With the ongoing withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, Afghan military forces and police will assume increased responsibility for the country’s peace and stability. A dependable police force is critical if Afghan authorities are to gain a monopoly on the use of force within its borders, but poor working conditions and poor pay have resulted in high dropout rates for police recruits.

Mobile phones may help remedy the situation.

How? In 2009 Roshan, Afghanistan’s biggest mobile operator, introduced salary payment to police officers through mobile phones. At first police officers protested; they did not trust the idea of exchanging their payday cash envelope with a text message. After the first round of payments, the police officers were surprised to see a 30 percent increase in their salary—or so they thought. The explanation: The new system’s direct, individual mobile money transfers made it impossible for middle men to siphon off a share of their pay.

This could be a game-changer: Improvements in the amount and regularity of pay increases the likelihood that Afghanistan develops a police force made up of experienced officers that can uphold the rule of law.

Mobile services: a tool for addressing post-conflict challenges

Mobile services such as mobile banking and market information services have proved valuable tools for economic growth in developing countries. But few studies have examined how mobile services can play a useful role in post-conflict settings. Last year, the sustainability consultancy SIGLA, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, conducted a pilot study that sheds light on how the use of mobile services can help overcome the specific political, economic, and security challenges faced by post-conflict countries like Afghanistan. Lets look at some examples.

In post-conflict settings, there is politically a need to reconcile warring parties, and reorganize political activity away from militia groups by designing new inclusive political arrangements and strengthening weak governmental institutions. In this setting, nationwide access to mobile phones can be a vehicle for governments to increase the relevance and efficiency of its services, and connect with its citizens across the country. Mobile governance tools used in Kerala, India, are a good example. Citizens can access information about state services such as tax payments and health care services, and interact with government through SMS and voice messages. This can improve accountability and may help reduce corruption by making dependable, ready-to-use information available to citizens. Similarly, election observation is increasingly making use of mobile platforms that invite citizen monitoring of voting stations in efforts to make elections free and fair, as seen with the CEW-IT platform in Uganda.

Mobile solutions like the Kenyan-developed Ushahidi platform (open source software for collection and visualisation of information) can be used to identify security challenges such as violence by militia groups. Such inexpensive solutions can help government and humanitarian organizations track safety challenges and human rights abuses through citizen reports, and then address these at an early stage—a real peace-enabling app. This can be particularly useful in post-conflict settings where populations are displaced and unable to return to the safety of their homes.

Meanwhile, mobile banking can remedy economic challenges resulting from conflict by creating essential financial infrastructure for small-scale entrepreneurs and increasing access to capital. This generates state revenue and private sector employment in the formal economy. Furthermore, transfer of funds through mobile banking can be particularly helpful to displaced groups due to security challenges they face as newcomers to unfamiliar and sometimes volatile areas.

Toward peacebuilding 2.0 with the help of mobile services

The insight our pilot study offers is timely. As one of the largest peace and stabilization missions in the past decade is winding down in an air of disillusionment; the discrepancy between the early ambitious goals of the NATO campaign and the current situation is acknowledged by Afghans and NATO member countries alike. Given the grave difficulties people face in Afghanistan, we now need to reflect on the shortcomings associated with civilian and military assistance to war-torn countries. Afghanistan was flooded with development assistance and Western expertise, but NATO and its national governments achieved relatively little during the campaign. Over time, societies will be much more integrated with the global community and already wired into new technology trends, with access to mobile communication and expertise. A nation-wide mobile network may be one of the few major infrastructural assets that functions well in post-war countries. We need to use this important asset.

Implementation is not easy; our examples indicate only that there is untapped potential. Peacebuilders need to develop a plan for how to use existing regulatory and commercial expertise to benefit from mobile service technology. In our opinion, they should start by:

  • Helping to encourage good policy frameworks for mobile services at an early stage.
  • Encouraging the collection and dissemination of mobile services best practices in post-conflict settings.
  • Supporting capacity-building in the public and private sectors.
  • Drawing on regional and host country IT expertise.

SIGLA will seek to explore the potential of mobile services in post-conflict settings further by examining activity in Myanmar and will provide updates online.