Conflict in the developing world and its impact on development

On Saturday 20th Feb 2016 Josh will be speaking at the London International Development Conference about ethnic conflict in Kenya and the links to development. In preparation for this talk, we have written a short post here. 


The Link between Conflict and the Developing World

There is a strong link between conflict and less developed countries. The image below (a screenshot from IRIN’s interactive tool) clearly indicates this.

Location of ongoing conflict (size of red dot is linked to length of the conflict)

This brings up an interesting set of questions. What is it about developing countries that promotes conflict and how can we better prevent conflict in these areas? In the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report (Conflict, Security, and Development) statistics are presented on the drivers of conflict.

As is clearly illustrated, the strongest driver is unemployment or idleness. Feeling more secure or belief in the conflict (what intuitively might seem like the strongest drivers) were much less often reported. This corresponds well with three major sources of stress that can create conflict: security, economic, and justice. Contributors to these can stem from within the country (internal) or outside the country (external).

Security                  Legacies of violence and traumaInvasion, occupation

External support for domestic rebels


EconomicLow income levels/low opportunity cost of rebellion

Youth unemployment

Sever corruption

Price shocks

Climate change

JusticeEthnic, religious, or regional competition

Real or perceived discrimination

Human rights abuses


Of course, the presence of these does not mean that there will definitely be conflict. For example, western countries experience several of these (usually) without the scale of conflict which is seen in emerging economies. Even with stressors present, a second necessary factor for these conflicts is weak institutions. Institutions include rules, laws, organizations, as well as culture and the behaviours associated with those. If these institutions cannot cope with the stressors occurring, conflict is usually the outcome. This perpetuates a downward spiral as conflict then promotes the conditions which drive conflict (see the section on the impact of conflict).


Peacekeeping Efforts: What works

The World Bank Development Report also illustrated that conflict often reoccurs. In essence illustrating that there is huge potential for improvement in peacekeeping efforts.

Based on the analysis of factors which cause conflict, there are therefore two avenues for improvement. The first is tackling the drivers of conflict (e.g. unemployment) through organizations working directly in this space, such as providing employability training or entrepreneurship.

A report by the World Bank on reducing the risk of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region highlighted the importance of employment creation. This was driven by the Bank’s experience in responding to the Arab Spring’. Four elements were targeted:

  1. Reforming the education system to link it better with local employment structures
  2. Identifying sectors with the largest employment generation and considering employment generation when prioritizing investment
  3. Widening access to finance and business development to SMEs
  4. Establishing investment support agencies or services

The second avenue for improvement is working at an institutional level to increase the capacity of institutions to deal with causes of conflict at a macro level or to respond to conflict. This would include growth of the economy or improved police force.


Impact of Conflict on Development

While there is no debate about whether conflict is detrimental to development, it is worth pointing out the scale of negative impact caused. Data taken from the World Bank database of indicators illustrates the impact on gross domestic product per capita (GDPpc).

Sierra Leona$214$150


GDPpc represents the economic aspect of development and in fact the economic impact is worse than measured by these figures. For example, government spending (which is often a sizeable contributor to GDP) might not drop much (therefore not affecting GDP) but what it spends that money on is affected. Instead of investing in strengthening the economic outlook of a country, for example through infrastructure developments, it is now spending that money on the military.

Of course, development is much broader than economic performance. The social costs are perhaps the most lamentable. At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of victims of conflict were soldiers, however today 90% of casualties are civilians. Alongside direct exposure to the conflict, conflict brings increased risk of diseases, starvation, or water, sanitation and hygiene related illnesses. Massive displacement of communities is also common in conflict zones (such as in the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya) which greatly exacerbates these problems.

For those who survive conflict, their communities are hugely effected. Schools, places of worship, and local markets are often the targets of violence and destruction. This in turn makes the likelihood of conflict far greater. It seems the greatest opportunity to break this chain is in employment creation. Incidentally, conflict was the inspiration for Balloon Ventures. When undertaking research on the post election violence in Kenya, Josh (Balloon co-founder) realized that lack of meaningful opportunities was a key reason people were fighting. The idea for an organization to facilitate the creation of local business was a partial response to this problem. Our early impact analysis confirm that people are happier and less likely to resolve to conflict with meaningful opportunities. We are working hard to better understand this relationship.


This piece was written by Nicholas Andreou. Nicholas leads the Insight & Impact function at Balloon Ventures. He holds a PhD from the University of Nottingham and has previously held research positions at Harvard University and the World Health Organization as a student.