Does Social Protection Lead to Peace?

The Transformative Potential of Social Protection to generate Peace: In Search of Evidence

by Victor Ogharanduku, Head of the social protection unit at the social protection department at the Michael Imoudu National Institute to Labour Studies (MINILS), Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria

The claim that social protection programmes have the transformative potential to create peaceful societies at the local level emerged as a thematic development policy issue early in this decade and sparked some interest. But this interest was short-lived; this potential did not strike a chord among many researchers, academia and policy makers. It rather generated wariness. However, findings from my Ph.D research study suggest that this thematic subject area should be revisited.

Employing the dynamical complex systems theory (DST) and the positive peace framework developed by the Institute for Economic and Peace (IEP), which includes 8 indicators namely; well-functioning government (WFG), equitable distribution of resources (EDR), free flow of information (FFI), sound business environment (SBE), high human capital (HHC), acceptance of the rights of others (ARO), low levels of corruption (LLC) and good relations with neighbours (GRN) used to determine the trends and dynamics of sustainable peace in societies. And focusing on the effects of the 3 major social protection programmes (community driven development (CDD), income generating activities (IGA) and microcredit) of the European Union micro-projects programme (EU-MPP) implemented in communities from 2001-2012.

The research study titled, the linkage between social protection programmes and peace: a search for evidence in communities of the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria; showed a modest but notably significant positive evidence of the transformative potential of social protection programmes to create peace in local communities. Social protection programmes effected: discernible changes in four dimensions of social cohesion; reduced grievances; made society inclusive, reduced opportunities for violence including discouraging use of violent behaviours and attitudes; redistribution of wealth and empowerment. That positively impacted 4 of the 8 positive peace indicators; good relationships with neighbours (GRN), high human capital (HHC) and free flow of information (FFI); though was mixed with regards to low levels of corruption (LLC). Hence creating and supporting peace in communities. However, programme design and delivery, context (e.g. a sense of very deep levels and prolong years of social injustice, vulnerability, social fragmentation, high rates of unemployment, intensity of deprivation and exclusion, etc) and programme mix or combinations have very huge influence over these transformative potential (see figure below). Nonetheless, this opens a new perspective and framework for looking at the transformative potential of social protection to create peaceful communities. Especially, how peace impacts can be enhanced. Understanding these transformative potentials will help to strengthen the do no harm principle in conflict vulnerable and sensitive settings.

The evidence illustrates an indirect loose complex linkage between social protection and peace of interconnections and interrelatedness mediated by a number of socio-economic and political causal mechanisms. Four out of five dimensions of social cohesion – inclusion, participation, social relations and belonging are involved but not legitimacy and security despite the assumption that it is possible for legitimacy to be bought by welfare. Programmes played a dual role of creating and supporting productive activities which limited opportunities for violence and discouraged recruitment and engagement in violence. IGA and microcredit helped to build and sustain social relations by improving incomes and mitigating basic needs insecurities through productive activities. CDD reduced opportunities and tendencies for differences and disparities to degrade social relations through increased and improved interactions, social inclusion and participation. That afforded space and opportunity for the voiceless (excluded women, youths and elderly) to have a voice thereby increasing their sense of belonging.

CDD also enabled dialogue and consensus which took stakeholders interests into cognizance, utilised available human capital, improved the attitudes of members towards the community and challenged some local established institutions that drive and support violent conflicts in communities. This enabled removal of the threats embedded in people’s interactions and relationships and reinforced their sense of well-being including strengthened their bargaining position. Furthermore, whole communities were beneficiaries of CDD programmes, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religion socio-economic status and political affiliation. That reduced polarisation, exclusion, discrimination and differences, thereby engendering an inclusive society that addresses grievances, prevents conflicts and the motivation to rebel.

Also, social protection is not just about welfare but empowerment individually and collectively. This enabled utilisation of human capital, building and expanding of assets and capabilities that empowered members to influence some communal institutions that affected their daily lives. This builds resilience that is at the heart of development and peace-building.

At the community level, social protection did have impacts on corruption, particularly its consequences, which were seen as causes of grievances as corruption deprived communities of basic social services and entitlements – and violent conflicts as corruption provides resources that aids mobilisation and incentivise youths (paying for violent services) for violence including fuelling violent conflict (e.g. buying weapons). Programmes disrupted these local power relations and its structures which few elites often used to oppress, deprive and perpetuate violence in communities by empowering community members particularly youths to resist these influences and controls especially by conflict profiteers. Social protection provides resources to vulnerable youths and communities that are not only material but also intangibles that empowers, emancipates and prevents mobilisation for violent purposes. As such, not only social vulnerability but also conflict vulnerability is reduced. However, new forms of violent conflict are created especially as elites make efforts to restore the disrupted established local power relations.

The effects generated by programmes provided spaces for the free flow of information across all strata since access to information improved as the extent to which community members were informed and engaged in decision making processes became inclusive and participatory; enabling easy mobilisation of community’s members. This allowed for the identification of differences and understanding of differences which in turn helped bring community members together, making them engage in common work, increased interactions and aiding mobilisation thus preventing violent conflicts.

In conclusion more evidence is needed particularly from comparisons studies involving of communities where social protection is absent. This would provide better understanding of the transformative potential of social protection and the causal mechanisms embedded in the process.