Integrating fairness into post-conflict recovery

The Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) recently hosted a panel at the 2020 Virtual Stockholm Forum for Peace and Development, organised by SIPRI. The session sought to operationalise SLRC research by unpacking how individuals experience fairness in post-conflict recovery, how this links to state legitimacy and how it shapes individual behaviour that supports recovery. The key takeaways from the discussion point us towards four priorities for development practitioners and policy-makers.

The problem

Almost all actors working in peacebuilding and post-conflict development would agree that policies and programmes need to be designed and delivered in a manner that is fair. However, there is often a gap between what international implementers perceive as fair and what individuals and communities they seek to support experience as fair. Is there a way to close this gap and better embed and operationalise fairness into post-conflict recovery programming?

Standards of fairness differ

An important starting point is to acknowledge that people’s standards of fairness are impacted by legacies of conflict and exclusion, and that thus what these standards are will be different in each context. SLRC behavioural research in Uganda shows that recalling the experience of violent conflict increases standards of what people consider to be fair, helping explain why people might find it difficult to experience their own recovery, even when socio-economic indicators are improving.

Fairness is subjective and legitimacy co-constructed

SLRC research refutes the traditional assumption that legitimacy is transactional, and in particular questions whether better service delivery can directly help to improve state legitimacy. Rather, whether the state is considered to be fair and legitimate is highly subjective, constructed through evolving perceptions and narratives of communities, often around a key salient issue that will be particular to that group and is often linked to how a group had to struggle over access to resources in the past.

Experiences of fairness are institutionalised

In Nepal, certain ethnic groups have systemically and for generations experienced the state as unfair. The Terai-Madhes people in the Eastern region, for example, consider the state as unfair and as treating them as second class citizens. This experience of unfairness has been institutionalised from generation to generation, resulting in the emergence of the counter-government movements and new forms of violent conflict.

What are the challenges?

While the international community has made some progress in conceptualising and operationalising fairness (for example, mentioning the concept in the World Bank’s first ever Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence), several challenges remain:

  • Embedding fairness into programmatic processes does not necessarily lead to a fairer outcomes. For example, the mechanism by which services are distributed can be deemed fair, but the way in which services are experienced can still be felt to be unfair by beneficiaries.
  • Unfairness is experienced at the individual, community and societal level. Accounting for these different levels of vulnerability to unfairness or exclusion within post-conflict programming is difficult.
  • Legacies of conflict are carried through into post-conflict contexts. These ‘hangovers of feelings’ can have a significant impact on the trust associated with post-conflict programmes.

What can be done?

In order to better integrate fairness into design and implementation, future development programmes should prioritise:

  1. Unpacking their own assumptions as to why they believe a proposed programme is fair and on what knowledge and whose perspective they are basing this assumption.
  2. Better understanding the context in which they are working, and the particular group they are trying to make the programme fairer for, including understanding how the context has shaped behavioural mechanisms that might have increased standards of fairness.
  3. Improving communications between the state and citizens, ensuring citizens have a mechanism for articulating grievances.
  4. Ensuring monitoring and evaluation systems are in place early on so that course correction and adaptations can take place as and when new information becomes available.