For the first time, the World Bank and the United Nations joined together to explore how development, mediation and security can better interact in order to prevent violent conflict. The subsequent report, “Pathways for Peace – Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Conflict” seeks to advance a vision of prevention as a holistic concept in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This report comes at a critical time in the world: there has been a resurgence of violent conflict that is more complex and protracted than experiences before, and will have devastating effects for civilians caught in its grip. Highlighting the negative impacts that fragility, conflict and violence have on countries around the world and their populations, the report lays out key messages and makes the case for a renewed focus on prevention, which it argues will save lives, money and safeguards development gains.
Initially shared at the UN in September 2017, the full report was released during the recent World Bank Fragility Forum from 5-7 March in Washington, DC. While the report touches on a many conflict prevention and development issues, I identify five key messages to highlight how GPPAC is contributing to the Pathways for Peace.
1) A Call for a New Approach
“In order to achieve more effective prevention, new mechanisms need to be established that will allow the various tools and instruments of prevention, in particular diplomacy and mediation, security, and development, to work in much greater synergy, and much earlier on.”
The report explicitly cites exclusion, inequality and power imbalances as causes of conflict, and calls for a new approach to prevention. Key to this is the need to break down existing silos between different prevention actors in order to work together better. The World Bank and UN also call for a longer-term view that is no longer based on linear or exclusive approaches. This means both engaging early to address risks, but also remaining engaged during and after crises to avoid relapses of violence. Prevention approaches should be based on what works – addressing grievances around exclusion from power, opportunity and security. Civil society organisations on the ground are some of the best placed actors to start prevention activities early and sustain them over the long-term, as many the GPPAC member organisations already do, even after international attention shifts elsewhere.
2) A Clear Link Between Prevention and Development
“Violent conflict is increasingly recognized as one of the big obstacles to reaching the SDGs by 2030.”
The report states clearly that SDGs cannot be attained without tackling the effects of conflict. It further argues that the SDGs provide a clear framework for addressing the root causes of conflict. The report also connects prevention to other relevant frameworks, including the new Sustaining Peace concept; Women, Peace and Security agenda; and the Youth, Peace and Security agenda. The pathways for peace envisioned in this report would work across all of these frameworks, ensuring a comprehensive approach to move forward. GPPAC is raising awareness of the important linkages between the SDGs and its conflict prevention and peacebuilding work, seeking to ensure that the experiences of GPPAC members impact the implementation of the SDGs at country-level.
3) The Necessity of Inclusion
“The best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis…is to ensure they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development. For all countries, addressing inequalities and exclusion, making institutions more inclusive, and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis.”
GPPAC has been a long-standing champion of increasing the inclusion of civil society as critical actors in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The World Bank and the UN are now also supporting this effort by noting that the best way to prevent conflict is to have inclusive and resilient societies. Calling for prevention policies to focus on social and economic grievances pushes inclusivity to the forefront of the prevention agenda, which would be a striking change to the current approach. Critically, the report also highlights the importance of both women and youth in decision-making processes, calling their participation “fundamental to sustaining peace at all levels.”
4) Partnerships as Best Practices
“States are central to efforts to prevent conflict, but, in today’s shifting global landscape, they are one actor among many.”
Through the case studies analysed in the report, one of the critical features of successful prevention was the presence of coalitions of multiple actors working in concert with each other. This focus on collaboration echoes many of GPPAC’s principles, and underscores the importance of civil society networks as partners with states and regional and international institutions. The report also emphasises a breakdown of silos that exist between humanitarian, development, and peace and security partners and a strengthening of collaboration across these different arenas.
5) A New Focus on Regional Dimensions
“Violent conflict has regional dimensions, and there has been enhanced regional action in response.”
As illustrated in areas like the Middle East and the Sahel, violent conflict is increasingly fluid and therefore a regional concern. This new dynamic of conflict is well understood by GPPAC, which is organised into regional networks that consider not only country-level issues but concerns that affect the broader area as well. Given the new conflict trend, the report calls for an increasingly regional approach to prevention, but acknowledges that regional responses have not always been successful in sustaining peace for a variety of capacity and competitive reasons. It will thus become imperative that conflict prevention actors engage not only at the country and international level, but increasingly with regional international organisations, including the African Union, ECOWAS and ASEAN.
Pathways for Peace ultimately calls for a new approach to conflict prevention that aligns well with GPPAC’s vision and way of working. Truly effective efforts must be inclusive and coordinated across a wide spectrum of actors, and must also consider the country, regional and global dynamics at play. Increasing the diversity of partnerships will require breaking down silos between development, prevention and peacebuilding, which is critical to ensure the goals of both the SDGs and Sustaining Peace are achieved and that inclusive and just societies are built. While this new pathway has been set out by the World Bank and the UN, it will require concerted attention and support in order to be implemented as there will inevitably political impediments in the way. Civil society organisations have a key role in continuing to advocate this inclusive approach that links development, prevention and peacebuilding. GPPAC for its part will continue building sustainable peace in this regard.