Maintaining and strengthening the livelihoods of conflict-affected populations during and after violent conflict is high on the agenda of governments and development agencies the world over. Much has been tried and learned in Colombia over the last decade in this regard, including building and maintaining multi-stakeholder partnerships between the private, public, and civil society sectors to address challenges. This case study seeks to present some of the experiences of the Colombian government and the international community’s efforts to generate economic opportunities for conflict-affected populations in Colombia, and reflect on lessons for policy and practice elsewhere.
The report presents the international cooperation frameworks for economic development and peacebuilding that have been developed for and with the Government of Colombia (GoC) in recent years. In particular, it documents traditional "alternative development" programmes that have been put in place to reduce the attractiveness of illicit crop cultivation for economically vulnerable populations. The report compares and contrasts these programmes with several alternative approaches, initiated by local actors from conflict-affected regions themselves, and later scaled-up with external funding. These programmes differ from other alternative development programmes in four ways:
First, they are "multi-dimensional" in that they incorporate social, cultural and environmental factors in addition to economic ones. Second, they seek to respond to bottom-up proposals that emerge from citizens from conflict-affected regions of the country. Third, they strive to move beyond "economic charity" to promote long-term solutions to economic development and household income generation. Fourth, they integrate concepts of human rights, citizen participation and sustainable development.
Against this wider backdrop, the report then presents lessons from the way one particularly urgent issue has been tackled in the Colombian context, namely, the provision of employment and income-generation opportunities for demobilised ex-combatants.
Narrow focus of international cooperation: Focusing international cooperation closely on poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, as important as they may be, fails to address the reality and social dynamics of middle-income countries experiencing protracted armed conflict and a myriad of other more localised social and political conflicts.
Policy inconsistency: Linking military security and the war on drugs to peacebuilding and nonviolence lacks coherence, and seriously risks undermining the latter. Such strategies often require vulnerable populations to “side with” the government even when the government is not able to guarantee security from resulting attacks from illegal armed groups. The persistent presence of armed actors in many of these areas also enables rent-seeking from projects meant to benefit poor and displaced people.
Analysis and categorisation of conflict situations: While it is clear that some aspects of the Colombian context call for “post-conflict” peacebuilding approaches, such as the demobilisation and reintegration of some groups of former combatants, there are clearly parts of the country where armed conflict continues. Conflating different stages of conflict and resulting peacebuilding needs under such blanket headings (whether for political or other reasons) leads to flawed responses, for example in the case of international assistance to the displaced, where displacement is still ongoing.
Impact assessment: Evaluation of initiatives such as those described in this paper is entirely underdeveloped. While projects such as the Peace and Development Programmes, Peace Labs and others appear to provide different options to standard alternative development and “post-conflict” programming, there is no evidence of the depth, breadth, and sustainability of their impact, despite positive evidence sometimes observed at the level of individuals and households. As a result, important lessons these initiatives may hold for interventions elsewhere cannot be harvested systematically.
Public-Private Partnerships: Countries such as Colombia with a dynamic and well-developed national and multinational private sector provide a richness of opportunities for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) that may not be available in every conflict context. Despite the fact that the Colombian private sector has probably done more than any other national private sector in recent history to contribute to the economic reintegration of ex-combatants and generation of income-earning opportunities for the displaced and vulnerable populations, it is still far too little for the magnitude of the problem and the risks of not getting it right in the very near future. Still, Colombia provides some innovative examples of PPP that should inform the ongoing international discourse and debate on the role of PPP in conflict, and especially post-conflict, contexts.
It is also clear that such multi-stakeholder partnerships for economic development are difficult, require the building of trust, and need a lot of guidance and accompaniment by parties accepted as impartial by all sides. The peacebuilding sector’s experience and expertise of accompanying dialogue processes may be helpful in this regard.
Factoring in conflict risks of agricultural development: A combination of agro-export and subsistence agriculture continue to be the primary modes of promoting economic development in many post-conflict and developing country contexts. Especially in countries like Colombia, where control and ownership of land has been a key driver of conflict, increasing attention needs to be paid to make sure agro-export models do not reinforce long-term conflict dynamics, nor put food security at risk. The growing promotion of cash crop bio-fuels such as ethanol from sugar cane and bio-diesel from African palm increasingly complicates these dynamics.
Promoting conflict-sensitive alternative livelihoods: Persisting war and criminal economies make alternative development projects difficult to sustain, and pose serious security risks for those participating. There is increasing anecdotal evidence that illicit crop cultivation in Colombia is not always more profitable for rural farmers than other agricultural products, since the majority of profits are produced higher up the value chain. However, the failure to resolve armed violence and the persistent threat of violence against rural populations combined with deficient transportation infrastructure to markets discourages many individuals from trying. Conflict-sensitive approaches are required to ensure that the security of beneficiaries and participants is a top priority in development, and is not sacrificed for broader, national or geostrategic security interests. Evidence shows that one of the more sustainable strategies is to:
Link economic opportunities into existing and strong product value chains: “Economic charity” in conflict situations is not only non-sustainable, it can also increase vulnerability to socio-economic and conflict risks. In situations where expectations for a peace dividend are high among the population, failed interventions may have further negative, conflict-feeding impacts, as they may demonstrate to beneficiaries that illicit economic activity is, after all, the more reliable source of income. Value chain analysis and approaches can serve to formulate combined economic development and peacebuilding interventions. They can help not only to identify the unique problems of different actors involved in the chain, but also to propose specific solutions that foster better outcomes for small growers and meaningful improvements in their socio-economic conditions.
Revising approaches to the economic reintegration of ex-combatants: Colombiaconfirms lessonslearned elsewhere in regards to the limits of agricultural and small business self-employment for ex-combatants.While governments and the international community need to be careful not to privilegeex-combatants over others in society when it comes to economic opportunities, a broader frameworkfor income generation needs to be developed that includes medium and large national and multinationalenterprises as well as the public sector.