As someone who comes from a war zone and who has lived in a region devastated by various types of conflicts, the word ‘peacebuilding’ is a word that triggers me. It is a word that brings with it all types of contradictions and both positive and negative feelings. It makes me feel hopeful but also hopeless; it is a noble word but one that contains enduring, hegemonic practices. It is a word that I try to avoid, but nonetheless find myself thrust into its various meanings due to my identity, belonging, lived experiences, research and profession. In my first blog, I reflected on the debate surrounding the liberal, local/Indigenous, and hybrid peace models debate, concluding that a genuine partnership/hybrid model for peacebuilding gives us the highest chances of achieving peace. In this blog, I reflect on what I perceive as a genuine partnership for peacebuilding and share what I consider as the biggest dilemmas for peacebuilding both during and after civil wars. As in my previous post, I do so from my perspective, not only as a researcher, but also as a person with first-hand experience of war and peacebuilding.
In my view, a genuine partnership between locals and internationals actors should be a depoliticised relationship, guided by the ethics of care where all parties genuinely respect local agency and traditions, while also appreciating international wisdom and traditions. The purpose of any genuine partnership should be first and foremost to decrease human suffering and bring sustainable peace, not achieve political gains.
There are two major intertwined obstacles that I consider the biggest threats to any peace attempt and hybrid model of peace: power and politics. Peacebuilding is a process that is designed, conducted, managed by the power holders, who in a lot of the times, are themselves peace wreckers. Usually in civil wars, local actors who are invited to sit on the peace-making table could be warlords, militia leaders, and local elites who won or lost the conflict and have strong influence on the ground. As for the external actors who join the peace-making table, they are usually the powerful nations who have a history of destabilisation other nations. Then, what are the grounds for believing that these peace wreckers and conflict entrepreneurs are able to build peace? And if they managed to bring peace, it is sustainable? Is it a positive peace as theorised by Johan Galtung where the structural and cultural violence have been addressed or is it a negative peace where just the direct violence have been stopped? There is a wonderful saying in Arabic: you cannot give what you don’t have! Therefore, I believe that the most important question in peacebuilding is a power question: how can we shift the power in peacebuilding from internal and external peace wreckers towards local and international communities and government who might be genuine about contextual peace-making? In other words, how can we shift the power towards genuine peacebuilders? What I mean by genuine peacebuilders is those people, groups, communities, and countries who don’t have shameful records of committing violence, who acknowledge their responsibilities in the conflict, and who are willing to comprise and reconcile for the sake of decrease human suffering and bring sustainable peace.
The second big dilemma in peacebuilding is that it is a political process rather than a humanitarian process. All conflicted parties and those who have interest in the conflict usually look at the peace process as a political cake where everyone wants the biggest slice. Those parities are living in their castles relatively untouched by the conflict. They are not usually the ones who are suffering every day from the consequences of conflict, lost their livelihood, struggling to feed their children and feel warm during the winter in their torn-tents in refugee camps. They might care little whether the suffering stopped or not. For them, peacebuilding is a political (and economic) game.
These two dilemmas are intertwined. Succeeding in shifting the power from peace wreckers to peace builders could lead to making the peace process a humanitarian one. Once we succeed in this, our chances of building a genuine hybrid model of peace between locals and internationals will be way higher.
It may be unrealistic and naïve to ask for such a shift in the nature of a peace process, from what is today an extremely political game dominated by powerful actors and warlords to a primarily humanitarian process reserved for genuine peacebuilders. At the end of the day, the global political architecture is built on politics and power, and for the peace process to be apolitical where only genuine peacebuilders join regardless of their power, that would require dismantling the current global political system. If such is to remain the case, the least we can do is to push for any peace process to not be monopolised by only the powerful elites, warlords and governments with shameful records of wars to include genuine peace builders. That in turn will make the peacebuilding process less political and more humanitarian.
I am still hopeful that fostering genuine peacebuilding partnerships between local and international actors is possible. However, this will require everyone [who?] to work towards reforming the global political architecture that is not only condoning and creating violence, but also failing to decrease human suffering and bring sustainable peace to shattered communities.