Conflict and Aid Beyond Kyrgyzstan
Given the history of tensions and a slim portfolio of aid for conflict prevention, a reassessment of the composition and geographical distribution of aid may be appropriate as the international community considers how to prevent strife from stifling development in Central Asia.
Last week, Renard Sexton over at FiveThirtyEight analyzed the recent constitutional referendum adopted in the wake of severe ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. Examining provincial election returns and demographics, he shows that the Uzbek minority was highly underrepresented, possibly sowing seeds for more strife. He concludes that “the international community…will have to take rapid and decisive action to resolve the situation and find a stable way forward.”
International development assistance will likely play a key role in building the foundation for a more stable Kyrgyzstan. But this isn’t the first time observers have called for donors to realign aid to address security and governance concerns in the region. Prior to the current predicament, multiple reports warned of the risk of further clashes. As early as 2001, a Conflict Assessment by Tony Vaux and Jonathan Goodhandpredicted that tensions in Central Asia’s Fergana Valley, which includes southern Kyrgyzstan, could continue to escalate unless external aid for conflict prevention was increased. As usual, we used AidData to see what we can learn about the extent to which aid was allocated for projects directly related to conflict and governance, both in Kyrgyzstan and in neighboring countries.
First, we ran a series of queries to aggregate projects in Kyrgyzstan aimed at conflict prevention, strengthening civil society, developing stronger judicial systems, and improving law enforcement. We also conducted keyword searches to identify any projects that specifically mention regions with sizable Uzbek populations such as Osh and Batken where ethnic violence broke out. Without the geographic information field envisioned in Phase III of the International Aid Transparency Initiative, it’s highly likely we’re under-counting the amount allocated to these provinces (until IATI is implemented though, AidData researchers are working to fill the gap by imputing geo-codes using existing information and donor project documents). We also don’t have data on Russia’s activities in the region, which may be significant.
As you can see, only a small share of aid to the country came from projects that fit the above criteria. What’s even more striking is that only two of the projects found in the conflict and governance searches were also found in the geographic search. While it’s certainly true that money allocated to conflict and governance at the national level would have an impact in Osh and the surrounding areas, it’s clear that in general the international community did not focus its development assistance on activities specifically intended to reduce the possibility of violent conflict in that region. Compared to the total aid portfolio of Kyrgyzstan, relatively little money has gone toward direct prevention of the kind of situation that has unfolded over the last few months.
We expanded our search for conflict and governance aid to the other four Central Asian republics, all of which share diverse ethnic makeups and emerging institutions. As the graph reveals, this sector has not been a priority for development assistance to the region.
Of course, there are a variety of measures that need to be taken to reduce instability and ethnic conflict in these countries. But given the history of tensions and relatively slim portfolio of aid for conflict prevention, a reassessment of the composition and geographical distribution of aid may be appropriate as the international community considers how to prevent strife from stifling development in Central Asia.
The views expressed here are those of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions to which the authors belong.