The Problem

The Critical Problem

What’s Causing the Problem?

What Is Currently Being Done, and Why Isn’t It Enough?

Refugee Populations: An Overlooked Resource in the Peacebuilding Process


The Critical Problem: Top

In the past 60 years, over 13 million people have lost their lives to conflict on the African continent – the equivalent of the Holocaust.[i] Beyond the loss of human lives, these wars do an estimated $18 billion dollars of economic damage each year – the equivalent of the total annual aid from major donor countries.[ii] On top of these financial and human costs, these wars have a secondary set of victims: the millions of refugees who have been forced to uproot their lives and flee their homes due to the threat to their lives and livelihoods. At the end of 2006, there were over 9.4 million people displaced by wars in Africa, most of which are civil conflicts.[iii] As we are seeing right now in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these conflicts often endure for decades. They are still taking millions of lives, and are one of the great challenges of our time.

What’s Causing the Problem? Top

Many conflicts in Africa share similar risk factors: extreme poverty,[iv] income inequality,[v] weak governance structures,[vi] and economic instability or dependence on fickle weather conditions.[vii] Once these conflicts have broken out they are hard to resolve, and they often continue in cycles for years and even decades. In general, the re-emergence of civil war is strongly linked to the years of war that the country experienced since independence and to whether the country experienced a war for independence. In addition, there are several socio-economic indicators linked to civil war which can be used to strategically minimize the chances of war’s re-emergence.

What Is Currently Being Done, and Why Isn’t It Enough? Top

Currently, the dominant paradigm of peacebuilding focuses almost exclusively on a top-down model: improve governance structures, negotiate cease-fires and peace agreements, open up markets, and the rest will fall into place. And yet, these approaches have been heavily problematic, since without the tools to hold government accountable, African people have suffered through what often seems like a revolving-door of corrupt or inadequate governments.

In response, FORGE’s bottom-up model of peacebuilding prescribes interventions that address the root causes of war through the building of economic opportunity, stability, and a healthy civil society. This bottom-up approach is designed to equip local leaders and communities with the tools they need to solve their own problems and with “the instruments to hold political leaders accountable.”[viii] Our primary focus is on relieving the grassroots tensions, problems, and shortcomings that leave a nation’s people with few options for protecting their own lives and livelihoods. Thus, FORGE works to build vibrant post-conflict civil societies with adequate economic opportunity and social protection, which many scholars suggest play as much of a role in the social stabilization process as do the larger political structures.[ix]

Refugee Populations: An Overlooked Resource in the Peacebuilding Process Top

Beyond our commitment to the bottom-up approach, FORGE has found a specific resource that is often overlooked in the conflict resolution process: the large refugee populations gathered in camps outside the warring country’s borders. Refugees, though often viewed as helpless victims of war,[x] are in actuality dynamic social and economic actors who use numerous strategies to control their own lives, livelihoods, and futures.[xi, xii] While FORGE is the only organization to have decisively tapped into their potential, the fact remains that African refugee situations provide a set of characteristics that makes them a particularly appealing target population for peacebuilding interventions.

The potential of refugee populations can be leveraged to address many of the underlying causes of war, and FORGE is currently doing just that. Yet, under the current aid-based system, refugees are taught to be dependent recipients of external assistance, and either lose or never build the capacity to be self-sufficient agents of their own futures. This dependency syndrome bodes poorly for the futures of refugees upon their return from exile – after spending unconstructive years completely dependent on external actors, how will they transition to rebuilding their own lives and the lives of those around them?

In the UN refugee agency’s own words, “A refugee…is prevented from enjoying those rights – for example, to freedom of movement, employment, and in some cases, education – that would enable him or her to become a productive member of a society.” And thus, “the consequences of having so many human beings in a static state include wasted lives, squandered resources, and increased threats to security.”[xiii] Despite the recognition that long-term solutions are more desirable than short-term fixes, UNHCR currently spends a full 40% of its budget on “Care and Maintenance” of existing situations. UNHCR itself acknowledges that this strategy is problematic, stating that, “spending on care and maintenance, rather than solutions, is a recurring expense and not an investment in the future. It can only ensure that situations are perpetuated, not solved.”[xiv]

FORGE agrees that change is necessary, and has partnered with UNHCR to do something about it. We turn refugee camps from despair-filled ware houses for displaced persons into incubators for positive community-building. We offer a singular alternative to the aid-dependency framework that centers around the opposite principle: capacity building for self-sufficiency. Rather than providing them aid into perpetuity, FORGE’s self-sufficiency framework helps refugees regain control of their lives, livelihoods, and future prospects. These are the interventions that, while slower and more complex, are designed to address the root causes of war. FORGE offers and has actualized this new framework for conflict management – one that treats refugee situations as positive opportunities to build the necessary conditions for peace, rather than as burdensome results of war. We don’t know of anyone else that is doing this.

Footnotes: Top

[i] “Death Tolls for Man-Made Megadeaths.” Historical Atlas of the 20th Century. 3 May 2008

[ii] Oxfam. “Africa – the Cost of War.” Africa Research Bulletin (2007).

[iii] UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2006: Trends in Displacement, Protection, and Solutions. UNHCR. Geneva: UNHCR, 2007. Annex pg. 90

[iv] Elbadawi, Ibrahim, and Nicholas Sambanis. “Why are There So Many Civil Wars in Africa? Understanding and Preventing Violent Conflict.” Journal of African Economies 9 (2000): 244-269.

[v] Cramer, Christopher. “Does Inequality Cause Conflict?” Journal of International Development 15 (2003): 397-412.

[vi] Hegre, Havard, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates, and Nils Petter Gleditsch. “Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Civil Change, and Civil War.” American Political Science Review 95 (2001): 33-48.

[vii] Miguel, Edward, S. Satyanath, and E. Serengeti. “Economic Shocks in Conflict: an Instrumental Variable Approach.” Journal of Political Economy 112 (2004): 725-753.

[viii] Daley, Patricia. “Challenges to Peace: Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.” Third World Quarterly 27 (2006): pp 317.

[ix] Hemmer, B. W., J. L. Graham, P. Garb, and M. Phillips. Putting the “Up” in Bottom-Up Peacebuilding: Broadening the Concept of International Negotiations. The Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Apr. 2005, Palmer House Hilton.

[x] Rajaram, Prem Kumar. “Humanitarianism and Representations of the Refugee.” Journal of Refugee Studies 15 (2002): 247-264.

[xi] Jacobsen, Karen. The Economic Life of Refugees. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian P, 2005: pp 25-30.

[xii] Dryden-Peterson, Sarah. “”I Find Myself as Someone Who is in the Forest”: Urban Refugees as Agents of Social Change in Kampala, Uganda.” Journal of Refugee Studies 19 (2006): 381-395.

[xiii] Protracted Refugee Situations. Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme. Geneva: UNHCR, 2004.

[xiv] Protracted Refugee Situations. Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme. Geneva: UNHCR, 2004.