Accountability amidst fragility, conflict, and violence: learning from recent cases

Published on 9 October 2019

Estimates suggest that by 2030, about half of the world’s poor will live in contexts of fragility, conflict and violence, all of which exacerbate the difficulties faced by poor and marginalised people, particularly in influencing the policy decisions that affect their lives. The new IDS Bulletin ‘Accountability Amidst Fragility, Conflict, and Violence: Learning from Recent Cases’ compares a number of cases in conflict-affected contexts, that highlight a number of approaches.

Medellín, Antioquia Department, Colombia. A man waves a small flag that reads, ‘I Want Peace’, during a protest march held in reaction to the thousands of kidnappings undertaken by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) leftist rebels and criminal factions in Colombia.
Medellín, Antioquia Department, Colombia. Credit: Paul Smith/Panos Pictures.

Edited by Dr Anuradha Joshi and produced as part of the Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) programme, this IDS Bulletin set out to look at recent history for lessons on how progress on empowerment and accountability might be made in contexts of fragility, conflict, and violence. Such contexts are often ones where state institutions are weak, fragmented, and lack legitimacy; where non-state actors control territory and often provide services, and where civic space is limited and uneven.

Dr Joshi said: ‘As pockets of fragility, conflict, and violence emerge in what have so far been relatively stable places, initial insights from these cases will be increasingly relevant for tackling these issues globally.’

The issue emphasises the importance of distinguishing processes of accountability from those of empowerment, and recognising the complexities of the relationships between them. More specifically, it

  1. Emphasises the importance of distinguishing processes of accountability from those of empowerment, and recognising the complexities of the relationships between them.
  2. Highlights how the dynamic nature of contexts of fragility, violence, and conflict constrain citizen action but simultaneously offer opportunities for civic actors to form coalitions with new actors and movements.
  3. Underscores the value in viewing accountability gains within the longer historical trajectory of particular conflict’s.
  4. Illustrates the core importance of narratives and framing in driving collective action and embedding the legitimacy of claims.

Case studies from Colombia, Guatemala, India, Myanmar and Pakistan

Looking at examples from Colombia, Guatemala, India, Myanmar and Pakistan, the cases presented offer rough contours of the issues and their conceptual underpinnings that might be relevant for understanding and conceptualising empowerment and accountability processes in such settings.

Taken collectively, this set of cases show that progress is possible in the conflict/post-conflict context despite the unfavourable terrain, but the paths that social action takes is heavily constrained by local understandings of empowerment and accountability, the configuration of pro‑accountability stakeholders, the history of the conflict and its effects on various groups, and how narratives are mobilised to serve political change. Moreover, any progress, we note, is transitory: it can and has been reversed. Whether or not social action is durable and has accountability effects, can only be judged over the long-term.

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