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Trust brings about peace. This is true when a dispute needs to be resolved between family members or work colleagues, and is equally the case when it is a question of reconciling feuding states. One thing above all is necessary if people are to live peacefully together again after a civil war: a government people trust.
A government must take care of its citizens
“If peace is to be achieved and if this peace is to prove lasting, relations between the government and the country’s citizens need to be normalised”, says Dr Alexander de Juan from the GIGA – the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg. And governments have many ways in which to restore trust that has been lost. If politicians and administrative bodies ensure that children can go to school, that there is a reliable supply of drinking water and that the healthcare system works, this generates trust. “If people see that the government is meeting their basic needs, this can have a positive impact on their attitudes and their behaviour towards that government”, explains De Juan. They are more likely to vote and pay their taxes – and less likely to resort quickly to violence.
Security is the most valuable commodity
Together with colleagues from the GIGA, Freie Universität Berlin and international researchers, Alexander De Juan surveyed several thousand villagers in Afghanistan, Peru and Burundi about their relationship with the government. In all three countries – where a more or less fragile state of peace is in place everywhere following the end of civil war – the correlation was confirmed: if the government takes care of its citizens, trust is strengthened. This does not happen automatically, however. Trust-building functions only if citizens feel secure and safe from violence. “People stop judging the government according to its ability to provide education, drinking water or healthcare when they feel themselves to be under acute threat”, remarks De Juan.
Many factors can undermine peace
A lack of security is not the only factor that can undermine the social contract. How the government provides its services also has a crucial bearing on the way it is perceived. Are the country’s resources fairly distributed in the opinion of the villagers? Do government representatives travel to the villages, which may in some cases be remote, and establish direct contact with their inhabitants? Are people involved in decision-making processes? In addition to the security aspect, it is such “soft” factors that will determine whether the government’s actions pave the way for a relationship based on trust or whether they will prove counterproductive.
Among other things, the results of the study are relevant to development cooperation. Germany is active in all three countries chosen by the Hamburg-based researcher. In future, aid programmes could therefore be even better tailored to the needs of the people in the respective countries. After all, whether trust or mistrust is sown depends not only on whether aid is provided, but also how. At the end of the day, however, only trust can bring about peace.