The term "peacebuilding" has become increasingly prevalent since
it was used by Boutros Boutros-Ghali—then
United Nations Secretary-General—in announcing
his Agenda for Peace
in 1992. However, it is challenging
to speak about peacebuilding and reconciliation
because definitions are not readily available.
Definitions and approaches are often dictated by the inherent
political assumptions of practitioners and policymakers,
and by their social context. Voluntary
groups, communities at large, policymakers,
politicians and funders often have very different definitions and even desire
different outcomes from a peacebuilding
and reconciliation process.
of peacebuilding, posed by Morris (1), is that it “involves a full range of approaches, processes,
and stages needed for transformation toward more sustainable, peaceful
relationships and governance modes and structures. Peacebuilding
includes building legal and human rights institutions as well as
fair and effective governance and dispute resolution processes and
systems. To be effective, peacebuilding
activities require careful and participatory planning, co-ordination
among various efforts, and sustained commitments by both local and
The idea of peacebuilding as a long-term process is shared by many international
practitioners, with most including reconciliation and the re-establishing
or mending of damaged interpersonal and social relations as a vital
component thereof. But in
the main, most see peacebuilding and reconciliation
as about a process rather
than an event, or series of events and activities.
One difficulty, however, is that a genuine appreciation
of what “a long-term” commitment to peacebuilding
and reconciliation process involves is seldom understood. Peacebuilding initiatives
in many countries are generally driven by funding cycles and an
“outcome and indicators” model of evaluation, rather than by what
is actually required over an extensive period of time—that is, an
approach that genuinely reflects social complexity in divided societies,
and acknowledges that the process of building lasting peace is as
important as (or at least generally defines) the outcome.
In Northern Ireland it currently seems as if peacebuilding is largely being discussed in the context of
the PEACE II programme,
which sees peace and reconciliation resulting from increased economic
opportunity. As Avila
Kilmurray, from the Community Foundation
of Northern Ireland, comparing PEACE I and PEACE
II, recently noted in SCOPE:
“There was still the ambitious objective of peace and reconciliation,
although this was to be achieved through greater economic opportunity
and more economic openings for the disadvantaged.
The legacy of the violence was to be addressed through the
building of social skills rather than social capital.
Peace II is essentially an economically driven
programme with a whiff of post-conflict
societal change about it” (2).
goes on to say that this creates challenges and opportunities for
peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. I will not repeat these excellent observations,
or dwell on the value of having funds injected into this area.
I would like—for purposes of evaluating how PEACE II is being conceptualised
and implemented—to add three critical points. Firstly, peacebuilding or peace—using the logic of ‘employability’
as a cornerstone of this—appears to have become an ‘outcome’ driven
process, despite the fact that different groups have divergent understandings
of what a peaceful outcome is and that their views will naturally
change over time. Peacebuilding—it appears—and contrary to most theoretical
and international understandings of what is needed for peace and
reconciliation—is not seen primarily as a sustainable social process
that can adapt and change as the social context develops over time. Currently, success is measured by the number
of people employed, or by ‘bums on seats’ as it has become common
for people to say here. Although
this is important, there is little evidence to show that this is
how peace is maintained and sustained in the long-term.
Ironically, the demand for evidence-based outcomes that the
current PEACE II funding emphasis falls foul of its
own logic. That is, there is little evidence that employability
and creating opportunities for inclusion, although undoubtedly helpful,
will in and of themselves produce the desired outcome of peace.
II is built on the assumption that sufficient ‘social capital’
exists to maintain the peace in the wider context, and that there
is enough ‘social capital’ to somehow spontaneously encourage the
owners of the ‘bums on seats’ to interact with each other more and
more over time, and build new enhanced relationships. This ‘event’
driven and linear categorised understanding—mirrored
in concepts such as ‘target groups’ so prevalent in PEACE II which pose as descriptors of ‘real’
life even though social reality bears little resemblance to them—runs
counter to actually what is needed, or going on in the society. This is particularly true in areas where social
division in the post-settlement phase is getting worse, and where
complex social situations and entrenched differences are at the
root of ongoing conflict.
Second, the logic of employability as the cornerstone
of peacebuilding feeds into the idea that
civil society groups and the political process are largely separate
processes that are somehow on different trajectories and are unrelated. To expand: the reasoning of PEACE II is this. Out there in society, there are communities
that exist as definable entities that are fragmented, ravaged by
conflict and socially disadvantaged.
These communities require uplifting and job creation.
To some degree, of course, this is true—one would not want
to dispute the value of job creation.
But the logic seems to run that this can be done by injecting
funds and developing evidence-based economic programmes
and training in these “target areas” in a specific timeframe. This is meant to create stability and increase
opportunities for peace and reconciliation over time.
At the same time, other communities do not require
the same level of attention as they are already developed economically.
This creates the first problem.
This reasoning implies that the conflict in Northern Ireland
was only about these so-called discrete communities that show high
disadvantage. It sustains
the myth that conflict in society can erupt in certain areas and
sustain itself in isolation. This
further erroneously implies that genuine reconciliation is not about
dealing with difference between social groupings and classes across
society, but about moving those from ‘troubled’ areas on to the
same footing as everyone else and this will solve the problem.
This may well help, but it is doubtful if it is that simple
in a deeply divided society. Obviously
some strategic targeting is needed, but surely a holistic view of
society is needed where all aspects of society are encouraged to
engage in and take responsibility for peacebuilding and reconciliation work, not just ‘targeted’
If Northern Ireland bears any resemblance to other
international conflicts, unquestionably the conflict was sustained
by both those ‘directly’ involved and those who choose to define
themselves as ‘uninvolved’. Recently,
the Healing Through Remembering Project noted they understood the
“conflict in and about Northern Ireland as a society-wide and systematic
social problem…we all—including those in leadership positions and
those who feel the conflict ‘had nothing to do with them’—need to
take responsibility to set the situation right” (3).
If this is true, then surely peacebuilding
needs to proactively engage all these groups, and address the wider
social context too, not just ‘targeted areas’.
In the same vein, somehow the political process
within PEACE II logic is—to
some degree—seen as irrelevant to the community-development process,
and that the politicians through the peace-process have already
created the context where peace at community level can flourish.
We all know this is not true.
But, more importantly, by treating the solution as simply
one of economic development, as important as this is, it presents
a very apolitical picture of communities and social groupings.
It implies that communities can be uplifted by their own
efforts (which is true to some degree, of course) and through adequate
benevolent funding from government sources.
In some senses this implies that community groups’ interactions
at the political level are not as important as the give-and-take
relationship of funding and vertical relationship to government.
As such, this takes one’s eye off the proverbial political ball.
Let me explain: the more PEACE II is seen as the mainstay of community
development, the more groups and communities (however, you want
to define the word community) will
start to understand their position in the society as being determined
by how much funding they get from donors, rather than their long-term
interaction with local and national governments.
This is evidenced by the complaints you hear about PEACE
II. Complaints—many justified
I might add— are generally about criteria, the bureaucracy of filling
in forms and how community groups are being treated by the funding
agency. You hear very little reference to how PEACE II should be evaluated as a major social
development policy initiative of the Assembly, or political parties.
I feel responsibility for successes and failures of PEACE
II, lies with the political classes, not simply with the image
of the stereotypical evil Europe Union foisting this bureaucracy
on people. If PEACE
II fails—and we are unhappy with what it is delivering—surely
it means the government and political parties here have failed to
protect the interests of their people within Europe and in the long-term. They must take responsibility for it, as it
is essentially a governmental policy initiative. PEACE II, regardless of its origins, needs
to be reoriented back into the political policy mainstream as it
after all affects the well-being of the electorate.
Third, and finally, it is recognised
internationally that a vibrant civil society is the key to sustainable
democracy and citizenship involvement in governance. One of the core observations I make when comparing
South Africa to Northern Ireland is that I feel civil society here
is significantly more disempowered than
in a developing country such as South Africa.
Although there is a flourishing community sector here, this
sector is not significantly driving the peace process and
social change. Although civil society had some influence over
helping ensure an Agreement was reached, the post-settlement challenges
seem to be underestimated and PEACE
II is not substantially helping in that regard.
As Sir Marrack Goulding,
UN Under-Secretary-General from 1986 to 1997, commented recently
on the post-settlement phase: “public participation becomes critically
important. Popular support is needed to ensure that the process
can withstand post-settlement squabbling and the assaults of its
opponents. The questions then are how, and by whom, can the public
be mobilized. The ideal conveners
are long-standing, non-aligned local institutions. Often, however,
in war-torn countries these institutions do not exist and have to
be created” (4).
I am concerned
that PEACE II—and civil society
structures, community groups and funding bodies—are failing to fully
comprehend what is needed in a post-settlement phase.
Independent civil society, or what Goulding
calls non-aligned local institutions, need to be protected and critical partners (i.e. those organisations who support the settlement but feel it needs
to be continually evaluated from a non-aligned perspective and embedded
to succeed) have to thrive for peace to be maintained and built. The building of civil society structures that
are solely concerned about enhancing citizenship, getting the public
to access political institutions, and make sure the public shape
government policy in the future, in the long-run is as important
as ensuring social development and ‘employability’.
I am concerned that the civil society structures that can
play this vital role are being decimated in a flurry of PEACE
II applications that move them away from their core purpose
of embedding democracy and building public participation in governance.
An active civil society is the cornerstone of any social
development programme, not the other way
around. I think it is fair
criticism to note that strategic thought on how democracy, participation
and good governance will be ensured over the long-term is being
sacrificed to the lure of funding, which does not support such activities.
To this end—and in conclusion—I feel there is little
vision of what a vibrant civil society will look like in the future
in Northern Ireland. This
is peculiar considering most international best practice would tell
us that this where peacebuilding begins and where the roots of its sustainability
lies. A sound peacebuilding
vision should be the starting point for embedding peace. If ‘employability’ is subsequently considered
a key objective for achieving this vision then that is all good
and well, but this should come after the strategic peacebuilding
vision with civil society at its core has been mapped out, rather
than the vision being driven by concepts like ‘employability’.
At the moment, one method of ensuring greater community
involvement (e.g. European Structural Fund measures) is in the process
of largely shaping what peacebuilding
is. Of course, PEACE II and
its underlying assumptions has its advantages—but I predict, if
you will allow me to be pessimistic for a minute, it will have destroyed
the community sector and public participation in governance within
a decade. Political participation will remain the “privilege”
of political parties, not citizens. At the current rate public participation in
government will be reduced to voting in elections as it is in the
majority of the rest of Europe (despite the fact that Northern Ireland
will predictably have ongoing social problems and ‘legacy of the
conflict’ issues for many years to come), unless peacebuilding
as a process is discussed and strategised
as a legitimate post-settlement process in its own right, and is
not shaped by the dictates of PEACE II to the degree it currently is. This is a task of government, but civil society
groups, funding bodies and community groups should be vigorously
taking the lead on this.
As John Paul Lederach(5) notes, what is needed for genuine peacebuilding
is to “explore peacebuilding as processes of change
within a more expansive view of context and time relevant to but
not limited by the discrete chronology entertained with the term
post-agreement. The key challenges are these: 1) How
to create an adequate vision of change processes in time? 2) How to provide genuine engagement of the
public sphere; and 3) How
to keep the moral imagination alive”.
The origin of PEACE II—and the way it is conceptualised and
being implemented, as well as the way politicians and certain sections
of society seem to distance themselves from it rather than engaging
with it as a critical policy issue—does not feed a dynamic view
of peacebuilding. Continuing engagement and ongoing strategic
foresight—as well as permanent public and civil participation in
governance—is the foundation of a durable peace.
Sustained grassroots peacebuilding
work across the society, attitudinal change, and in many cases actual
peacemaking is still very much needed.
to be convinced that a long-term perspective is at the forefront
of the current PEACE II programme,
or that it is sufficiently enhancing the ‘moral imagination’ of
this society and tapping the full creativity of the work needed
to guarantee lasting peace.
Brandon Hamber is an independent research and development consultant.
He is an Associate of Democratic Dialogue in Belfast and
the Centre for the Study of Violence
and Reconciliation in South Africa.
All correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Catherine Morris, What
is Peacebuilding? One Definition.
(2) Avila Kilmurray, PEACE II
– A shadow of its former self? In Scope,
Dec/Jan 2002/2003, pp. 10-11.
(3) Report of the Healing Through Remembering Project
(2002). Belfast: Healing
Through Remembering Project, p.15.
(5) John Paul Lederach (2002).
The Horizon of Peacebuilding: The Strategic Challenges of Post Agreement
Change. RIREC Conference, September 26, 2002