What do you understand by the term peacebuilding when applied to NGOs working in conflict areas - Assignment Example

In the same year that Boutros-Boutros Ghali initiated the Agenda for Peace (1992) and its assuaged companion, the Agenda for Development1, came a Zed books publication called The Development Dictionary (Sachs 1992). Needless to say, these perspectives were built on a number of observations in a then highly rupturing and shaky world. From the more orthodox perspectives though, these movements embodied a birth (or re-birth if you like), while for the latter school of thought they triumphantly articulated decay and death.

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This situation exhibited the wider realm of discourse in which NGOs as agents of ‘development’, specifically those NGOs working in conflict areas, were later to find particularly urbane; it is now in conflict areas that an evolving discourse is most visibly incorporating what appears to be a focus on security to validate its continued existence (Duffield 2001, Wilkin 2002). It is in this contemporary climate that Wilkin fears an international focus on long-term poverty reduction will be reduced and that needs, as a result, will be neglected in the search for a regime of aggregate global security.

In the sense that perhaps a new incarnation of ‘development’ is very much alive and in the sense that this new incarnation may have negative consequences for those lacking the power to do with theirs what they will, a critical overview of an alleged and burgeoning ‘development-security terrain’ must be held throughout this paper (Duffield 2001:10). Indeed and to establish the not-forgotten question: how, if it exists, does this terrain inform and reform a concept NGOs have come to know as ‘peacebuilding’? Is it this understanding of peacebuilding that NGOs want to incorporate into their development work in the first place?

These wide conceptual questions are challenges in themselves before even assessing the practical confrontations one might find in the field and must therefore be dealt with first. As a consequence of this conceptual background being formed, a process of integration becomes possible to discuss and assess in both an empirical and normative light. In other words, having defined what peacebuilding means for NGOs and how this is played out on the ground, the ought factor can come into play because, as it stands, the question asks how this author’s understanding of peacebuilding ‘can’ be grafted with development work.

The challenges that arise as the result of a discussion in case are then both real and hypothetical. The primary case itself, Afghanistan, was chosen for three main reasons. Firstly, the country’s situation, in its even more than usual dynamism, presently has a high profile in the international arena which both elucidates contemporary thought processes on ideas of peacebuilding and configures a prolific amount of reading material in this context. Secondly, it must be said that it is unfair to dilute or brush over the local (Brohman 1995).

Particular economic and socio-cultural contexts require lengthy exploration in more ‘fine grained’ analyses (Goodhand 1999, 2002), especially in an environment of ‘new wars’ where there appears to be an erosion of combatant-civilian (Duffield 2001) and beach/field – village/city (Hulme & Goodhand 1999) dualities; complexity is the order of the day. Finally, it is important to note that the experience of Afghanistan is in some respects encouraging a new framework in which to interpret peacebuilding. Surkhe et. al. 2002) read Licklider (1995) and note that there exists the idea that in spaces where a clear victor of a conflict has been identified, transactions negotiating a move towards peacebuilding at various levels are easier to accomplish. These authors realise that Afghanistan, although fitting the criteria, is far more volatile than Licklider’s conventions would allow. Also, and in relation, Goodhand (2002) sees Afghanistan as requiring a novel thesis of peacebuilding that differs from ‘Cambodian’ and ‘Somali’ models.

A stray into the semantic minefields of aid and development discourse is however, as mentioned, a prerequisite to understanding the influences behind and reformations of peacebuilding in this context. In its skeletal form, peacebuilding can be considered as a neologism born in the UN to address an interest in post-conflict reconstruction of infrastructure and institutions while more importantly addressing the ‘deepest causes of conflict’ (Ghali 1992: 4).

Acting as a ‘counterpart to preventative diplomacy’ (ibid: 14), it works on the other side of peace-making and, if peace-keeping is seen to be prevention and/or containment (Harris 1999), then it find itself in a teleological setting as a final route in a flow towards a just and positive peace. In other words, towards a vision of an ideal-type society that has altered its previous asymmetrical structural inequalities into a format that allows balanced power-play by integrating the fields of conflict resolution and development (Miall et. l 2003). Ricigliano (2004) agrees only insofar as the concept does indeed collapse distinctions between ‘peace’ and ‘development and relief’ fields but the author differs in that he identifies further dimensions of ‘political’, ‘social’ and ‘structural’ peacebuilding. He notes on top of this however, that each of these dimensions involves an interplay of actors that can, in the case of Bosnia and Guatemala respectively, affect a situation for the worst or the best in the long term by acting in an uncoordinated fashion towards those dimensions.

In the Bosnian case for instance, the structural aspect overtook and devalued the other two aspects in that a rush of funds aimed at physical reconstruction led to inappropriate and non-participatory allocations while the Guatemalan example had more positive outcomes in that synergies between the approaches emerged. So despite the fact that Galtung’s triangle can be used to explain that peacebuilding aims to transform structures (Miall et. al. 003), it can nonetheless be argued that there is not at present a holistic and coherent framework that brings all factors influencing peacebuilding into account (Ibid. ). This may consequently leave the concept open to ‘unprincipled’ political manipulation, that is, to actions not fully justifiable for violation of sovereignty. For Duffield (2001) this vulnerability had its beginnings in 1980s Sudan where the conjoining of relief and development began to be seen as a logical marriage to decrease the long-term affects of individuals dependent on assistance.

Stable peace as security in world affairs, although on the surface apolitical, is considered by Duffield at this stage to have been implicitly political. Rather than working ‘around’ conflict, aid and development donors began to work ‘in’ conflict scenarios with what came to be known as a ‘minimalist’ attitude (Goodhand & Atkinson 2001). This ‘do no harm’ approach (Anderson 1999) recognises the political manipulations relief can suffer along with what its operational activities can unintentionally manifest in action and so a call for NGOs to ‘keep their original mandates’ (Ibid. 3) is advocated to maintain impartiality. The ‘maximalist’ approach is of course the flip-side of this coin where working ‘on’ conflict is a preference (Goodhand & Atkinson 2001) and is both where the political approach to humanitarianism is revealed as explicit and where peacebuilding is envisaged, as stated, as a fusion of ‘peace’ and ‘relief and development’ actions (Ricigliano 2003).

Again, peacebuilding cannot be delineated so sharply and is thus susceptible to ‘unprincipled’ interventions. On the ‘relief and development’ side, Anderson (1999: 38) herself notes that NGOs working in the minimalist tradition need to ‘know and do more’ than simply maintain their mandates, while a consortium paper by FEWER (2004)2 does not as much prefer a ‘do good’ maximalist perspective in its work, but rather a ‘do some good’ framework.

Simply put, foreign-donor security policy has for Macrae (2001) utilised this negotiable space to justify a continuum from conflict towards a conception of modern-statehood capable of ‘good governance’ and that the practical undertaking of this goal has not been long-term in perspective or ‘principled’ in line with more detailed interpretations of peacebuilding.

To explain, Macrae (2001) discusses how aid transfers from the World Bank to the ‘post’-conflict Ugandan and Ethiopian governments prioritised the function of flow rather than targeting in allocation which meant that although these resources were highly useful at the time, ‘they were not directed in a developmental manner’ (1998: 113 emphasis original). On the ‘peace’ side of peacebuilding, this can be considered a negative peace that has not affected a restructuring of aid modalities but instead acts as a type of temporary containment or state-centric security management.

These types of transactions have little to do with NGOs per se yet they do determine the current context in which they operate. With NGOs heavily inculcated in global ‘conveyor belt’ of information and resources (Tvedt 1998), these organisations are subject to much donor conditionality upon receiving funding and, more often than not, are severely constrained by such upward accountabilities (Edwards & Hulme 1995).

In this supply orientated network, Duffield (2001) sees official donor interpretations of security as a counteraction firstly against conflict as a social breakdown and secondly against underdevelopment as its causal predecessor. Similarly, Macrae (1998: 35) reads the European Commission’s (1996) work as indicative of such thought processes; ‘the causes of conflict are [for the EC and other official aid agencies] located both in the persistent problem of underdevelopment and in the process of modernisation’.

Consequently, NGOs can potentially be constrained and enrolled in a concept of peacebuilding that sees conflict simultaneously as disorder and the linear result of an underdevelopment that requires quarantine. With these arguments it is perhaps fair to say that a development-security terrain is conceptually integrated into what NGOs understand by peacebuilding, but this is in retrospect simplistic for two reasons. Firstly, it paints with a broad brush the concept of an ‘NGO’ and secondly, it sees NGOs as non-influential agents in the construction of the idea of peacebuilding.

The second question, asking whether or not NGOs would want to incorporate this into their development work, now also seems simplistic in that it assumes development NGOs have a choice. These challenges can be outlined by example in the case study of Afghanistan where it will be shown that it is not only an important, but crucial challenge to define NGOs and their roles on the ground. Although performing poorly empirically, it can also be shown that clearly defined NGOs in Afghanistan can hypothetically influence interpretations of peacebuilding by integrating it into their work.

NGO definitions and roles are imperative in that they are, moreso in Afghanistan, not tools but the very ‘symbols of change’ (Monshipouri 2002) and as Macrae (2001) and Duffield (2001) realise, they are often not implementers or agents of policy but the very embodiment of it. In the heavily incapacitated environment that Afghanistan finds itself after 23 years of various types of war, these actors are part of a rapid post-September 11th scramble that has for Barakat (2002) neglected needs due to insufficient assessments and mis-coordination.

This is not surprising in practice where development ‘messes’ (Hulme & Goodhand 1999) are occurring beyond more simplistic analyses that see rehabilitation and reconstruction as a one plan agenda versus dissentors (Harris & Maley 1999). Also, as previously touched upon, Goodhand (2002) notes that in Afghanistan’s volatile environment, top-down ‘Cambodian’ and bottom-up ‘Somali’ models of peacebuilding are insufficient.

Complex political emergencies are labeled such because there is no overarching macro-issue when identity, local/global economics (Berdal & Malone 2000) and also regional proxy wars are involved (Brabant & Killock 1999); one cannot approach the situation from one perspective as there are mixed typologies (Surkhe et. al. 2002). A new challenge then is to ingratiate NGOs into this situation by locating them in a judicious mixture of top-down and bottom-up work. But the crucial issue is to define which NGOs work in what dimension (if not both) and at what time.

Zia (2000) differentiates between NGOs working directly and indirectly in Afghan peacebuilding, the former integrated at the local capacities level (Anderson 1999) and involving indigenous participants (with the exception of Norwegian Church Aid) while the latter are mainstreaming NGOs more downward looking and orientated towards using aid as leverage towards community conflict resolution in short-term projects. The integration of these activities into long-term development has had both positive and negative effects for Zia (2001).

Direct peacebuilding has allegedly led to the strengthening of local community connections and the process of civil society while suffering a decrease in morale when anticipating the institutionalisation of this activity. Somewhat conversely, NGOs peacebuilding indirectly made headground in the more material aspects of agricultural, infrastructural and economic development but failed in expanding the more discursive social needs such as empowerment and civil society.

The need to clarify the pros and cons of these roles may seem a moot point but Barakat & Chard (2002) argue that these are ‘lessons learned’ by authors such as Korton (1980), Coombs (1980) and Uphoff (1986) that have been ignored in peacebuilding in Afghanistan. Developing a comprehensive top-down and bottom-up overview is not only dependent on defining NGO roles though, but also at what time they are to exercise their comparative advantages. Berdal & Malone (2000) emphasise that protracted conflict alters institutional contexts and the dynamics of power over time.

Shura councils (role-based informal decision-making fora) for instance, despite recent spates of growth, were all but eroded during the decades of war and supplanted by the authorities of relief aid3 and local warlords (Jalali 2003). Combining this understanding with a recent interest in political economy perspectives that see some conflicts not overwhelmingly in the light of Clauswitzean disorder but as highly dependent on ‘rational’ shadow economies (Berdal & Malone 2000) the vision of a centralised state becomes problematic.

This represents a three-fold timing challenge for NGOs working directly or indirectly on peacebuilding; they have to calculate at what stage they want to support (or not support) local warlords in order to gain access to their economies in an attempt a transformation of them, they have to decide whether their comparative advantages will at the present stage reinforce a drive towards a centralised or federal state and finally, whether or not this drive is indeed for the best long-term durability of peace in Afghanistan.

Cramer & Goodhand (2002) vehemently oppose decentralisation for instance, while Surkhe et. al. (2002) along with Brabant & Killock (1999) not only see a legitimate and accountable central authority as unlikely but as a wild goose chase. Indeed, despite the fact of an overwhelming victory for the Northern Alliance, the Afghan Interim Authority is having serious difficulties mediating a representative government with Pashtun and Uzbek forces (Jalali 2003). On top of this, a democratic deficit is noted where only 10% of the population has registered to vote in June 2004 elections4.

With state-centric ‘blueprints’ already printed in 2001 along CDF lines (Barakat & Chard 2002), NGOs working directly or indirectly on peacebuilding need to consider whether the timing of their interventions are supporting this vision, or whether they favour a federal system. Coming to the challenge concerning NGO interpretations of peacebuilding, it must be stated that the aforementioned ‘blueprints’ were based on a ‘pecking order’ of external and expatriate viewpoints.

Reiterating the fact the conflicts change context, it is noted by Zia (2001) and Goodhand (2002) that NGOs working directly in peacebuilding had little chance to integrate with external actors and inform them towards the shifts in this context. Barakat (2002) for example, notes in agreement with Zia (2001) that new understandings of gender relations and women’s coping groups in a post-Taliban environment were overlooked in favour of ‘new’ approaches that did not consider and build upon already existing and altered networks.

On the opposite side of the peacebuilding fence (i. e. minimalism) Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) is considered to have been unable to convince the UN’s ‘Strategic Framework’ to allow some flexibility in its political outlook and thus became distanced from funding opportunities (Goodhand 2002). In practice, these actors performed poorly in negotiating their interpretation of peacebuilding (or ‘non-peacebuilding’ in the case of MSF) upwards.

The examples are indicative of a donor-led field that prefers rapid and visible transformation of societies rather than a ‘wider’ and ‘deeper’ participation process that incorporates not only process but decision-making content (Farrington & Bebbington 1993) in more open-ended dialogue. Resource flows as flows per se, as discussed through the work of Macrae (2001) earlier, disencourages experimentations and prefers logframes, codification and quantification in what is increasingly understood as a messy chaotic environment where conflict is ‘process’ and not breakdown (Hulme & Goodhand 1999).

A peacebuilding analysis that allows NGOs to reflect upon conflict as process is one that allows a systems theory to inform their functioning and see themselves, donors, the Afghan Interim Authority, the war economy, and the global economy as fully associated and chaotically related. The wider challenge here is that the aid and development industry, especially its donors, ought not to apply itself with a linearly causal bent towards conflicts seen as disorder and the result of so-called ‘underdevelopment’.

The ‘Strategic Framework’ for Afghanistan, although undermined from below by relief organisations such as MSF is also criticised by Goodhand (2002) in the respect that donors had an ‘opaque’ understanding of incentive systems or ‘carrots’ in Afghanistan and that the overuse of ‘sticks’ drove donor, NGO, and government relationships apart. This exemplifies donor attitudes relating to the causality of their actions and is an important issue for closely related NGOs (indirect peacebuilders) to tackle.

Leonhardt (2001) provides a paper that attempts to readdress PCIA (Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment) away from the debates encountered by Hoffman (2001) and Bush (1998) and if implemented effectively, could hypothetically allow NGOs some breathing space to legitimate and communicate a more reflexive understanding of peacebuilding to their donors as well as their beneficiaries. The three key challenges that must be held in this endeavour are that the indicators defining peacebuilding progress can vary according to viewpoints of it, indeed, even if definitions are similar or the same.

Secondly, and as Ricigliano (2004) concurs, ‘theories of action’ need to be emblazoned on the sleeves of all agents acting as peacebuilders. Thirdly, an outlook that sees sequential analysis of funds and interventions as not necessarily causal needs to be iterated in the future, one that uses ‘matching method’ and is suspicious towards the use of Logframes as assisting an expectation of the unexpected. Essentially, this paper has taken a step back from the more practical challenges of integrating peacebuilding into the work of NGOs by questioning this supposition in a conceptual fashion from the start.

With the fluidity of the term ‘peacebuilding’ comes its appropriation by various actors for various goals and cannot straight-away be conflated with NGO work without wider investigation. It is shown that there is no overarching or core understanding of the term (Ricigliano 2004) and that it can mean as much as forwarding aid in an unprincipled or non-developmental manner that, in effect, is akin to an act of security by containment (Macrae 2001).

Also, it is noted that much of this activity in peacebuilding is premised upon a discourse of conflict as rooted not in sophisticated and globally embedded war economies but in disorder and local underdevelopment (Duffield 2001). The second issue that this paper has been concerned with is the integration of NGOs into this discourse and the challenges they face in articulating their visions. Afghanistan is used as a case study to show that where perhaps a new ‘Afghan’ model of peacebuilding is required, NGOs and donors are ignoring their relative competencies through a lack of definition of roles (Barakat & Chard 2002).

A three-fold issue also emerges for NGOs in that they need to decide the timing of their interventions as they can reinforce a drive towards local or state controlled administration. This is an important issue in Afghanistan where ‘post’-conflict mediation is, despite the would-be arguments of Licklider (1995), a complicated matter. Finally, it is argued that the potential for NGOs to articulate these interests is at present limited by interpretations of causality through a mechanistic lens.

Contemporary gender related work (Barakat 2002, Zia 2001), the protestations of MSF and the overuse of ‘sticks’ (Goodhand 2002) show that there is little room for manoeuvre in top-down conceptions of peacebuilding. New interpretations of PCIA however, offer the chance for NGOs (and through their reporting official funding bodies) to reorientate towards more reflexive views of conflict and appreciate that perhaps their strategies of peacebuilding are more generally prioritising security over development in complex political emergencies.