Every state and every community should keep a permanent, standing organization ready to handle conflicts whenever they arise. What should such infrastructures look like? This “Summit” met in Geneva to think about it.
“Essentially, the aim should be the creation of a sustainable national infrastructure for peace that allows societies and their governments to resolve conflicts internally and with their own skills, institutions and resources.”
—Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations
The Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructure for Peace (GAMIP) met for its 6th Summit in Geneva, September 14 – 20, 2013. The 55 representatives were from government, civil society, and all continents. This was one of the first global meetings on infrastructures for peace (I4P). This paper will consider the potential for I4P in managing Africa’s frequent electoral violence and inter-ethnic conflict.
John Paul Lederach introduced the concept of I4P in his book, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (1997):
“I have a rather modest thesis. I believe that the nature and characteristics of contemporary conflict suggest the need for a set of concepts and approaches that go beyond traditional statist diplomacy. Building peace in today’s conflicts calls for long-term commitment to establishing an infrastructure across the levels of society, an infrastructure that empowers the resources of reconciliation from within that society and maximizes the contribution from outside.”
By I4P Lederach meant an ongoing platform for collaboration and dialogue between all stakeholders. He meant a process that responded to the day-to-day issues arising in conflicts, while remaining clear about the long-term changes that are needed. “The creation of such a platform,” he maintained, “is one of the fundamental building blocks for supporting constructive social change over time.
I4P can be parallel to the country’s military infrastructure, with its national, regional and local organization—except that I4P is not hierarchical, but is best organized from the bottom up. After all, intervention should occur at the level where the conflict is manifest.
During the GAMIP Summit, several reports were presented on I4P at work. I include two of them here from Africa that arose from pre- and post-electoral violence and ethnic conflict. Both cases were assisted by the UNDP’s Bureau of Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction (BCPR). Its head, Ozonnia Ojielo, spoke to the Summit about the need for civil society and government to build the infrastructure on the unique social context of each situation. Here are two examples from Africa.
Guyo Liban, of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, is author ot Kenya’s National Policy on Peace-building and Conflict Management (December 2011). Critical to the achievement of its overall goals are these six “pillars”: (a) Institutional Framework; (b) Capacity Building; © Conflict Prevention; (d) Mediation and Preventive Diplomacy; (e) Traditional Conflict Prevention and Mitigation; and (f) Post-Conflict Recovery and Stabilization.
District Peace Councils have been established in most districts along with Elders Councils, promoting traditional ways of resolving conflict. The main objective is to improve early warning and response systems and peacebuilding capacity among all stakeholders and increasing the participation of women.
Emmanuel Asante also addressed the summit. He chairs the Ghana National Peace Council (NPC), funded by, but at arms length from, the national government. Its members—all of them volunteers—are of different political, ethnic, and religious affiliations. The NPC provides training in conflict prevention and resolution. It enables peace fora to meet at various levels, depending on the nature of the conflict involved.
Paul van Tongeren, whose work can be seen on the website www.i4pinternational.org, offers these observations:
1. I4P works best when there is a comprehensive strategy in place involving the government and all stakeholders at the national, regional and local levels.
2. The structure at each level requires enough autonomy to respond rapidly. Government should not dominate or steer the process at a given level, but should provide training and financial support.
3. Local peace committees can often function where government is regarded with suspicion. Typically they comprise respected persons in a community who can fill a void in local governance. This is especially valuable during transitions, such as just before and after elections. Local peace committees have sometimes defused electoral violence by creating a dialogue between opposing sides and ensuring free and fair elections, mediation, and reconciliation.
4. Local peace committees often rely with good effect on traditional decision-making structures that the conflicting parties consider legitimate. Modern state organizations are not the only way to work.
5. Ideally, I4P develops a permanent peacebuilding structure at all levels, rather than just ad hoc responses to conflict as they arise and subside. This also allows for early warning and intervention to forestall potential conflicts. It enables quick response when violent conflict emerges. But adequate funding is required to support such peacebuilding structures.
6. Since I4P is a relatively new approach, the UNDP/BCPR, national governments, and civil society organizations need to study it in depth. For such research, an international civil society network on I4P has been created. See www.i4pinternational.org.
Dr. Saul Arbess is cofounder and director, Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace and Canadian Peace Initiative.