On October 17th, IPI co-hosted a policy forum with Peace Direct to explore how the United Nations and the international community can better support local peacebuilders in their work of sustaining peace.
Lesley Connolly, IPI Policy Analyst and moderator for the event, opened the discussion with a clear statement of its purpose. “We believe local peacebuilders should be at the center and in the lead when it comes to sustaining peace in their societies,” she said. “Initiatives should be locally owned, regionally anchored and internationally supported.”
“Unfortunately, local peacebuilding does not yet receive the recognition, support, or resources needed to achieve its full potential.”
Making similar observations, Bridget Moix, US Senior Representative for Peace Direct, stressed the strategic and financial advantages of empowering local peacebuilders to take ownership of the sustaining peace agenda and noted the missed opportunity in keeping them sidelined.
“Their work is impactful, scalable, cost-effective, and sustainable. We’ve seen this directly and there’s a growing body of empirical evidence that supports it. Unfortunately,” she said, “local peacebuilders are still not at the center of the design and development of agendas like sustaining peace here at the UN.”
The concept of sustaining peace, formalized in resolutions passed concurrently by the UN General Assembly and Security Council on April 27, 2016 marks a watershed shift in the understanding of peacebuilding, away from post-conflict security and toward a more holistic, common vision for society aimed at the prevention and recurrence of conflict. In the leadup to a high-level event on sustaining peace in practice set for April 2018, a number of peacebuilding actors at UN headquarters have been working to unpack what sustaining peace means in practice and show why it is vital to ensuring long-term peace, development, and prosperity.
Last June, IPI and Peace Direct conducted an informal survey with forty respondents from 22 countries in four regions to hear their views on sustaining peace and the work of the UN. The results showed that 59 percent of respondents had heard of Sustaining Peace 80 percent of respondents viewed Sustainable Development Goal 16, which advocates for a comprehensive approach to peace and development, as most relevant to their work; followed by promoting gender equality at 76 percent and reducing inequality at 66 percent.
Three gaps in peacebuilding were identified in the survey:
- A recognition gap: Local communities are often undervalued by UN interventions
- A resource gap: 32 percent of respondents said that a lack of funds is the biggest challenge to sustaining peace
- A solutions gap: Practical solutions offered by local civil society are often disregarded
Michael Olufemi Sodipo, Project Coordinator at the Nigeria-based Peace Initiative Network, focused on the centrality of education in the prevention of armed conflict, emphasizing that 5 million young boys in Nigeria are out of school, and vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.
He said that local peacebuilders know the obstacles to peace because they endure them every day. “We want you to engage local communities who know the issues and can come up with tangible solutions,’ he said, “not bringing a template from the US or UK for projects. Let us be the decision makers, implementing programs and also deciding which programs we are bringing.”
One of the Peace Initiative Network’s most potent tools to bridge the divides among young people, he stated, is football– a rare universal passion in a country with countless religions, ethnicities, and languages.
“In Nigeria, that is the only unifying factor,” he said. “That’s where we know we are one Nigeria. We don’t care if you’re from the north or south, if you’re Christian or Muslim, that is when we have everyone come together as Nigerians.”
The Peace Initiative Network capitalizes on the sport’s popularity by forming youth football clubs, and “translating football into economic empowerment for youth” to stop Boko Haram’s recruitment of young people in its tracks. “These are people the extremists use as bombers,” he said. “We use football to close the space for violence in our communities. This is what we know as sustaining peace.”
Sawssan Abou-Zahr, a journalist and local peacebuilding expert based in Lebanon, highlighted surveys published by a group of Lebanese organizations showing the value placed on transitional justice in the country’s Syrian refugee communities.
“Syrian refugees in Lebanon are refugees and peacebuilders at the same time,” she said. They don’t wait for the international community, UN, or US to decide their fate. They started working on the concept of transitional justice.”
She also brought up the matter of empowering women in Lebanon’s Syrian refugee community. With Syrian men either in the opposition or lacking legal permanent stay in Lebanon, women have taken up the mantle of family breadwinner out of necessity.
“This was a means of empowerment without being meant to be such,” she said.
Martine Kessy Ekomo-Soignet, founder of the youth-led, Central African Republic based peacebuilding organization URU, which means “take off” in Sango, spoke of the centrality of agriculture to the group’s mission.
“We work on promoting agriculture by youth, to youth,” she said. “It’s like we highlight young people who are really involved in agriculture, transforming projects. We show young people that even though there is a crisis, there is some space where they can have access to agricultural jobs.”
She also pointed out the challenge of getting funding for URU’s work. “It’s difficult to convince donors, partners, even the government, that it’s possible to talk about sustaining peace in a context where 80 percent of territory is controlled by armed groups. So flexibility in terms of support from the international community and national government is important to see that even in the dark, there is light to invest in.”
Webster Zambara, Senior Project Leader for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, talked about his own experience working with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Zimbabwe, supporting the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission– a federal agency established in 2013 tasked with promoting national unity and post-conflict justice. He held up the experience as a shining example of an international organization not only bringing local peacebuilders to the table, but stepping aside to give them ownership.
“We wanted to demystify the issue that a UNDP program is coming from the outside,” he said. “In this case, it is a UNDP-run program, but it is organically developed and a Zimbabwean-owned program where the failure of the commission should not be because of knowledge from outside, but from the challenge of political will from the government.”
Chelsea Payne, Policy Officer with the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office and respondent to the policy forum, talked about the crucial importance of strategic partnerships.
“Because the nature and scale of sustaining peace is so big, it’s not something the UN could or should be able to achieve on its own, and so it calls on strategic partnerships to realize these goals,” she said.
IPI, in collaboration with Peace Direct, will publish the survey results and analysis in a forthcoming issue brief.
This event is part of a project that receives funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.