“Poverty is the parent of crime,” wrote Aristotle. The philosopher’s words have echoed for thousands of years and it is hard to deny that the two are not intrinsically linked. But recent studies have ripped the statement into an open debate and the genealogy has been brought into question.
The most pertinent study was conducted in 2011, after the height of conflicts in Afghanistan and Congo, while violence was on the rise in countries like Côte D’Ivoire and Libya. But the World Bank’s flagship publication, World Development Report, argued that violence is in fact the primary cause of poverty.
The two African nations Burundi and Burkino Faso are used as anecdotal reference that supports the raw data. The two had similar growth rates prior to 1990, when Burundi erupted into civil war. Now, Burkino Faso is 250 percent wealthier.
The research indicates that poor African countries are not in a “poverty trap” so much as they are in a violence trap. A poverty trap suggests that workmen, like farmers, are hesitant to take care of their crops because the insufficient infrastructure means the roads are unable to support large cargo. In theory, wealthier countries can help by pumping aid to build such a road.
While such construction is noble and beneficial to all involved parties, it is only the first step in creating orderly society. Even with roads and a lack of faith in the government, rebel stop and seizures and organized crime will make the farmer all the more hesitant to take the road even when it is there.
Still, data also backs the notion that these countries are violent because they are poor, as well. The World Bank report asked why young people joined gangs and rebel movements. Around 40 percent said unemployment was the primary factor.
What this means, generally, is that in addition to aid that prevents the poverty trap, violence is an issue that needs to be addressed. The Millennium Development Goals, for example, have not been reached by any violent country. And the fact that the MDGs do not address justice and security demonstrates that further steps that are necessary.
One tested manner of reducing violence is restoring faith in government. Ghana’s peace deal in 2003 and Nigeria’s credible cabinet appointments of recent years launched periods of relative peace. It is not enough that the people believe elected officials are not corrupt: the officials must also deliver results. New jobs must be created quickly.
Reports such as these show that while reaching MDGs is important, aid must be refocused and have a human aspect if they want to be more successful.
– Andrew Rywak