The peacebuilders: Making conflict resolution permanent
Out of the UN comes a new idea for ending war. Peacebuilders: An intensive process that gives permission for foreign 'interference' in conflict resolution.
(Page 4 of 6)
As the United Nations examined its own failures in the 1990s – especially the peacekeeping debacles in Rwanda and in Bosnia, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered as the UN stood by – its leaders brainstormed a new approach to peace. "Our record of success in mediating and implementing peace agreements is sadly blemished by some devastating failures," acknowledged Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations, in a 2005 speech that first proposed the PBC. "Indeed, several of the most violent and tragic episodes of the 1990s occurred after the negotiation of peace agreements."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Peacebuilding happens outside the halls of power – in the fields, where men who once fought now farm; in schools where child soldiers learn trades; in courtrooms and parliamentary chambers, where problems once solved with weapons are submitted to tedious democratic resolution.
These are not usually the priorities of politicians divvying up the spoils of war. Yet work by Collier and others suggests that these are precisely the processes that can help prevent the next war.
That possibility is acutely felt in places like Guinea-Bissau. The small West African coastal nation is known, if at all, as a narcotrafficking hub between South America and Europe, or as home to frequent, bloody coups.
Ordinary Bissau-Guineans articulate the same thing that social scientists do. From 2008 to 2009, the grass-roots community organization Voz di Paz ("Voice of Peace") undertook a survey, asking people to list what they thought causes violence. "Bad governance" topped the list, followed by poverty.
When a new peace doesn't stick, the rest of the world pays the price. UN peacekeeping missions cost $8 billion in 2010; the United States paid 27 percent of that bill. Peacebuilding costs pennies in comparison. "If Sierra Leone had ended peacekeeping just six months earlier, the savings would have paid for 20 years of peacebuilding," says Schulenburg.
Talking to peacebuilders can leave the impression that the PBC revolution is really about easing UN bureaucracy. But in the countries where it works, it's more than that. Some say this new idea is the best barometer of whether the massive, often unwieldy, good intention that is the UN works at all. "The UN's relevance ... is what we do on the ground," says Schulenburg. "That's our litmus test. There's nothing else.... It's: Do we get it right here?"
Freetown's Siaka Stevens Street throbs with people, even when it rains. Pedestrians vie for precious sidewalk space with vendors and their goods. Men sell shoes and pirated mix CDs; women offer peanuts and panyas, long strips of colorful African fabric. On a busy corner, a man sells coconuts out of a wheelbarrow. Informal commerce is everywhere.Not far from the coconut vendor, near a favorite expatriate lunch spot, is commerce of the formal kind: bustling banks. Inside one, Joseph Sam and Tejan Sesay, two tellers, sit beside fat turquoise bricks of leones, the local currency. Clients wait patiently as the counting machine slurps up a stack and spits them back out; then they stash colorful stacks of cash in paper bags and walk out.
Mr. Sam wears a black suit; Mr. Sesay wears a button-down shirt with an embroidered collar and cuffs, and both young men wear cufflinks – a subtle show of disposable income. They would have been children during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, not much older than the child soldiers infamously impressed into militias and drugged into committing horrible crimes.