There is a growing chorus calling for greater inclusivity and local ownership of peace and peacebuilding processes. The “choir” – so to speak – is a mix of both unexpected and expected actors, some who have been singing the song for a long time, and others that have more recently begun tuning in.
The rhetoric and policy discussions mark a welcome shift, yet it is critical that we unpack the ideas of “local ownership” and “inclusivity” further still. The ultimate irony would be to import external notions of these ideas to the very contexts where international peacebuilding support is seeking to get behind locally-driven and owned peacebuilding efforts. This would only serve to undermine any peacebuilding outcomes sought through such initiatives and, in a context of shrinking and changing civic space in many conflict-affected contexts, inadvertently place many civil activists working for peace in very real danger.
Local ownership means that local concerns are at the center of peacebuilding. Inclusivity means that a range of voices feed in to shape “the local” in a way that represents and reflects the diversity of the context, whether it be in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc.
It means going beyond the capital city. It means “connecting the dots” between local actors working on different elements of peacebuilding, in different places, and through different methods. It means having those same actors identify and drive the agenda. And, if all these elements are to be fully comprehended by international actors – be they Member States, the UN, the World Bank, or INGOs – it requires fundamental changes to how we operate and engage.
The international architecture of peacebuilding support involves a range of actors – from donors, INGOs, to the UN and, increasingly, the World Bank. While it is in itself an achievement – albeit a modest one – that such a diverse range of stakeholders now recognize the importance of local ownership and inclusivity, we need to appreciate that some actors are better positioned than others to translate this rhetoric into practice. The UN and World Bank – by virtue of their composition and mandate – are Member State organizations and, thus, accountable and directed towards serving Governments. In many fragile and conflict-affected settings this in itself limits the space and influence such actors may have in pushing for greater inclusivity. INGOs and some donors may have more flexibility, and therefore be able to engage directly with local civic actors working on and for peace. In both instances, more can be done to connect the work of different stakeholders so that it can complement each other.
The choir is starting to play the right notes, but whether they can string it together into a melody that resonates in fragile and conflict-affected contexts remains to be seen. Stay tuned.