Internationally and regionally much reconstruction and development thinking and practice is still trapped in a paradigm of predictable, linear causality and maintained by mind-sets that seek accountability through top-down command and control.
Methodologically, such fragmented technical functional thinking is experiencing a pragmatic turn towards systems thinking. There appears to be a shift from understanding reconstruction and development as something that is essentially programmatic, to understanding it as something that is essentially transformational and societal. The new paradigm avoids reliance on readymade templates, formulas and one-size-fits-all solutions and instead believes that reconstruction and development is a complex adaptive process that is highly local, particular, context-bound, time-specific, path-dependent, etc.
If sustainable peace, political stability, security and rule of law and socio-economic development and equity are goals of any transformative reconstruction efforts in Arab conflict-ridden countries, then understanding the complex character of conflict in each of the cases and its destructive impact on various aspects of life and society is a requirement for a strategic and demand-driven articulation and planning of reconstruction projects and activities. A uniform model of post-conflict intervention by definition cannot be viable. Addressing the particular needs of each of the war-affected countries and societies in the Arab world is hence a precondition for a successful post-conflict reconstruction.
Based on my experience in the field such multi-facet ambitious agendas do not lend themselves to technical solutions alone. What we need instead is a Political Economy Analysis Framework that can generate a grounded theory of change for each country case study in order to develop a more effective and politically feasible reconstruction and development strategies, as well as inform more realistic expectations of what can be achieved, and the risks involved. It can also contribute to better results by identifying where the main opportunities and barriers for policy reform exist and how the International and regional agencies can use their programming and influencing tools to promote positive change. This understanding is particularly relevant in fragile and conflict-affected environments in the Arab region where the challenge of assuring consolidated transition and building peaceful states and societies is fundamentally political.
What constitutes consolidated transition and a transformative reconstruction policy in conflict-affected contexts is likely to be understood through careful articulation of the structural  root causes of conflict and identification of  aspects of resilience and vulnerability. Issues of inclusive politics, security reform, equity and growth sustainability will be enablers and key drivers for longer term development.
This political economy paradigm can be extremely useful when thinking about comprehensive reconstruction approach by testing the feasibility of policy reform and institutional change. The definition draws particular attention to politics, understood in terms of contestation and bargaining between interest groups with competing claims over rights and resources. However, it is equally concerned with the economic processes that generate wealth, and address issues of equity and distribution of assets that influence how political choices are made.
In reality these processes are closely inter-related and part of a unified set of dynamics which influence development outcomes. Political economy analysis will help international and regional donors to understand  social dynamics in the given country: what drives political behaviour among emerging post conflict rival forces that agreed on peace settlements, how this shapes  and impacts particular policies and programmes, who are the main “winners” and “losers”, and what the implications are for reconstruction and development strategies and programmes.
Operationally, one such outcome of this systems thinking and analysis that I propose is to have an Adaptive Reconstruction and Development Strategic Plan for each country. It represents a bottom-up approach where policy-makers and planners along with international and regional donors work closely together with the communities and people affected by conflict, actively engage in structured processes to sustain post-conflict safe transition and peace-building by using an inductive methodology of iterative learning and adaptation. The adaptive peace-building approach embraces uncertainty, focuses on processes rather than end-states, and invests in the resilience of local and national institutions to promote change. This commitment comes at a cost, in terms of investing in the capabilities necessary to enable and facilitate such a collective learning process, in taking the time to engage with communities and other stakeholders to develop measurements, and in making the effort to develop new and innovative systems for learning together with communities as the process unfolds.
More specifically, the Adaptive approach is informed by concepts of complexity, emergent capital formation/deficit and national ownership. Post-conflict social systems are highly dynamic, non-linear and emergent. One implication of this characterisation is that we are not able to identify general laws or rules that will help us predict with certainty how to design and implement reconstruction and development national programmes. How, then, can we develop sufficient knowledge to help post-conflict societies in the region to sustain peace and adopt a holistic approach to reconstruction?
In the same realm, the Adaptive Reconstruction and Development Approach recognises that uncertainty is an intrinsic quality of post-conflict complex systems, not a result of imperfect knowledge or inadequate planning or implementation. One of the core elements of this Systems Thinking approach that is informed by complexity theory is a recognition that our ability to fully know complex systems is inherently limited. For us in the field this implies a recognition that tools such as rapid conflict analysis or needs assessments, while necessary and important, can never generate a fully accurate understanding of a conflict-affected social system.
Conceptually, it is difficult for us to measure something unless we know exactly what it is that has to be measured or indexed. It is hard to measure adaptive capacity (ability to deal with change) as it has psychological, cultural, technical, financial, social and political components. Other difficult questions need to be considered: What about deficit traps (similar to poverty traps but barriers could be economic, social, cultural, political or security and rule of law induced barriers? What are the minimum preconditions for overcoming the deficit and building capitals and stocks – political capital; security capital; social capital; economic capital; institutional capital? How does this affect post-conflict fragile states and, move them, gradually into resilience and coping capabilities?
In sum, successful reconstruction and development national policies and programmes require structures as adaptive and fluid as the contexts in which they operate. We all know that such policies and programmes are implemented in fragile and conflict affected environments, where conflict dynamics are not static and do not take a linear path. Programmes must swiftly, appropriately, and ably adjust to these changes to ensure they prevent, manage and mitigate conflict and build peace. Before programmes can adapt, however, they must be able to detect and diagnose environmental shifts. Yet, standard design, monitoring, and evaluation practices, including non-adaptive log frames and post-hoc evaluation methodologies, remain relatively inflexible and with little pay off.

* Dr Darim al-Bassam is former economic adviser at UNDP.

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