The concept of "development" cuts across many levels. It refers to macro issues (such as patterns of a nation's growth), as much as it refers to meso problems (such as river-basin plans), or to micro problems (such as local community development). All three levels — macro, meso, and micro, are interwoven. And at all levels, many different dimensions — economic, cultural, religious and gender — affect and are affected by development. This research addresses the links between the promotion of social change associated with development aid and conflict.
Development should be understood as a process, not a product. Societies are always changing. Some improve, while others fail. Development theory aims at explaining both processes. Development practice intends to provide tools that can be applied to entire societies or specific communities. Such interventions are intended to move communities or societies from a situation in which they are believed to be worse off to a situation in which they are assumed to be better off.
Current links between development and conflict theory stress the provision of aid in cases of violent conflict. Peacebuilding interventions after violent conflicts address the same concerns as development interventions. Clearly, development is at the core of post-conflict interventions, where the physical and social landscape has been damaged. In such cases, development assistance is provided.
Yet development aid goes beyond development assistance. Aid refers to general support for the improvement of Third World societies, which may or may not be, in violent conflict. Perhaps because development aid does not deal directly with violence, conflict and conflict resolution have not been topics of major concern to development theorists or workers. This, however, has started to change.
The Millennium Development Goals illustrate how development is an interdisciplinary field, which implements programs in various areas and deals with innumerable variables — such as economic, social, political, gender, cultural, religious and environmental issues. The field is further complicated because these variables are highly intertwined. Therefore, the analysis of gender issues must also consider the affects of and on linked economic, religious, and cultural issues. Similar links exist with many other development topics. Such links become clear in the findings of this research.
Development and Structural Change
Societal change most often requires structural change. While this may be true in any country, it is probably more often true in the developing world. Yet most development intervention is locally targeted and short-term. It does not try to implement structural change across the entire society.
This disconnect creates something of a "Catch-22" — a vicious cycle in which development leads to conflict, and the lack of conflict resolution practices interferes with further development.
Ignoring structural factors means not only overlooking dimensions that take place at the macro level, but also not paying enough attention to the micro-level effects of development and conflict in society. One shocking example was recently publicized by an opinion poll, according to which 67% of Brazilians are functionally illiterate. That means they have great difficulty in understanding very basic information. How can one promote rational processes of conflict resolution in this situation?
Such functional illiteracy is caused, in part, by the fragility of the educational system. Deteriorated schools mirror the economic crisis of developing countries as well as the lack of importance attributed to education by the society. This is largely a result of long-standing social inequities maintained by an elite that benefits from the resulting patron-client relationship. These relationships are so strong that the structural problems continue, even after some conflict resolution measures are taken, such as the empowerment of powerless groups.
Development and Conflict
The interconnection of development factors often causes further conflict escalation. For example, administrative chaos in under-financed governmental bodies often causes the transference of responsibilities from the central state to NGOs, local governments, and the private sector. The result is that such organizations assume duties that may go well beyond their capacities, which causes further conflict. For example, NGOs, local governments, and the private sector lack training in facilitation, mediation, and negotiation, as well as the theoretical knowledge of conflict resolution. So conflicts escalate, with no one knowing what to do about it.
There are few institutions in most developing societies that understand or engage in the practice of conflict resolution. But even when they do, they tend to work with inadequate win-win frameworks. In some cases, for example, negotiation through typical win-win processes is blocked because the powerful within poor communities are criminals. In Brazil, criminal elements are able to exert full control over large territories, mostly within metropolitan areas, from where they traffic in narcotics and weapons. This is one of many reasons why traditional interest-based, win-win negotiation does not work in many cases in developing countries.
In Brazil, the criminal sector has been able to recruit children as young as nine years old. The profile of the typical youth taken to reform schools is shocking. The majority are around 13 years old, yet they are fathers and breadwinners. Most often, they turned to crime because they do not have other employment options nor do they have an expectation of a better life. Due to the economic crisis of the last ten years, permanent and secure employment was largely replaced by "flexible," insecure contracts without the guarantees of the official social security system. This has particularly affected women and other vulnerable groups in society, who form the majority of those working in the informal sector.
This informality has brought further constraints to conflict resolution in developing countries. Many young people are already the second, or even the third generation of families who are mainly employed in "flexible," or "odd" jobs. They lack the culture of work, and the values attributed to it.
Social values are also often undermined by the official educational system, since information disseminated by books in public schools is embedded with prejudice and stereotypes that, for example, overvalue men in detriment of women.
Development aid tries to change such problems. These factors, among others, are the target of the Millennium Goals. However, in many instances, development interventions underestimate local politics, social realities, and belief systems. These are strong factors affecting the opportunities for conflict resolution, which nevertheless have remained overlooked by those working in the field of development theory and practice.
It is remarkable that conflict resolution theory and instruments are also not taken into account either by indigenous organizations, or by international development agencies. This is clearly evidenced by the Human Development Report 2003, published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report reflects a deep concern with armed, violent and military conflicts such as interstate or civil wars. However, it does not consider other more subtle forms of conflict, or the notion that conflict processes can preclude the achievement of development goals. An understanding of the nature and effects of international development illustrates the reason for this.