The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU State and Market research cluster holds a dialogue in State-sponsored Violence and Development

The dialogue ‘State-sponsored Violence and Development: Ethiopia, Palestine and Ukraine’, forms part of a series of events hosted by the DPU research cluster on State and Market

The dialogue, ‘State-sponsored Violence and Development: Ethiopia, Palestine and Ukraine’, took place at the UCL Senate House on 06 June 2023, forming part of a series of events hosted by the DPU research cluster on State and Market.

In a time of growing geo-political tensions around the globe, there is an urgent need to revisit the factors that drive violent conflicts as well as specific mechanisms through which these conflicts are perpetuated. The dialogue, organised as a three-way discussion, highlighted the role of the state and elite relations in facilitating conflicts and violence. Three significant cases from Europe, the Middle East and Africa were put in a comparative perspective, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the civil war in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. A panel of speakers in these regions discussed the historical, political, and socio-economic contexts of each conflict, with reflections on the commonalities and variabilities across the contexts.

Estifanos Abebe, a development economist who has been actively engaging in civil rights campaigning in the area of Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan since the mid-80s, highlighted the role of identity politics in the history of Ethiopia’s institutional building in driving the conflict. The magnitude and intensity of the military conflict were referred to, which has been catastrophic for both people and places in the country. Overall, the process of transitional justice has been slow, requiring more active monitoring and coordination from regional and international players such as African Union and the UN security council.  Dr Sarah Vaughan, who has also extensively worked in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa since the 1980s, reinforced the important role played by formal and informal political institutions in understanding the conflict situation in Ethiopia. The unresolved issue between the imperial past of Ethiopia and its institutionalisation of ethnicity into the state structure underpinned the interstate contestation for power that led to conflicts. The fact that Ethiopia does not feed itself and the involvement of regional power expedites the political disputes, making it less likely for the issues to be resolved politically. The extreme consequences of the conflict were raised too in the discussion, indicating the use of state power against civilians, such as the extrajudicial execution of non-combatants, internal displacement, rape and sexual violence, and indiscriminate aerial bombardment, among others.

Focusing on the invasion of Russia in Ukraine, Prof. Simon Pirani, who has written widely about Russian and Ukrainian political economy, also highlighted historical foundations of the conflict, tracing back to the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the one hand, a re-centralisation of the state in Russia since Vladimir Putin has been emphasised. A series of economic and military interventions were launched under the leadership of Putin, making the country more aggressive on the global stage after the 2000s. On the other, a weak state has been sustained in Ukraine, rendering relatively diversified but also divided social forces in power. The significance of international forces was, again, brought into the discussion as the dynamics that shape the trajectory of the violence.

The final case focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. Muhammad Shehada, who acted as communications chief at Euro-Med Monitor, contextualised the current situation in the history of the Israeli occupation. Two types of violence were particularly mentioned: one, periodic military campaigns; the other, less manifest but more extended across time and space, in the form of slow violence perpetuated by the daily bureaucracy of the Israeli settler colonial regime. As with the other cases, the consequences of this conflict were discussed, including the impacts on development incentives in the region and on the future prospects of the younger generation.

Drawing upon different cases in the discussion, the historical contexts have been emphasised that explain the motivations and the way in which states resort to violence. Whilst there is a multitude of reasons and characters that define each individual case, the significance of formal institutions, inter-elite relations, narratives and popular mobilisation, and the intervention of international power were highlighted across all three cases. Looking forward, more discussions are expected to focus on these common aspects, in terms of how they play out in different contexts by important actors, within a timeframe.

Written by Jing Zhang