“Embrace the messiness” – and create new partnerships for building and sustaining peace


Marc Baxmann and Natascha Zupan, FriEnt

One of the recurring topics of this year’s FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum was the importance of partnerships and inclusivity to build and sustain peace. And not without a reason: Violent conflicts have not only increased in number in recent years; they have also become more complex and persistent. Often they are also closely connected with global challenges, such as climate change, growing inequalities or international organised crime. Their complex and interconnected nature means that isolated actions by individual actors quickly hit a glass ceiling. The challenges of our time require new ways of cooperating and collaborating with each other. And to do so, we have to abandon our silo mentality and stop breaking things down into phases.

These insights have woven their way like a golden thread throughout all international peacebuilding frameworks in recent years: The Agenda 2030 looks to multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve peaceful, just and inclusive societies while, increasingly, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States is turning to inclusive country dialogue platforms. Also, the Sustaining Peace resolutions of the United Nations (UN) and the Pathways for Peace study it recently published together with the World Bank all stress the central importance of partnerships between governmental and civil society organisations.

At the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum local and international peacebuilders agreed on the need to establish strong, inclusive and meaningful partnerships at the local, regional and international level. This blog post captures some of the key takeaways from the discussions around the different kind of partnerships we need to build and sustain peace.

Consultation alone is not enough – we need more mutual learning from experience!

The German Government has reaffirmed at the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum to cooperate closely with civil society actors to implement and further develop the new interministerial guidelines "Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace". The guidelines indeed offer numerous points of departure for strengthening old forms of partnership and establishing new ones.

Many participants emphasized in this regard the importance to go beyond mere consultation: shared experiential learning and joint assessments of conflict situations along with the co-implementation of programmes and development of new ideas and approaches – these can all be strengthened in qualitative terms. Cross-stakeholder and cross-sector partnerships are the basic building blocks of a successful peace policy. The necessary exchange among state actors, civil society and the academic/scientific community and across sectors needs strong structures, new learning forums and more expertise from local peacebuilding actors.

Addressing the gap between global and local peacebuilding

But how can partnerships look like that fully embrace the capacities and strategies of local peacebuilding actors? In a session on “Unpacking the ‘Sustaining Peace Agenda’”, participants shared their experience on those local capacities for cohesion, human security and constructive civil society-state relationships that already exist, even in the most fragile contexts. They agreed that “Sustaining Peace” should be understood as an ongoing exercise grounded in existing capacities for peace – and essentially as an endogenous process. Still too often, local peacebuilding actors are seen as mere implementers of global agendas and not as the drivers of sustaining peace processes. Participants stressed the need to develop and implement truly inclusive policies and programming, amplify existing best practices on inclusion and move forward operationally to live up to the commitments articulated in the global frameworks.

Sufiya Bray of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) emphasized that “you cannot promote a peacebuilding agenda without making sure that the communities are at the centre of developing the initiatives they want.” International peacebuilding actors need to engage in a conflict sensitive way with diverse civil society actors to uphold inclusive national ownership and to ensure that the most vulnerable segments of the population are heard.

Supporting inclusive local dialogue platforms

Stronger partnerships are also necessary to address the major issues at the heart of peace policies geared to conflict prevention. Lesley Connolly of the International Peace Institute emphasized at the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum “we need to have partnerships that meet all of the levels that allow us to understand all aspects of society”. Successful crisis prevention and peacebuilding are based on broad partnerships between various local actors and across sectors. Graeme Simpson of Interpeace for example referred to the rich partnerships that young people themselves are forging. They are defying the boundaries of silos and are working across the divide of human rights, development and peacebuilding.

International peacebuilders can safeguard, facilitate and create the space for civil society actors to develop resilient capacities for self-organisation. External and internal peacebuilders need to openly discuss and transact their interests and needs. Consequently, the international community should integrate women, young people, victim groups and other civil society organisations more closely into peacebuilding activities, if it is to identify their needs and nurture their confidence in government institutions and also understand how they experience exclusion and inequality.

One example that has been discussed in one of the parallel sessions is the governance of land and resources: people’s access to land and natural resources and the way they exploit them are a frequent cause of violent conflicts the world over. Here, international peacebuilders can build on existing international processes and local multi-stakeholder platforms, for example within the framework of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure. The respective Ministry for Economic Affairs, companies with global operations and local and international civil society actors could also be involved more closely in the design of responsible and equitable land and resource policies. This calls for a closer review of corporate responsibility, stakeholder participation and the protection of civil society activists.

In another parallel session, members of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding highlighted the important role of inclusive dialogue processes between donors, governments and civil society, in supporting peacebuilding and statebuilding and the Agenda 2030. Participants in this session also warned that we should be careful not to get bogged down in processes that focus on targets, indicators and mechanisms and lose sight of what brings us together, i.e. the need to build peace, promote justice, and work for inclusive institutions.

Taking peacebuilding forward – strengthening global learning and communication platforms

In light of Agenda 2030, the expertise of people from conflict and post-conflict societies must be better integrated into global processes and partnerships. Why not establish networks (pools) of consultants from different countries, who could use their direct experience to support global reform processes? Civil society  can help build capacity here while governments can create access to global processes.

A funding instrument for long-term South-South partnerships and global dialogue and learning processes would also be helpful. It would be particularly useful to get German institutions involved in the design of learning processes in the area of transitional justice, and also to network them with educational programmes in Germany. This would also be in line with Agenda 2030’s principle of universality and with our global responsibility for preventing violence. At the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum we have kick-started a joint project with the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” to explore avenues for a structured global learning platform on national experiences with “dealing with the past” processes.

There is no question about it, cross-stakeholder and cross-sector partnerships are not created overnight. But, despite all the difficulties, the potential that partnership-based approaches hold for conflict prevention and peacebuilding makes all the effort worthwhile. Peacebuilding is about bridging divides, which is necessary in building effective partnerships as well. New ideas are generated through interactions across organisations rather than from within them. It is also sometimes easier to take a joint leap of faith and try out an innovative approach. However, exploiting its full potential requires special technical and methodological support. And everything always starts from the same realisation: namely, that we cannot do it alone.