Addressing state-society relations in post-conflict societies

Several statements about the New Deal and its peacebuilding and state building goals in the plenary already emphasized the relevance of constructive state-society relations in peacebuilding processes. This was reinforced in the session on “Addressing State-Society Relations in Post-conflict Societies” by Eugenia Piza-Lopez, Crisis Governance Adviser in the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) referring to the new UNDP-approach (2012) “Governance for Peace: Securing the Social contract”. It focuses on the social contract between state and society as the heart of any governance approach for peace and implies the strengthening of inclusive politics, responsive institutions and resilient state society relations as well as coherent, coordinated and complementary partnership. For UNDP as a multi-lateral organisation this approach equals a revolution or at least a paradigm shift, says Eugenia Piza-Lopez.

In peace processes there are often critical junctures in which the conditions for recognising the multiple identities, needs and interests within a society need to be addressed seriously. The Colombian example, presented by Lina María García, who coordinates the Special Projects Group at the Colombian National Planning Department, stressed the current phase of the peace process with FARC as such a moment: The new government is accepting now that there is a conflict and not “just” terrorism in rural areas. Prakash Mani Sharma, senior advocate and executive director of the Nepali non-governmental organisation Pro Public, underlined this argument. After the first Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in Nepal in 2006 the Government of Nepal, especially the involved political parties, missed the chance to listen to the needs of all parts of society and to integrate (civil) society perspectives into the debate about the constitution. After the second election for the constituent assembly in November 2013 Government of Nepal and civil society organisations are more engaged in inclusive consultations at district level.

One major challenge for constructive state-society relations as sketched in the session is the centre - periphery/ rural - urban cleavage as illustrated by Ms García. Up to now the state is more or less absent in rural areas in Colombia, where poverty rates are highest and where “the only authority known are weapons, and justice is only provided by illegal groups.” Additionally, elites in urban areas including politicians, representatives of government structures are not aware of the needs of the rural population e.g. some people do not believe, that there are citizens in Colombia who do not have an identity card. This is also true for Nepal where feudal structures have governed the country since ages and devolution to the district and village level has not taken place yet.

This is only one reason why Ms Piza-Lopez argued that the UNDP approach is switching the focus to an “elite enough rather than inclusive enough” approach. Often in post-conflict situations peace agreements are reached through elite-led dialogue between the major conflict parties. Therefore, participants of the session agreed that it is absolutely necessary to integrate further actors after the signing of the peace agreement in order to implement all aspects of the peace agreement. In such situation challenges often arise due to people who have individual (economical) interests in the conflict and people who believe that keeping the armed conflict in isolated rural areas is more feasi-ble and acceptable than achieving peace for the whole country.

Mr Sharma also stressed the role and responsibility of a unifying leadership as supportive for sustainable peace approaches. This was also supported by other participants claiming that credible people and institutions who can act as champions or agents for change are crucial. However, participants pointed out, that external interventions (and resource flows) towards certain (most promising) actors of (civil) society with good knowledge of “donor languages” can negatively influence or at least hamper important and often time consuming bottom-up dialogue processes which are the foundation for a development of constructive state-society relations.

“In Colombia peace is about democracy and participation”, says Ms García. The state could focus on actions that engender legitimacy, signalling clearly the intent to do things differently by building inclusive platforms for dialogue and avoiding the abuse of state authority and censoring the press. Furthermore, state presence could be increased in rural areas. The understanding for the importance of peace, the challenges of the country and the potential of diversity in Colombia might be promoted through the media. However, institutional change at state-level is often difficult as the experience of one participant has shown. Even in “revolutionary” contexts, institutions tend to return to previous behavioural patterns. Both, changing peoples’ minds and transforming parties is a slow process.

In these processes civil society organisations (CSO) can play a crucial role and bridge the gap be-tween state and society as the Nepal example illustrates. On the one hand, CSOs can advocate and claim the implementation of the peace agreements for all citizens. On the other hand, they can work with the society in order to strengthen the demand side of the citizens towards the state, asking for the fulfilment of the state’s roles and responsibilities (respect to rights, protection and delivery of services). The participants agreed that in a complex reality, it is not possible to divide the world in good or bad, therefore, mutual respect and collaborative action across various actors for the needs of all groups of the country is essential as the foundation for a (re)building of trust. In order to confront the challenge to foster civil society while not creating parallel powers and releasing the state of its accountability, civil society organisations should be backed in programmes that work with the governmentor are at best be involved e.g. in a national planning commission. In any case CSOs shall never substitute a functioning government. Even in contexts where collaboration with central state institutions is rather difficult, constructive state-society relations are sometimes possible on a regional or a local level. Certain attention also needs to be given to the involvement of radical groups.

According to Ms Piza Lopez it is essential that peacebuilding initiatives which focus on the facilitation of the social contract support an open dialogue (formal and informal) about culture, norms and relations between the state and the society and work along three implicit categories: expectations, capacities and processes. Especially, in post-conflict societies where social cohesion decreased, identities were broken and/or values and norms were misused, dialogue processes need to address these critical issues. This also includes an open dialogue about one’s own interests, roles and responsibilities, especially as an external actor. It was agreed that in peace processes there is a need to set up institutions that lead the peace process and that give people the feeling that their problems are addressed. The perception dominated that peacebuilding and dialogue processes need to be conducted under less time pressure, in order to allow comprehensive dialogue about the various needs and perspectives in the complx realities – without forgetting to address the root causes of the conflict.

Sonja Vorwerk-Halve
FriEnt-Team, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

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