More knowledge and resources are needed to prevent conflicts

It is a key task for Swedish development assistance to provide support to people on the run, but also to prevent conflict and promote development. This requires both knowledge and resources. Aid funding for building peace should not be reduced due to the fact that asylum reception and humanitarian support require increased resources, writes Sida employee and former ambassador Ulla Andrén.

Do we do what we can? We - Sweden, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sida, voluntary organizations, you and I - who want to provide assistance to make at least a small part of the world a little better.

Let me start with two points.

1) Sweden provides comprehensive humanitarian aid to help the 60 million people who are fleeing war and conflict. That is a good thing - but hardly a long-term solution.

2) We - and then I think mainly of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida - do not provide good enough conflict prevention support. Sweden can do more to prevent armed conflicts and build peace. I think we often lack a well-founded analysis of what drives the conflicts. Nor do we know enough about the countries' institutions - and the individuals who populate them - for peacebuilding. But do you not learn after a while? Yes, that's for sure - but all too often staff move or move as soon as they have learned something for another job. And so you start over, over and over again.

Conclusion: There must be knowledge - and it must exist in Sweden - about the causes of each conflict because one is not the same as the other. And on how best to carry out efforts to break vicious circles of violence and conflict in favor of a just and sustainable global development.

Should we be ashamed - or proud?

The Swedish commitment to refugees, in Europe and elsewhere, is impressive. That we are able to uphold the right to asylum - that the individual who needs protection has his case tried - is fundamental. But the world does not look like it used to. We must discuss the balance between how Swedish development assistance should finance asylum reception, humanitarian support and long-term work to prevent conflicts and promote peace and development.

Conflict situations and lack of security are today the most serious obstacle to development in many countries and in entire regions. We do not know today where tomorrow's serious conflicts may arise. Maybe in Africa or in Central Asia? We also find it difficult to imagine what ethnic, religious, nationalist or power-political state ambitions may govern conflicts within or between countries.

Conclusion: An increasingly important task for Swedish development assistance is to prevent armed conflicts affecting civilians and to build peace. It requires insights into the causes of conflicts and the dynamics to deal with tensions, changes and developments. And it costs money.

Natural resources drive conflicts

Armed conflicts are almost always driven by struggles for power and natural resources. Lack of respect for human rights is a hallmark of conflict-ridden states, with discrimination and poverty as a result. People who do not have a legal right to use land can, for example, lose their means of subsistence when their land, forest and water are used by others.

How was it before? We can talk about the colonial plunder of natural resources in Africa, among other places. But this looting continues, albeit in a more sophisticated way. Competition for oil, gas, minerals and land is intensifying in the age of globalization. Illegal trade in everything from gold and precious stones to rhino horns and precious wood has not been prevented. In the extractive industries, lawyers make sure to give transnational companies favorable terms at the expense of the countries where the deposits are located, while economists minimize taxes through transfer pricing. New elites are created when interests in government and business are linked together by multinational companies.

Fear of taking a stand

I'm critical of the way we work. Although analysis of political economy is often crucial for the understanding of conflicts, officials within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and voluntary organizations tend to leave it there for fear of positions that may be "political". Of course, the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence are fundamental to humanitarian activities. But Swedish development assistance has a value base where the motive is solidarity and joint responsibility in order to contribute to a fair and sustainable global development.

And then you can not play ostrich and stick your head in the sand. A good analysis of the political economy in our partner countries is central to achieving the desired result. To make this analysis, in-depth knowledge of social, cultural and religious conditions, economics, trade and politics is needed. To help prevent conflicts and build peace, expertise is also needed about the countries' institutions and the individuals who ensure that they function. Knowledge is available internationally. But if Sweden is to do what we can and pursue active diplomacy and aid that acts as conflict prevention, competence is needed here as well.

Then the question becomes whether we have sufficient knowledge regarding conflict countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and South Sudan to name a few of the countries where Sweden conducts long-term aid? Within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida, there is a great rotation of staff and our universities are hardly encouraged to have researchers who can contribute to Swedish diplomacy and development assistance. If Sweden seriously wants to work long-term preventively against armed conflicts and to build peace, new thinking is needed to increase our knowledge and competence.

We can do more

Sweden can do much more than today to prevent long-term armed conflicts and build peace. Aid funding for this central area should not be reduced due to the fact that asylum reception and humanitarian aid require increased resources.

We should increase our knowledge of the causes of conflicts and the dynamics of managing change and development. In this way, we can also have the ability to put words into action and carry out efforts that break vicious circles of conflict in favor of a just and sustainable global development.

Ulla Andrén

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a debate article for Uttvecklingsmagasinet? Contact us at

Share this: