The renaissance of social services for peacebuilding

The session on “The renaissance of social services for peacebuilding” intended to explore the link between the delivery of social services (e.g. health care or education) in post-conflict situations and peacebuilding. Sharif Baaser (Peacebuilding programme specialist, UNICEF, New York) gave an overview on the inherent assumptions which were subsequently picked up by Alfred Avuni (Head of Research, John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre, Kampala) and weighed with regard to their rele-vance on the ground, i.e to a given post-conflict context.

Anita Ernstdorfer (CDA - Collaborative Learning Projects) facilitated the session and started by tracing how the notion of social services as tangible peace dividends has increased in the past years: The positive contribution of social services to peacebuilding is highlighted amongst others in the Report of the Secretary General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict (2009), the World Development Report 2011 and the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile and furthermore discussed in the current post-2015 Agenda debates.

An effective, equitable provision of social services can help address grievances and root causes of conflict and fragility. In a direct post-conflict environment they help conflict-affected groups and communities to regain a sense of normality and defuse tensions. The provision of social services can therefore support a “post-conflict reality shift” and strengthen vertical social capital between the state and its citizens. In the case of Northern Uganda, this tangible dividend encouraged many internally displaced to return to their homes.

It also results in a vertical strengthening of state-citizen relationships, with the state perceived as more willing, responsible and capable – at least if these programmes effectively reach out to the population. The social service provisions undertaken through the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) in Uganda generated trust, identity and a sense of belonging to the state – confirming the government’s commitment and willingness to help its people. Social service provision can make a significant contribution to the strengthening of social cohesion; such programmes can help to deal with fragile inter-group relationships, creating a platform for dialogue and reconciliation. In Northern Uganda, social service provision on boundaries between conflicting factions acted as a unifying factor by building a bridge between communities with shared facilities.

Still, challenges and risks occur when designing and implementing service delivery programmes. The involvement of the people in the delivery of social services is vital as on the one hand it allows managing expectations and identifying the actual needs of the population. On the other hand, establishing local identification with these projects contributes to sustainability and preservation; if this inclusion is missing, these programmes might not become the desired agent of change and will hardly contribute to peacebuilding as people do not associate with the process. The experience in Northern Uganda underlies this point. Limited community involvement resulted in weak identification with the government’s reconstruction projects, thus causing quick deterioration as no one felt responsible for the maintenance of the facilities.

Crucial for the success of peacebuilding activities, is a long-term commitment. Though short-term and rapid response programmes can integrate a conflict-sensitive approach they are seldom pro-grammes that aim at promoting sustainable peace, but rather aim at quick relief as do many social services programmes in immediate post-conflict situations. This problem persists both in relation to donors but also for fragile or post-conflict state governments. The latter are often unable to sustain the once by external actors provided social services structures which undermines their legitimacy within the population and negates any potential peacebuilding impact (missing a programme’s long-term perspective). Similarly, externally imposed (and well-funded) social services structures can build up parallel structures to any effort made by the state itself, resulting in the same negative perception of the state. In the case of Northern Uganda this challenge existed in relation to the rebuilt health centres, which did not function due to a lack of staff. The provision of social services in this case ended with the provision of the physical structure, without the government having the resources and capacity to ensure a sustained ability to operate.

The contexts of fragile or post-conflict societies vary significantly, to ensure effective delivery of social services and avoid negative impacts, the social dynamics at the community level need to be clearly understood, asking for thorough conflict and impact analysis. As a result, the programme design of providing services needs to be adjusted, moving from “business as usual” and even going beyond conflict sensitivity toward building trust and a stronger inclusion of peacebuilding principles. Furthermore, stronger focus needs to be placed on local practices and already existing capacities (internal resilience) that have emerged at the community level, which need to be integrated into the programme design. Outside intervention often entails the danger of destroying these internal capabilities and eroding the existing social capital.

The peacebuilding discourse is dominated by the fields of security, justice and governance, and the framing of social services in narrow development terms makes it very difficult to link its provision to peacebuilding. What is needed is a reframing of this field in political and governance terms, whilst highlighting its potential contributions and thus resulting in higher attention and increased funding. Achieving a more specific and targeted use of social service provision toward peacebuilding is also subject to a fundamental North-South divide. Countries receiving assistance argue that development itself is contributing to peace and are therefore rather interested in receiving direct financial help instead of peacebuilding. Similarly, international funding is often connected with a range of demands which however are mostly detached from any peacebuilding logic.

Social services allow for people centred approaches to peacebuilding, meaning that their impact is tangible and visible for the affected population as they directly address their basic needs and, if implemented in an equitable manner, help overcome inequalities that once were sources of conflict.

So far, there has only been case-by-case evidence of the impact of social services, with any system-atic evidence or analysis lacking which would surely contribute to more effective targeting and delivery. A comprehensive understanding of the existing links and dynamics and a regular and constructive dialogue between the concerned development community and peacebuilders could lead to a greater appreciation of a peacebuilding perspective in the provision of social services, whilst reiterating the importance of conflict sensitive delivery to make them positive agents of change. Better cooperation could already tap a significant part of the potential social service delivery offers for peacebuilding, whilst minimizing interference.

To effectively link social service provision to peacebuilding, the set of indicators commonly used for evaluation needs to change. There is a tendency of trying to achieve long-lasting results whilst stick-ing to short-term budgets and programmes (and indicators). Reasonable indicators should rather measure if vertical and horizontal relationships and trust were strengthened and if reconciliation was supported.

Natascha Zupan
FriEnt-Team

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