TedTalk – Paul Collier: New rules for rebuilding a broken nation


Title and Link: New rules for rebuilding a broken nation (or as part of a great playlist called The Road to Peace)

Presenter: Paul Collier is an economist, a professor at Oxford University and the author of The Bottom Billion, a book about creating opportunities for the world’s most impoverished people.  His work focuses on the poorest countries, and what can be done to develop their economies.

Key Points – The talk discusses post-conflict recovery.  Collier talks about the system currently in place after a conflict has occurred and the problems with it   He then proposes a new solution that he thinks would make the country less likely to fall back into civil war.

Interesting Stat – 40% of all post-conflict situations are back in conflict within a decade (and account for half of all civil war)


  • 3 principles traditionally used (not successful) … but there is no quick fix.
    • The politics matter most (build a new politics first)
    • It’s only dangerous for a short time (only peacekeeping for a short time)
    • Have an election for an accountable government (so peacekeepers can leave)
  • Election produces a winner and a loser 
    • Easier to do politics later (after security and economic development) – people think economy is a zero sum game (because it was during war) so needs to shift to cooperation and prosperity
  • New steps that might work
    • Recognize interdependence of 3 actors (long-term)
      • Security council (provides peacekeepers) – it does work but needs to be long term (a decade)
      • Donors – Provide post-conflict aid (usually tapers off after a few years, but process is much slower than that) – again, a decade
      • Post-conflict government – economic reform and inclusion
    • The United Nations Peace Building Commissioner should broker the contracts in these situations (mutual commitments)
  • Economic recovery is the true exit strategy
    • Can’t just look at all needs (because everything is needed but money is tight)
    • Three things are critical (jobs, health and clean government)
      • Jobs for young men are important (they need something to do – so construction is perfect because it produces jobs and fixes the infrastructure – and doesn’t worry as much about export and international companies)
        • However, it should not be jobs in the civil sector, it should be private companies (expand construction sector) – need skills, access to land, new local firms, etc.
      • Improve basic social services (rebuild an effective state – but how do we do that?) – can’t just give money to government or NGOs
        • Policy should stay with the ministry, delivery should be by anything that works (churches, NGOs, community groups, etc.)
        • Public agency should funnel the money appropriately 
        • NGOs become part of the local government system (makes everyone accountable – competing for resources)
        • Services are co-branded with the new government (some trust is restored)
      • Clean government (follow the money)
        • Needs donor money for life-support in core budget (but no systems with integrity to make sure it’s well spent)
        • We empower crooks otherwise
        • Provide a lot of scrutiny and technical assistance (that follows the money – “accountants without borders”)
    • Goal – After 10 years:
      • focus on construction sector = jobs + security (people are happy because they have jobs) + improved infrastructure
      • Focus on social services = basic services rescued and working + give ordinary people a sense of a useful government + squeeze out political crooks (by using honest accounting)
  • Politics of plunder —> politics of hope

Final Thoughts – I think that this talk is a really interesting one. I always find that governments try to rush into an election right after a war, and it always seems like such a bad idea. You can’t have an election and say there is now a great democracy, and it often causes more problems than it solves. I like his idea of jump-starting the economy first, and I definitely think that the presence of peacekeepers over the long term would be ideal. I hope that in at least one case this idea is implemented, and I feel that it might just work better than the prevailing strategies in place now. Obviously the problems are more complex then they seem in a short talk, but I think the priorities are definitely in order.


About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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