The Business of Post-Conflict Reconstruction

Since the demise of the government of President General Ziad Barre in 1990, Somalia was the free reign of feuding war lords and radical Islamic militias. Considering the area of its control, it is hardly difficult to assume the Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG) as a real andcommanding government of Somalia.

Starting in the last few months, however, the joint Ethiopia- TFG army military operations routed the radical and Al-Qaida affiliated Islamic militia of Al-Shabaab from its vast area of control. This military success created a ray of hope and relative peace for the long suffered Somalia people. This situation also created a rare opportunity for both the people of Somalia and the international community to build lasting peace and construct the war ravaged country.
Ethiopia, which single handedly shoulders the heavy burdens of the latest military operations, called all the stakeholders to take advantage of the newly created relatively better situation to build sustainable peace and reconstruct Somalia.  Taking stalk of the above, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain organized an international forum in his capital London with Somalia as the one and principal agenda of discussion.
Despite the dissatisfaction of the many including our Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on the outcome of the London gathering, scores are still discussing in their respective circle and capacity about the prospect of peace building and the business of the post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia. The defining question is if the post-conflict peace building and reconstruction of Somalia materializes, what modalities will the international community  follow?
Why does post-conflict reconstruction policy matter? This is a multibillion dollar question. Perhaps no international endeavor other than war itself has been so been so costly and had such paltry results as post-conflict reconstruction.  Different reports revealed that the United Nations alone has spent an estimated $69 billion on 64 peacekeeping operations since 1948. That number is dwarfed by the amount that the U.S. government’s reconstruction expenditures between its military and civilian agencies.  According to the United States Department of Defense and the humanitarian and bilateral cooperation arm of the State Department, USAID, the United States spent $421.1 billion from 2003-2011 in the “post-conflict” period of Afghanistan.  Nevertheless, amid thousands of casualties and billions of dollars in assistance, post-conflict states largely remain fragile.  Half to two-thirds of post-conflict countries revert to war within a decade.  The results are indeed not compatible with the expectations or expenditures. 
Because most civil wars are actually the continuations of previous conflicts, keeping the peace in post-conflict countries would be the single most effective way of reducing civil war.  The track record of creating democratic governments in post-conflict countries, a major goal of international reconstruction, is even more uneven.  According to the United Nations, of the nineteen major peace building operations since 1989, only two were liberal democracies within five years of the missions’ start.  Nine countries did not meet any definition of democracy.  At this point, another a billion dollar question is why such sincere, wide-ranging, personnel with so much money have  such a dismal track record?
Prominent experts of the post-conflict reconstruction business explained that the United States, the UN, and others in the business of post-conflict reconstruction have long developed standard operating procedures over the past two decades: a national conference to form a negotiated peace settlement, write a constitution, and select an interim leader; elections for national office within a year or two; defense institution building and security sector reform (military, police and judiciary); and ongoing efforts to consolidate democracy.  The mixed success rate of establishing democracy is attributed to failures to provide sufficient commitment, money, and/or soldiers and trainers rather than a faulty strategy.  However, a more careful analysis of post-conflict reconstruction efforts identifies problems beyond resource levels.
This conventional reconstruction paradigm has not performed better because it relies on faulty assumptions, external actors’ ability to understand a country’s unique situation, an almost exclusive focus on national-level leaders and institutions, elections as a cure-all, a dismissal of the normative and religious underpinnings of the rule of law, and problematic aid and development strategy.  These problems have conflated to undermine reconstruction efforts.
The post-conflict reconstruction paradigm’s assumptions do not stand up to careful scrutiny.  First, the international community believes that Western national institutions can be replicated in post-conflict countries; second, that indigenous and external actors share a common view of the situation and the way forward; and third, that the international community has the money, personnel, and attention span to rebuild and sustain countries until they are self-sufficient.
In many countries, the type of institutions promoted by the business men of the reconstruction efforts never existed or was never anything more than a hollow shell.  Even if such institutions did exist, oftentimes particularly in Africa they are colonial institutions that contributed to state failure and conflict.  Furthermore, peace settlements often bring all the combatants together in power-sharing agreements and creating a political environment that is a continuation of war by other means. Finally, post-conflict reconstruction assumes ambitious, long-reaching goals without the political will, ability, or resources to accomplish those objectives.  The international community comes in with a full-throated stump speech and leaves with a whimper, quietly claiming a limited victory and withdrawing.
The second problem with the conventional wisdom is that it depends on a set of standards can be applied to a wide variety of post-conflict situations.  The model may be a set of ideal conditions, but they often do not address the roots of the problems and the unique history of the country.  The problem comes when international actors attempt to mould the country’s institutions and society into an imitation of themselves, ignoring how foreign and disparate the juxtaposition may be.
Most contemporary conflict sources are domestic, so treating violence as a national problem rather than an escalation of local and regional conflict misses the root of the problem, especially because the causes and level of violence can vary greatly across areas.  Only looking at one level of analysis and negotiating with one national leader provides simplicity for which international actors are so desperate and the post-conflict situations are so bereft, yet it distorts the situation and the proposed solutions.
Elections provide a great success story, photo opportunities of purple thumbs, a clear winner, and reams of data to analyze and pick apart.  However, elections in post-conflict countries rarely provide the legitimacy, happy endings, and popular consensus that they are designed to produce. Elections are inherently divisive. In post-conflict countries, there is so much at stake that the losers may not accept the outcome and fight back with press conferences or guns. 
A subset of this problem is reconstruction’s dependence on transformational leadership.  The international community looks for a George Washington or Nelson Mandela figure that will unite the country and selflessly and fearlessly enact the West’s laundry list of reforms.  This all too often leads to disappointment and disillusionment, both among the indigenous population and the international community.  While visionary leadership is important, leadership should create nations not personas, crafting a shared identity with a hopeful future.
Political institutions and especially rule of law are grounded in normative beliefs informed by indigenous religious and cultural values.  While scholars are quick to use childbirth metaphors to describe new countries, the development of law and political institutions is far closer to evolution: it is measured in centuries rather than months.  This process can rarely be cut short.
“One of the great problems with trying to import modern Western legal systems into societies where they did not exist previously, in fact, is the lack of correspondence between the imported law and the society’s existing social norms. Sometimes the importation of legal rules can speed up a process of social change,” writes political scientist Francis Fukuyama.  “But if the gap between law and lived values is too large, the rule of law itself will not take hold.”  Sadly, in Africa and the Greater Middle East, where much post-conflict reconstruction takes place, the West has more often undermined rule of law than supported it, further separating law and lived values.  The two must be fused for the rule of law to be real.
The amount of external money dwarfs whatever tax revenue the country is able to secure, making the government answerable to donor countries rather than their citizens. The two groups frequently have different interests and priorities.
Establishing democratic governance in post conflict countries is the trillion-dollar-challenge of the twenty-first century.  The international community has no shortage of attempts at democratic governance but few success stories.  However, the accumulated conventional wisdom of rapid-fire elections and propping up a national government with massive aid and Western-style institutions has not worked.  Rather than promoting stability, democracy, and effective governance in post-war countries, it creates a renter state rife with corruption.  Instead, local governance mechanisms should be shaped around existing cultural structures while providing democratic accountability.  Whether or not capable governance can take hold in post-conflict countries will determine whether civil wars and failed states continue to proliferate.