It is time for the peacebuilding community to join efforts in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Let us especially support local peacebuilders in the Global South to better prepare for the spread of the pandemic and deal with it’s impacts in their communities.
By Mie Roesdahl
While the Covid-19 virus demands all our focus at this time, especially because it is predicted to have devastating consequences for countries in the Global South that already experience conflict and fragility, we in the peacebuilding field must put our minds together globally to seek innovative contributions to dealing with the crisis.
The Covid-19 virus spread has reminded me of the long-gone notions of ‘working around’, ‘working in’ and ‘working on’ conflict. In the peacebuilding field we are traditionally working ON conflict – working to address the causes of violent conflict, facilitating relationship-building and trust, resilience to violence and develop mechanisms that deals constructively with destructive conflicts. Humanitarians work ‘IN conflict’ as they are not directly focused on addressing the dynamics or causes of the conflict. However, while they are addressing the consequences of violent conflict, they have to be sensitive to the nature of the conflict, both in the sense of protecting themselves from these consequences and in the sense of making sure that their humanitarian actions have positive rather than negative effects on the conflict itself.
At this time, peacebuilders must seek out creative ways to conduct their much-needed peacebuilding work even at a time when their space for physical movement may be decreasing. And they – we – must seek out ways to contribute to preventing and dealing with the potential negative consequences of the pandemic on peacebuilding efforts. It is likely that additional measures of prevention of renewed violent conflict and escalation of simmering structural and social conflicts will be needed in the months to come. We know that additional risks to human security, such as this pandemic, feeds into existing conflict patterns, and while they can be the source of people coming together (as illustrated in Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell), they can also be a source of conflict escalation.
The Covid19 virus is likely to impact the work of local peacebuilders by its influence on funding patterns and collaboration structures in the future. At Conducive Space for Peace, we work (with Peace Direct, Humanity United and other partners) to shift the power to local peacebuilders, as the current way of working of the global peacebuilding system significantly influence, and sometimes even limit, the ability of local peacebuilders to pursue their peacebuilding visions, strategies and innovative ideas effectively. That is the case today. How will it be tomorrow? We must explore different scenarios for how the Covid-19 pandemic will influence the global peacebuilding system:
• Because the pandemic response demands extensive human resources within international institutions (including bilateral agencies such as Danida/Danish MFA) to focus on preventing virus spread and addressing the consequences of the spread, there will be less resources for areas that were already getting limited attention such as peacebuilding. In addition, patterns of funding streams and mechanisms may shift even more to larger entities and large-scale responses such as UN agencies, while small local organisations will have more challenges in getting support for their peacebuilding efforts.
• On the other hand, as international actors may be reassessing their own risks of in-country engagement in conflict affected countries (and getting traction for such sentiments from populist tendencies in donor countries), we may see a rethinking of international cooperation around development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding. In the best of cases, this would mean a re-imagining of funding and collaboration structures that shift power to local actors, and a rethinking of the role of internationals. However, if the demands of donor constituencies for ‘value for money’ and ‘peacebuilding effectiveness’ result in increasingly rigid new public management procedures imposed on local peacebuilders, the result may not be a better situation for local peacebuilders.
• With the virus spreading and fear increasing, the power of governments to make hard decisions, will become greater, also in conflict affected countries. This may imply tightened restrictions to civic space and democratic participation of people including in peace processes. And this will most likely lead to a further marginalization of already marginalized groups in countries affected by conflict. It may also imply an exertion of power by richer countries over poorer countries and inequalities will increase.
In the coming days and weeks we will follow the situation and explore, with our partners, how we can help local peacebuilders navigate in the current situation, both with a focus on protecting their lives, families and organisations, and with a focus on contributing to a global and local response to the current crisis that reduces the risk of a rise in violent conflict. We will in the coming weeks engage in consultations with local peacebuilders to understand the implications of the Covid-19 virus spread on them and their work and explore how they can best be supported. The recommendations that arise from these conversations will be channeled into action both by ourselves and our partners as well as by other international actors seeking to support the agency and power of local actors in peacebuilding.
Based on the knowledge that we have now we recommend the following:
– That funders and funding mechanisms allow for more flexibility in implementation of peacebuilding programmes, and if possible, shift the modality of funding to core operating support.
– That expressed needs of local peacebuilders in order to protect them and allow them to continue their work are met to the degree possible, even when these may be needs that do not necessarily fit into normal ‘boxes’ of support (such as an internet connection at home).
– That online platforms for local peacebuilders are mobilized to allow for dialogue on the scenarios for and implications of the Covid19 virus spread in conflict affected countries and regions, and how these implications can be addressed.