Take change as a starting point… for peacebuilding and peacebuilders


The nature of international cooperation for peace and development is changing. Conflict and violence have changing faces and become dispersed, across nations, regions, and transnationally. The fight against extreme poverty will constantly shift towards fragile and conflict-affected states, and will require politically informed interventions that address the underlying complex and dynamic system. Conflict drivers like climate change, organised crime, the international drugs trade, illicit arms flows, youth unemployment or growing inequalities are global in nature and require global answers and partnerships.

In view of this increasingly complex environment for peacebuilding, participants identified major challenges and trends during buzz group and panel discussions. Samuel Doe (United Nations Development Programme), Wolfgang Heinrich (Bread for the World), Paul Okumu (Africa Platform) and Thania Paffenholz (Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative) discussed the impact of these challenges and trends on the peacebuilding field and provided ideas on what future roles could (and should) look like.

FriEnt’s Favourites

  • The 2030 Agenda constitutes a new momentum for change but this momentum must be seized by peacebuilding actors. This requires an active engagement with actors from other policy fields to tackle the root causes of exclusion and violence.
  • It is time to move from rhetoric to action on breaking institutional silos starting with cross-sector conversation in one’s own organisation and ending in the formulation of a coherent peace policy.
  • International peacebuilding actors need to step out of their comfort zone with their log-frames and indicator frameworks. Change is a deeply endogenous, unpredictable process. While local actors are often able to adapt their approaches, international actors must improve their ability to work with the flow.


Celebrating change…

Participants agreed that there is something to celebrate: The 2030 Agenda constitutes a new momentum for change and is a significant step forward for peacebuilding. The new agenda links economic development with ecologic and peace issues and recognises the interrelated causes of fragile systems, inequalities and poverty. The SDGs acknowledge that peace, access to justice and inclusive institutions are key for sustainable development. They also remind us of the complexities of peaceful development and the need to bring different communities together.

…that comes with a lot of challenges

At the same time, participants stressed that the real challenge is now ahead of us and raised some key challenges:

  1. The changing nature and perception of conflict: In the 90s, conflict was mainly based on interests and thus had a negotiable solution. During this time the prevailing peacebuilding approaches were developed. But the situation today is more complex. Deep rooted ideological conflicts and transnational armed groups pose new challenges and questions that need to be addressed.
  2. Challenging state-based approaches: The importance of effective state institutions for peacebuilding and the formation of a social contract is challenged by the developments in a range of regions where the legitimacy of the state is eroding. This comes with two questions: 1.) Do we need to look beyond the state government in order to identify legitimate security providers and conflict resolution mechanisms at the local level? 2.) If we agree that the state is nonetheless important: How can international actors strengthen trust in the statehood and promote inclusive politics in conflict-affected states?
  3. Coordination: There is a need to overcome the distinction between humanitarian engage-ment and peacebuilding. At least we need to develop holistic and collective responses to the inter-related crises of conflict, poverty and displacement. In protracted displacement situations there needs to be the space for these communities to meet.
  4. Cross-sector partnerships: In view of the complex problems facing fragile and conflict-affected states there is a need to establish a culture of cross-policy field conversation within organisations and take it from there to the policy level.
  5. Coherence: Discussants encouraged everyone to push for more coherence in peacebuilding policy and practice, to look for respective alliances and advocacy entry points. This also means to look for strategic linkages with actors in other policy fields (trade, climate, human rights) whose work has a lot to do with addressing the root causes of exclusion and violence.

Professionalism vs. passion?

Participants agreed that these challenges are not entirely new and addressed the gap between knowledge and implementation. Some argued that there is a lot of empirical evidence but that there is a need for more professionalism. The challenge would be to bring the knowledge down to reality and convince practitioners to use the evidence base as source for designing projects and advocacy work. Others complained that logframes and indicator frameworks killed the passion and created a tunnel vision. This made it difficult to move with the people and to adjust more quickly. It would be necessary to take a broader perspective, to apply more adaptive approaches and to embrace trial and error. This needs self-criticism in order to admit the failures of past peacebuilding interventions and the courage to step out of our comfort zones.

An issue that stood out in this context was the need to address power relations. But do we really know where the politics begin? Sometimes it seems that peacebuilders are so much consumed by their analysis tools, instruments and documentation requirements that they forget that change is inherently political. For example, the spirit of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States – the self-obligation of fragile states to address the task of inclusive politics – was undermined because the implementation focused on the technical work on indicators instead of looking into the day to day political realities.

Who are you? Changing roles and partnerships

In peacebuilding, there is a lot of talk about the need to create the space for dialogue and to listen to the needs of the locals. But sometimes peacebuilding actors (local and international) tend to forget to ask themselves who they are and if they are able to really listen to the people. If they are too consumed with the design of the next workshop, the next capacity building exercise or the next project, external support can hamper time-consuming endogenous processes. So it is a steady requirement to challenge one’s own role and to learn from partners.

Marc Baxmann

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