Long conflict can wreck a country, leaving behind poverty and chaos. But what’s the right way to help war-torn countries rebuild? In his widely circulated 2009 TED Talk, Paul Collier explains the problems with current post-conflict aid plans, and suggests two fresh, complementary approaches, summarized here for Handshake readers.

Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at University of Oxford, and the Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies. He researches the causes and consequences of civil war, the effects of aid, and the problems of democracy in low-income societies rich in natural resources.

Watch the Ted Talk

Paul Collier’s new rules for rebuilding a broken nation.

The conventional approach

paulcollier_1 Politics are what matter
First, a political settlement must be reached.
paulcollier_2 Then peacekeeping
Peacekeepers are brought into the country but pulled out as quickly as possible.
Followed by elections
An election will produce a legitimate and accountable government.

“So that’s the conventional approach. I think that approach denies reality. We see that there is no quick fix, certainly no quick security fix.”

A Fresh approach to national reconstruction

Recognize the interdependence of three key actors


paulcollier_4 The Security council
Peacekeeping is a cost-effective approach that increases security, if the commitment is for at a least a decade.
paulcollier_5 The Donors
Post-conflict aid is key, but economic recovery is inevitably slow. Again, a decade-long commitment will ensure better results.
The Post-conflict government
An inclusive approach to policy and economic reform is the only path forward.


Once interdependence is recognized, what follows is an expectation of mutual commitments.
Security, investment/aid, and reform work together to produce economic recovery—peacekeepers’ most promising exit strategy.

Focus on three critical needs


paulcollier_8 Jobs
Young men need work—fast. The construction sector, which typically suffers during conflict, is the best place to start to generate jobs. An inflated civil service is unsustainable.
paulcollier_9 Improvement of basic social services
Independent service authorities will split the functions of a monopoly line ministry into three pieces:

  • Planning/policy function.
  • Delivery of services on the ground.
  • Public agency that channels money to service providers.

This approach allocates money coherently, making NGOs accountable as they compete for resources. Services will be “co-branded” by the post-conflict government.

Clean government
“Clean” governments track how funds are allocated, providing money to the budget alongside significant scrutiny.

“Gradually it will shift from a politics of plunder to a politics of hope.”