Conflict-prone countries are not doomed to an eternal trap

The situation of Afghanistan has drawn a picture of a poor, conflict-prone, doomed country. But this does not have to be the case. We have examples of several countries able to rise out of poverty, despite conflicts, climate challenges, or large population.

International co-operation for eradicating poverty and inequality is increasingly important also from the point of view of wealthier countries, such as Finland. For instance, pandemics or climate change are border-crossing phenomena, so the solutions need to be global. Advancing global equality and justice is also part of security politics.

It is estimated that in the least developed countries (LDCs) of the world 23% – approximately 210 million people – live with hunger. Extreme poverty and, for instance, poor business possibilities make it difficult for citizens of these countries to attain a better life.

Despite the problems, in the Asia-Pacific region 10 out of 12 LDCs are expected to rise out of poverty in the coming years.

For example Bangladesh, a country which is extremely vulnerable to climate change — with the number of Bangladeshis potentially displaced by climate change exceeding 13 million by 2050 — and which witnessed severe conflict at the time of its independence in 1971. However, during the past decade the country has seen rapid economic growth and also addressing some gender inequalities. Agriculture and infrastructure have been developed and the share of services in the economy has grown. The positive transformation has taken place thanks both to active NGOs and policy action by the government.

Or Nepal, where violent conflict during 1996–2006 led to 13,000 deaths and over 200,000 displaced persons. However, a peace accord since then and an inclusive political settlement led to cessation of conflict and the progress of the country in economic and social development. The new constitution adopted in 2015 strengthened local governance and women’s participation in decision-making. The development of the country is altogether impressive; between 1981–2021 the share of literate people more than tripled, access to clean water more than quadrupled, and a proper toilet is available to all and not just 2% of the population.

The majority of the LDCs are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of productive engagement with the world economy, conflictual state–society relationships, and under-investment in physical and human capital are stopping African LDCs from rising out of poverty. There are, however, positive examples as well, one of them being Kenya — a country where there is a transformation taking place from interaction through development co-operation into more versatile political and economic relations.

Kenya has made investments in education, health, infrastructure and innovations, and only a small percentage of the country’s budget is coming from development co-operation financing. The country has remained a relatively stable and open environment for business, which has also led to increase in the number of Finnish companies present in the country.

The international community supports LDCs’ endeavours to reduce poverty and inequality through, for instance, development and academic co-operation. These cannot solve the problems alone, but they can be a starter or a leverage for positive changes.

For example, in Uganda, Mozambique and Zambia — thanks to long-term research collaboration — it is now easier for policy makers to obtain information based on local administrative data, assess the impact of different policies, and plan for reforms related to taxation and social security.

In Nepal, Finland has supported, through bilateral development co-operation, the peace process, development of the justice system, and sustainable forestry. At least 1.6 million Nepalese have had access to clean drinking water with the support of Finland.

In Bangladesh, Finnish NGOs have supported education, disabled people, and human rights. The interest of Finnish companies in the Bangladesh market is also on the rise.

Completely new solutions are needed too. The LDC Future Forum organized in Helsinki 5-7 October 2021 saw some of the brightest minds in global development and academia come together. Practical tools for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 were discussed in the meeting.

Together we can support the rise of conflict-prone countries out of poverty. Positive global development has an impact also on the economy and safety of Finland.

Ville Skinnari is Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland, and Kunal Sen is Director of UNU-WIDER.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.