Holding It Together

Ending conflict demands more than knowing why countries go to pieces -- it calls for knowing why they don't.

The glimmer of hope that South Sudan's warring parties might restart their peace process faltered this past weekend, as the armed opposition announced that it planned to boycott in protest of the process used to select representatives from a broad collection of parties, including religious and civil society leaders, that were invited to the table. Given the violence that has engulfed much of South Sudan in recent months, claiming the lives of well over 10,000 people and displacing some 1.3 million, this stumble only reinforced the bleak forecast for the country's struggle for peace.

Yet several of South Sudan's 10 states have remained mostly unaffected by the upheaval. One state in particular, Western Equatoria, also weathered Sudan's brutal, two-decade civil war -- which lasted from 1983 to 2005 -- better than other parts of the country. This raises the question: What makes Western Equatoria more peaceful than South Sudan's other states? The answer could involve the state's ethnic composition or geographic isolation, but it could also involve how it has been governed, the strength of its traditional authorities and local justice mechanisms, or its lack of dependence on the capital, Juba, and its resources. Any of those explanatory factors would suggest new approaches for confronting South Sudan's broader instability.

The question of what makes Western Equatoria different isn't necessarily one that people working to resolve the conflict are going to study -- but they should. And this points to a broader problem: Lawyers spend plenty of time studying the law, soldiers do the same with war. Why don't the policymakers and practitioners looking to end the world's deadliest wars spend more time studying peace?

Many people in the loosely defined peacebuilding field -- which includes individuals working with international NGOs, local civil society organizations, and international organizations such as the United Nations, as well as diplomats (and myself) -- devote much of their time and resources to understanding sources of violence, without making nearly as much effort to understand why certain places and people resist violence, despite circumstances that may be expected to provoke conflict. In fact, there is more to learn about what makes peace work from places that are actually peaceful, than from those engulfed by violence.

Peace isn't just the absence of conflict, but the presence of positive factors that prevent people and groups from resorting to violence. Those factors vary based on context, but there are common themes in peaceful societies, such as the presence of important norms, values, and institutions. Yet the peacebuilding field devotes a surprisingly modest amount of analytical -- and financial -- resources to understanding peaceful places. As a result, many in the field have a good understanding of what they are trying to help societies move away from, but less understanding of what they are trying to help them move toward.

For example, when a rebellion overtook large parts of northern Mali in 2012 and successive coups by the disgruntled military rocked the capital of Bamako, policymakers and commentators  looked to other strife-torn countries for clues on how to respond effectively. The African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia was considered as a possible model. Or perhaps, the thinking went, lessons from previously volatile countries in the region -- Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone -- could be applied.

Largely overlooked, however, was the country right next door: Niger. Even though Niger grapples with many of the same sources of potential instability as Mali, it has not yet suffered the state of collapse that has derailed its neighbor. One explanation could be how Niger has worked to integrate its ethnic Tuareg population into government and society. By contrast, Tuaregs in Mali have been marginalized, fueling resentment and driving some to join rebel groups.

In short, Mali has something to learn from Niger's stability -- and what lies behind it -- as do other states in the volatile Sahel region.

This dynamic stretches across the globe: Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire have many similarities in geography, population, resources, and religious divides, yet Ghana maintains impressive stability, while Cote d'Ivoire imploded in the last decade. Why? Tanzania is surrounded by volatile neighbors, but stays relatively calm. What explains that? Beyond Africa, Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, but have traveled sharply divergent paths. In the Middle East, meanwhile, Jordan remains relatively stable, while many of its neighbors are convulsed by conflict.

If peacebuilders could better understand why some countries are more stable than others, and why they are able to absorb shocks and navigate potentially contentious processes -- such as elections -- without breaking down, they could identify elements of societies that help them persevere. This could add to the conflict-prevention strategies available to the policymakers and others, and also lead to more precise forecasting of violent conflict.

So why do the building blocks of peace get so little attention? Part of the problem is that there is little incentive to study peace. The day-to-day excitement and drama of conflict zones is attractive, and conflict-focused donors rarely fund analyses of peaceful places. Think tanks and policy institutes are not often inclined to support such work either -- and good luck getting the media to pay attention. There may be more focus on the ingredients of peace in academia, but the stubborn divide between academics and practitioners persists, and those making difficult policy decisions or implementing programs rarely consume relevant work done in the Ivory Tower.

All of this must be overcome. Peacebuilders need to rethink the balance between studying violence and peace. And in the midst of conflict, the questions of why violence is present and why peace is absent must both be asked.

This requires thinkers and practitioners to focus more on the components of peace. Donors, both public and private, should provide consistent funding for analyses of places and people who are not in conflict (avoiding the usual spikes in funding when conflicts erupt), and groups pursuing conflict prevention need to make a stronger case for why they should fund such projects. Peacebuilding organizations need to recalibrate how they prioritize their research and learning agendas, so that they are not just reacting to the latest crisis, but constantly learning from the peaceful places not in the news. The lessons they absorb should then be readily accessible to policymakers for use in crisis management, when time and bandwidth are limited.

Between the shocking violence in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, continuing turmoil in Syria and recent 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, there have been many rhetorical commitments to ending and preventing violent conflict. Policymakers often lament, however, that all they have to choose from are bad options, and that the tools at their disposal do not fit the problems at hand. But a closer examination of peaceful places may help to expand those options and tools, change the frame of reference, and stimulate new thinking. To fulfill the mission of helping countries pull themselves out of seemingly endless conflicts, it isn't enough to understand what makes them fall apart -- we have understand what makes them strong.

Jon Temin is the director of the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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Midfield General

How to Price a Meaningless Match

Why iffy third-round games in the World Cup’s group stage should trade at a discount.

In the group stage of the World Cup, not all matches are created equal. By the third and final round, some teams are always on their way out of the tournament while others have booked their spots in the Round of 16. Most of these teams still find something to play for, but it might not be what the fans paid to see.

I know this, because it happened to me. After I got my tickets for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I watched the draw for matchups with a mix of satisfaction and disappointment. Netherlands versus Cameroon was sure to be an entertaining fixture full of stylish soccer; Portugal versus North Korea, not so much.

In the end, things turned out quite differently. True, North Korea didn't offer much in the way of soccer, but Portugal scored seven stylish goals. Unexpectedly, the other match was a stinker. At kickoff, the only question for the Dutch was whether they would qualify ahead of Japan. For Cameroon, the tournament was already over.

The Cameroonians tried gamely enough to give their fans something to cheer, including the obligatory goal by Samuel Eto'o, albeit from a penalty shot. The Dutch worked methodically, if without inspiration, to eke out a 2-1 victory. But neither side seemed to be playing with the kind of fire that has characterized so many of the early matches in Brazil. All the players were loose and relaxed, playing routinely for sport rather than desperately for survival.

In fact, the main thing that happened in the Netherlands-Cameroon match was an experiment for the benefit of the Dutch coach, Bert van Marwijk. With 73 minutes gone and the score tied, he gave a 26-year-old substitute his first minutes of the tournament. Arjen Robben had been "man of the match" twice in the group stage in 2006, both times as a starter, but his hamstring injury had forced van Marwijk to play Rafael van der Vaart on the wing. Against Cameroon, Robben came on and energized the Dutch side, hitting the post with a long shot that Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored on the rebound. Robben started every game throughout the rest of the tournament, helping to take the Netherlands all the way to the final.

When England took the field against Costa Rica in their final group stage game on Wednesday, the agenda once again depended on the coach. After two losses, England had no chance of advancing in the tournament, so Roy Hodgson could put his own interests first. He was supposed to keep his job through the European Championship in 2016, but his position was now in peril. To impress his bosses, would he show off England's young talent or give its senior players -- many of them unlikely to wear an England shirt ever again -- a dignified exit? It was a dilemma of more interest to him than to fans who just wanted to see a good game of soccer.

He decided to cover his bases by doing a bit of both. Rather than choosing a coherent group of players used to working together, he started with several youngsters, plus the old-timer Frank Lampard. In the second half, he brought on veterans Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, along with England's arguably most exciting young player, Raheem Sterling -- though for only half an hour. Not surprisingly, given the peculiar line-ups, England failed to score; the fans had to be satisfied with a stultifying 0-0 draw.

Despite the usefulness of these final group stage matches to van Marwijk and Hodgson, the fans got less than they bargained for. Tickets for the matches cost the same as for any other group stage match, and perhaps the fans knew they might be seeing matches that would be more about making a point than playing passionate soccer. But it could have been worse.

The history of the World Cup includes two final group stage matches that were apparently fixed. The Germany-Austria game in 1982 allowed both teams to move on in the tournament and sent Algeria packing. The game led to a rule change whereby the last games in each group would be played at the same time, yet this would have had little effect on what happened four years earlier. At the World Cup in Argentina in 1978, during a brutal military dictatorship, the Argentina-Peru match saw the hosts needing an improbable four-goal win. They were victorious 6-0. Stories abound as to how it happened, with a Peruvian senator asserting that the match was a stitch-up between the two nations' governments.

With so many factors eroding the integrity and entertainment of these matches, it seems only fair that ticket prices should be discounted as well. Of course, other third-round matches, like Mexico versus Croatia, in which both teams were playing to advance, are especially exciting encounters. But as it stands, fans assume all of the risk; they buy tickets far in advance for a match destined to be a barnstormer or a dud before the teams even take the field.

It's like having season tickets in any of the big American sports; with several games left in the season, a team may already be resting its stars for the playoffs or out of the picture entirely. But this is the World Cup, where fans have tickets to a couple of matches if they're lucky. Adding in travel costs, they've sacrificed much more in hopes of seeing just a couple of hours of quality soccer.

One solution is to make ticket prices contingent on prior results. Fans would pay a premium for third-round matches given the possibility that they would be knockout playoff games. But if one team had nothing to play for on the day, fans would receive a partial refund. If neither team did, a bigger refund would arrive. The changing price would be a simple form of insurance.

Is there any possibility that FIFA would accept this idea? Right now, it's more concerned about cracking down on scalping. Moreover, it won't even admit the fishiness of those questionable matches; acknowledging the imperfect integrity of its product is not one of FIFA's strong suits. But this sure seems like a great business opportunity -- at least once every four years -- for someone who does. 

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images Sport