Post-2015 Development Agenda: Targeting Poverty through Sustainable Peace

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Mugo Mugo, Conflict Researcher and Co-Founder of African Media Initiative on Development (AMID-Africa), Global Education MagazineMugo Mugo

Conflict Researcher and Co-Founder of African Media Initiative on Development (AMID-Africa). Masters of Arts Student of Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation at Innsbruck University March 2014. Holder of Masters Degree in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies from UN’s-Mandated University for Peace (2012).

e-mail: / web: @PMugoMugo


Abstract: In the last two decades, latest reports on poverty, especially by the UN, indicate that the world has experienced a drop of close to a billion people from extreme poverty, out of the initial figure of two billion people back in 1990 according to the MDGs framework. As the world postulates the post-2015 development agenda, 1.1 billion people are still living in extreme poverty or having to survive on less than $1.25 a day or less. If you perceive or regard poverty as a problem that can be solved in our life time; then for that to happen, there will need to be a turn-around from the business-as-usual mode of doing things to ensure the scope of planning addresses all dimensions of poverty. That scope should include the correlation between Targeting Poverty and Sustainable Peace. However, failure to correlate poverty, insecurity and factors that create barriers to opportunities to fight poverty, then it might be a tall order to lift the hundreds of million living in extreme poverty by 2030

Keywords: Poverty, Sustainable Peace, UN High-Level Panel report, MDGs, Conflict, Fragile States, Education.



If in 20-years the world, through several approaches, some within the MDGs framework and others outside of them, have seem the number people leaving in extreme poverty fall by half then this suggests that it is possible to drop the number further. The world can now attest that there is quantifiable knowledge about what can work towards alleviating extreme poverty, and also about what cannot work. But even in areas where things might not have worked, the present generation is well positioned to make a big difference against extreme poverty. If the MDGs platform had incorporated sustainable peace as one of its targets, would the story be different? Sustainable peace would have enabled the MDGs framework to address, in a more effective manner, the challenges that come along with conflict and fragile states. The MDGs framework seems to have assumed that if all the eight MDGs were attained, then all others factors would simply fall in place. Forgotten was the notion that while large scale conflicts might have scaled down, civil strife or ethnic violence has been a common visit across many countries, more so in Africa. Notably, they have also been scaled down by power sharing deals or peace agreement. Human-Security-Report (2012:159) notes that while peace agreement might have fallen short of bringing about lasting peace, they have in return redunced armed violence and helped to save lives.


Two methods of data collection were applied: Desktop Research and Interviews. In the case of desktop, research was done through a review of books, reports and journals in effort to contextualize the correlation between extreme poverty, insecurity and opportunities within the context of Post-2015 Development Agenda. Research approach along this end was analytical in effort to gather information about the present context of MDGs in Africa and also apply that to the on-going discussions about post-2015 development agenda. The interview option was undertaken with the aim of understanding the correlation between MDGs and Education on one end and post-conflict scenarios.

Extreme Poverty and Sustainable Peace

The on-going consultations and gathering of information about the post-2015 development gears towards a decision point in a few months, stakeholders including governments, civil societies, academicians and The United Nations are now realizing that to lift some of the 1.1 billion from extreme poverty there is need to link extreme poverty alleviation efforts with sustainable peace. According to the UN High-Level Panel report “every day, poverty condemns 1 out of 7 people on the planet to a struggle to survive;” The UN High-Level Panel reports notes that “continuing on current growth trends, about 5% of people will be in extreme poverty by 2030, compared with 43.1% in 1990 and a forecast 16.1% in 2015” (2013:44). In their recently published report, the UN High Level Panel have proposed Five Transformative Shifts that the High-Level Panel report holds could guide the post-2015 development agenda thinking, among them three shifts are worth mentioning;-

  1. Leave no one behind: Need to track progress at all levels of income, and by providing social protection to help people build resilience to life’s uncertainties.

  2. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth: Need for rapid shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production. Further, diversified economies, with equal opportunities for all.

  3. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all: Need to recognize peace and good governance as core elements of wellbeing, not optional extras.

These calls for rethinking of the various approaches aimed at alleviating poverty and probably start targeting poverty, thereby looking more at the questions of the opportunities available to those living in fragile states or conflict affected countries. Africa Development Bank (AfDB) findings show that 20 per cent of the African population or 200 million live in countries considered as fragile states. When collaborating the AfDB findings with Human Security Report, then the argument that thinking about conflict transformation becomes valid than ever. The Human Security Report project brings forth the argument that while “the average number of battle deaths per conflict in the region has declined by 90 percent since 2000” across the Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly half of the world’s state-based battle deaths between 1989 and 2009 were caused by wars in sub-Saharan Africa, most of them in the 1990s” (2012:163). It is reasonable to argue that conflict has been on a decline across Africa, but state fragility and community insecurity hasn’t.

Thus the insecurity and violence phenomena could be due to internal and external dynamics that have made the rural livelihood and intra-community coexistence unattainable if not unsustainable. In connection to this, diminishing land returns, widening gap between the rich and poor, presence of militia gangs and high level of youth unemployment are the key ingredient of insecurity. The consequence of this has included a rise in the cases of intra-community violence with the disposed and frustrated youth turning against those perceived to be well to do within the rural areas or what Ruteere refers to as ‘class conflict’ (October, 11, 2012). Closely linked to class conflict is the emergence of militia or criminal gangs. The consequence of this has been a sense of insecurity among and across communities.

Report by International Dialogue on Peace-building and State-building indicates that 1.5 billion people live in conflict-affected and fragile states with 70 per cent of such nations being affected by conflict since 1989. Same reports notes that “no fragile states will achieve Millennium Development Goal by 2015 at the current rate of progress” yet 30 per cent of the Official Development Assistance has been directed or targeted at fragile and conflict-affected context. Of concern is report observation that “governance transformation may take 20-40 years” within fragile and conflict-affected communities raising the question about what will happen to the targeting of extreme poverty if there is no co-relation between effort to tackle poverty and sustainable peace. Indeed poverty can be tackled if not conquered;-

[…] physical insecurity, economic vulnerability and injustice provoke violence. The greatest danger arises when weak institutions are unable to absorb or mitigate…social tensions. Security, along with justice, is consistently cited as an important priority by poor people in all countries (UN-High-Level-Panel, 2013:64).

In the post-MDGs moment, there might be need to rethink the approaches to tackling poverty and argument put forward by The Economist (June 1-7, 2013) is very much appealing, “poverty used to be a reflection of scarcity. Now it is a problem of identification, targeting and distribution. And that is a problem that can be solved” (The-Economist, 2013). One key argument is that economic growth as framed today within fragile states and post conflict states will not work towards eradication of poverty as per projections. In view of Hathaway and Boff, “growth has become synomous with economic health” and along this premise few “question the conventional wisdom affirming the need for an ever-expanding economy” (2009:22). Economist Hermna Daly in trying to separate growth and development points out that “to grow means to increase in size by the assimilation or accetion of materials” while “to develop means to exapand or realize the potentialities of, to bring to a fuller, greater, or better state” (cited in Hathaway & Boff, 2009: 23). In other words, in effort to have transformative economies that create jobs, the post-2015 African economic path might have to develop “qualitatively” rather than “quantitatively” as argued by Hathaway and Boff (2009:23). This argument is not lost as there is an acknowledgment as the 2015 draws near, that sustainable peace should have been one of the goals of the MDGs from the start apart from sustainable development. Without sustainable peace, gains made through the MDGs framework will be reversed if not derailed by conflict or insecurity driven by deep-seated anger due to economic marginalisation or exclusion.

Democracy and its Contradictory Character in Africa

The UN High-Level Panel in acknowledging the MDGs omission and argues that “freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right and the essential foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies” (UN-High-Level-Panel, 2013:9). When the MDGs framework was being instituted, there was renewed hope that as more and more nations improved on their democratic governance; the attainment of MDGs was more or less realistic. However, the road to democratic governance has not been rosy for some states though at the same time there many success stories. While looking at the challenges for democracies in transition across Africa, Kanyinga, Okello and Aketch argue that conflicts triggered by disputed electoral processes have since 1990 threatened the survival of most states. The trio notes “in many instances where the electoral process is truncated, violent conflicts have followed. Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Central African Republic succumbed to civil conflict in the 1990’s because of electoral-related factors” (2010:2). But not everything is lost as Thomas Risse-Kappen (1995) argues, “while democracies do not seem to be inherently more peaceful than autocratic regimes, there is nevertheless an island of peace in an ocean of conflict and wars”. Meaning that it was in order for the MDGs framework to depend on the good governance brought about or promised by democratic governance. But beneath the surface, another culture has been noted as being part and parcel of the African democracy that could explain why Africa’s recent past promising democratic records cannot be depended in its entirety as an engine for post 2015 development agenda;-

[…] Africa’s democratization path has exhibited a contradictory character. Alongside participation by more parties, plurality of the media outlets….the fusion (though more muted) of state and party, violence, bribery, and rigging, have remained constant features of Africa’s elections. (Kanyinga, Okello, & Akech, 2010:2).

Democracy does mean different things to different people but for democratic culture to thrive then honesty, accountability and responsive leadership to the collective will of the people must be part and parcel of the package that is called democracy. Along this thinking, then it would only benefit very few if any, if there was a separation between peace and good governance. For this not to happen, and for there to be sustainable peace as well as credible progress against poverty before 2030, then what needs to be in place are “responsive and legitimate institutions” that “encourage the rule of law, property rights, freedom of speech and the media, open political choice, access to justice, and accountable government and public institutions” (UN-High-Level-Panel,2013:9). Such a political climate would allow the thriving of transparency and accountability which in the end would enable the thriving of opportunities that would enable the targeting of poverty more efficient and sustainable. In other words, without sustainable peace and development, then there is no way of guarantying measures against theft and waste of scarce natural and human resources. If the next global development agenda seeks to alleviate poverty in all its manifestations, then that cannot be possible if conflict transformation is not incorporated as half of the world’s extreme poor live in conflict-affected countries. From its meeting with some of the most vulnerable people across the world, the UN High-Level Panel notes, that those caught up in extreme poverty talked of how:-

[…] how powerless they felt because their jobs and livelihoods were precarious….fear getting sick, and lack safety….talked about insecurity, corruption, and violence in the home. They spoke of being excluded and abused by society’s institutions and of the importance of transparent, open and responsive government (UN-High-Level-Panel, 2013:14).

David Keen in his book Complex Emergencies argues that it may be through “the process of development” that the next phase of conflict is initiated. What Keen brings forth is that, there is likelihood to forget or look away when GDP figures are promising.

According to Mo-Ibrahim-Foundation (November, 2012) report;-

  1. Over the next 10 years, there will be 108 million more school-age children in Africa
  2. Between 2010 and 2020, Africa will add 163 million people to its potential labour force
  3. In Africa, tertiary educated people have the highest migration rate
  4. More than 1/2 of tertiary educated people in Cape Verde, Gambia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sierra Leone leave their country
  5. “Job readiness” is lacking in Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt

Along this thinking it is probable to miss out on taking note of the consequences, if a segment of the population is marginalised or excluded from the benefits of such growth. It is worth noting that in Kenya, while the 2007/08 post election violence might have been triggered by a ‘stolen vote’. The violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives was preceded by record economic growth GDP of 7 per cent in 2007, 6.5 per cent in 2006 and 5.7 per cent in 2005 (CBK, June 2012:18) an indication that there was deep-seated anger among the aggrieved fed by deep perception of marginalisation even with the record economic growth. The most plausible explanation is that violence might have been triggered factors namely “longstanding dispute over land rights, recurrent violence and persistent impunity, pre-existing violation of economic and social rights and vigilante groups” (Oucho, 2012: 494). Oucho further notes that in Kenyan context;-

[…] government’s argument that the country was enjoying an economic upturn was a fact, but the ordinary wananchi (citizens) had not seen any positive changes to warrant voting for it, hence the voters’ overwhelming support for the opposition party (Oucho, 2012: 515)

It is hoped that most Africa countries might have learned lesson from Kenyan case as economic growth forecasts for most of African countries gets favorable projections. Africa economic growth is projected to hit an average of 5 per cent annually in the next fews if not morevsome countries doing much better than that like Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and Nigeria. Good news for African poor people, but questions still remain like: will the record economic growth translate to development growth to help those in extreme poverty? For that to happen, then there is a need to link up economic growth with conflict transformation through targeted poverty initiatives as Africa is home to conflict affected countries like Somalia, South Sudan, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad with states fragility painting a gloomy picture.

Tackling Insecurity: Correlating Education and Opportunity

According to Human-Security-Report, it is in moment of peace in post conflict-affected societies or in fragile states that education seems to get affected more, “other than the deaths, disruption, and destruction caused by the war itself”. Study undertaken for the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report by PeaceResearch Institute Oslo researchers “found that state fragility—the weakness of institutions, governance, and state capacity in a given country—is more strongly associated with poor educational attainments than is conflict (2012:11). In the case of Democratic Republic of Congo, the decline in educational attainments was the result of a decades-long progressive collapse of governance—along with a drop in copper prices—that drove the DRC’s GDP per capita down from approximately $300 per capita (in constant USD 2000) in the 1970s, to approximately $100 at the beginning of the periods of civil war that started in the late 1990s (Human-Security-Report, 2012:92).

The findings on DR Congo reveals that education slowed in the 1980’s and stagnated for more than a decade prior to the protracted conflict more so in the Eastern region of the country since 1990. While much gains have been made in the education front, Africa has long way to;-

  1. Current African educational levels are lower than China’s and India’s
  2. Almost 1/2 of the world’s out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa
  3. The average pupil-teacher ratio in Africa ranges from 13 pupils in Seychelles to 81 in
  4. Central African Republic
  5. Nearly 9 million primary school-age children are out of school in Nigeria
  6. Only 2/3 of student’s progress from primary to secondary education in Africa
  7. Government programs to promote youth employment are dysfunctional in 21 countries (Mo-Ibrahim-Foundation, November, 2012)

This suggests that failure to connect the dots on the importance of sustainable peace and good governance does have impact on education, especially in period of relative stability. While these finding gives some hope, the reality is that globally, the number of children out of school has fallen, from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2011. But the benefits of this progress have not reached children in conflict-affected countries. These children make up 22% of the world’s primary school aged population, yet they comprise 50% of children who are denied an education, a proportion that has increased from 42% in 2008.

Global Monitoring Report, MDGs, Global Education Magazine

According to Dr Philista Onyango of Regional Director for African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (APNPPCAN), MDGs failed from onset as they did not address these factors in g conflict and in post-conflict situations. Examples of effect to education include in Mozambique and Somalia where infrastructure was destroyed (2013-09-01). Dr Onyango observes that education infrastructures in post conflict period “are not accorded same attention as with other aspects even when it comes to aid for reconstruction in most cases”.

Onyango recalls a conversation with ex-South Sudan rebel who recounted his challenges in adjusting to normal life after decades of conflict after missing out education, “I do not know how to discuss, I do not know how to argue. All what I know is to fight, anything small provokes me”. The newly independent country of South Sudan is now having to deal with post-conflict insecurity where some ex-rebel members, who are now expected to be part of the new independent state and who missed out on education are turning to violence as a way of resolving small disagreement either with fellow residents or foreigners. Rwanda, after the 1994 genocide seems to have reflected on her darkest moments and on how to integrate and reconcile the perpetrators and victims of the genocide. Worth noting that in case of Rwanda, the perpetrators of conflict included those who had gone to school and those who had been left out or had dropped out along the way. While formal judicial processes were plausible, Rwanda seems to have turned to traditional or indigenous means of solving conflict through the Gacaca courts. There has been lots of condemnation that the Gacaca is not the best approach, but Rwanda argues that Gacaca is most suited for Rwanda context, in this case her history and the fact that both the perpetrators and victims will for ever share the same country and thus there was need for forgives and acceptable level of punishment but same time guarding against retribution (Molenaar, 2005).

Findings from the Human Security Report indicate that, “child soldiers, who lose far more years of education than other children in war affected countries have special educational needs. These needs are rarely met” (Human-Security-Report, 2012:82). There are differing arguments as to why youth engage in violence or criminal activities. But there is level to which a family or community can sink into in terms of poverty level, a condition when hopes are crashed and turning to violence or criminal activities become an option. When it comes to fragile states theft of public resources like development money for education and land do create deep seated anger that if not addressed in time can evolve into grounds for seeking alternative means to redress the situation. Beyond that sustainable peace cannot be realized without paying adequate attention not just to formal education but also the question of the skills being passed across and the opportunities being made available thereby making any economic gains by the nation a beneficial to all.

The ongoing instability across the North African states of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt is an indication that, while economic progress is both desirable, it has to benefit the wider society. Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have in time scored very well on MDGs figures when it comes to education, but on the other side, the political climate of fear and lack of accountability ended up siphoning opportunities that the young people, with formal education and skills could have benefited from but Mo-Ibrahim-Foundation (November, 2012) is worthing thinking about;-

  1. Less than 1/4 of African youth think their country is a full democracy
  2. Eritrea, Angola and Central African Republic spend more on defense than on education
  3. In some African countries, the youth have more confidence in the military than in
  4. Government

The consequences of this miscalculation are now evident with Egypt, the country that had made great strides in education which is now appearing as the most unstable, even though the same education gains seems to be what is shielding the nation from descending into anarchy .

Within the context of the rural Africa, education holds the key to opportunities that can offset the occurrence or recurrence of violence. Across many families the most valuable asset they can pass over to their children is education. Even when the UN High-Level Panel was collecting views, young people argued for education beyond primary school, and not just formal learning but life skills and vocational training to prepare them for jobs. The young people who had a chance to go to school and gain skills across Africa are now reading from the same script. The emerging young generation of Africans amidst positive economic projections for Africa are seeking, “access to information and technology so they can participate in their nation’s public life, especially charting its path to economic development” (UN-High-Level-Panel, 2013:14).


If the 1.1 billion people are to escape from poverty, indeed they need education and training for them to be able to transform the economies of their countries. This is possible and there are great lessons from Asia and Latin America regions that Africa can learn from. However, sustainable peace and good governance are key aspects as well as tackling rural insecurity. To achieve sustainable peace and prosperity, there is need to explore a range of means including availing equal opportunity and incentives for the educated people for both individual and communal development. While tackling insecurity will avail a climate for young people to take advantage of economic growth, such has to be accompanied by other factors like shift in the patterns of consumption and replacing them with production-harnessing innovation. As the world gears towards post-2015, proper identification of factors that breed poverty, appropriate ways of targeting poverty, and most importantly, how to ensure equitable distribution and allocation of benefits accrued from feasible economic growth in the developing world might hold the key.



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Matundu, K. (2013, July 15). Programme Associate, UN Millennium Campaign, Africa Office, Nairobi. (M. Mugo, Interviewer)

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This article was published on September 15th: International Day of Democracy, in Global Education Magazine.

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