Mediating in an increasingly complex world calls for multi-layered approaches that take into account the multitude of actors in any given conflict theater today. In our third and final installment of Teresa Whitfield’s paper for the 2019 Oslo Forum, the Director of DPPA’s Policy and Mediation Division looks at how such a multi-layered approach can look like and explores future avenues for mediators: youth engagement, economics and digital technologies.
Balancing the demands for diplomacy, interaction with conflict parties and the promotion of inclusion requires engagement by a mediator on multiple levels. The tools employed to maximise impact and promote coherence in the peace effort are varied and evolving, sometimes organically, and at other times within a more structured design. Few are the contemporary conflicts which are able to achieve the ordered, but nonetheless innovative, architecture that was seen in the Colombia process. This was facilitated by the “old world” nature of the conflict parties – a strong government and a revolutionary armed group which, after fifty years, had fought each other to an asymmetric stalemate – but also by an unusually supportive regional and international environment. And while both parties drew on advice and expertise from outside sources, they remained firmly in the driving seat in the design and management of a process that included public consultations with civil society actors across Colombia, the presence and voice of victims in talks in Havana, and a surprisingly effective negotiating sub-commission on gender.
The UN has devoted much attention to peacemaking partnerships with regional organisations, especially in Africa, where partnership with the AU is of paramount importance. Long years of collaboration and support to ECOWAS’ efforts at conflict prevention have borne fruit in West Africa; more recently the AU, the Organisation de la Francophonie, the Southern African Development Community and the UN worked together effectively to support a peaceful outcome to the November 2018 elections in Madagascar. Elsewhere, however, mediators of all kinds often lack the authority to manage regional and international actors even when the context demands a multi-level negotiation. A coherent and unified Security Council could mitigate this challenge, but is too frequently not available.
A number of Track 1 mediators have also embraced the possibility of partnerships with non-governmental organisations. These partnerships – sometimes formally co-ordinated, sometimes more loosely based on the exchange of information – have evolved with the ebb and flow of the individuals involved in conflicts from Afghanistan to Burundi, the Central African Republic, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. Sometimes these partnerships have not developed at all, and the various levels of engagement have been at odds, if not in actual competition, with each other (Myanmar and Nepal have both seen particularly messy periods).
Collaboration between the UN and non-governmental actors varies across different conflict theatres, and within them, over time. Of late it has been particularly effective in Libya and Yemen, where nongovernmental actors have facilitated the UN’s engagement with fragmented conflict parties and other actors beyond its reach and the initiation of discussions on substance outside the framework of formal processes. In Libya, as Feltman describes in these pages, Salamé has used partnerships as a critical force multiplier in his efforts to strengthen the legitimacy of what he quickly determined must be “literally” a “Libyan-led and Libyan owned process.” Non-governmental partners – the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), the Dialogue Advisory Group (DAG) and others – were able to engage in areas where the UN could not because years of work in the country had provided them with access and relationships it did not have, and because of the benefits that a degree of distance from the lead mediator can bring.
Meanwhile, after conflict surged in Yemen in 2014, UN envoys prioritised collaboration with the Berghof Foundation and International IDEA as a tool for building acceptance and understanding of potential areas of compromise, and (in collaboration with UN Women) to create dynamic mechanisms for women’s input into the process. An early partnership with the Berghof Foundation was grounded in Yemeni networks that enabled the Foundation to organise a series of Track 2 events, frequently with the presence of officials from the UN’s envoy’s office. In late 2017, the Special Envoy – at the time Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed – and his team also began working with International IDEA. A series of “constitutional dialogues” organised by IDEA outside Yemen sought to bridge divisions on the country’s future system of government and the structure of the state, and to build up a reservoir of knowledge and ideas to be drawn on by the UN as the possibility of a new political process took shape.
Elsewhere, fragmentation has been addressed by other means. In the Central African Republic, the UN has a large peacekeeping operation while the AU formally leads the mediation effort, engaging with states from the region and with support from the UN. At the same time, HD (among other nongovernmental actors, such as the Community of Sant’Egidio) has also been closely involved, providing advice to President Faustin-Achange Touadéra and armed groups. The AU-led talks in Khartoum in early 2019 built on several years of engagement by the UN and others, including the Government and religious leaders, with fragmented and highly asymmetric armed groups. Individual strategies – mixing dialogue with military pressure to reach local agreements on ceasefires, or issues such as access to a market or hospital – sought to create a more conducive environment for a national process between the Government and the fourteen formally recognised armed groups. They came together for the negotiations in Khartoum in February 2019 and were brought in to a new inclusive government the following month.
Moving forward: Youth, the economy (again), digital tools, and yet . . .
Looking ahead, as mediators confront a complex world with their own increasingly sophisticated responses, three challenges and opportunities stand out. The first is the engagement of youth – an increasingly large proportion of the population in conflict-affected countries, and an increasingly vocal peace advocate. The second is the broad range of issues associated with the economy, which remain too frequently neglected by mediators, as short-term political considerations crowd out longer-term economic needs. And the third is the rapidly evolving spectrum of digital technologies, which bring risks but also opportunities, that mediators are beginning to explore and develop.
The logic for including youth in peace processes is inarguable: if you want young people to be engaged in a peace effort – and you do because they represent a majority of the armed actors, a majority of the wider (and peaceful) populations in conflict-affected states, and the future rests in their hands – they need to be involved early and at multiple levels. In a paper prepared to inform the First International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes, held in Helsinki in March 2019, Ali Altiok and Irena Grizelj recognised that youth can be highly effective advocates for peace through mobilisation in the streets or on social media platforms, as well as when they are more directly engaged at the peace table (“if you want lasting peace, it won’t happen without youth”, one young Afghan woman told them). Drawing on successful examples of youth involvement in Colombia, Somalia, the Philippines, South Sudan and elsewhere, Altiok and Grizelj highlighted the ability of young men and women to build relationships between “the formal and informal” in peace processes, and argued for them to be considered and included in formal peace architectures, in informal mechanisms as well as through alternative fora.
The challenge of aligning political and economic agendas in peace processes is an old one. After years of caution and intermittent engagement between the UN and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), the benefits of collaboration – most clearly expressed in the increasingly close relationship between the UN and the World Bank in fragile and conflict-affected states – are evident to all. However, in practice there are still too few examples of the direct engagement of financial actors within a mediation process. One positive example was the Cyprus process that ended in 2017. IFIs, in particular the World Bank, worked very effectively with the UN to provide technical assistance to support the two communities in finding sustainable solutions to economic issues in a hypothetical post-settlement Cyprus. In Libya, the UN Mission’s central involvement in economic issues – extending from overseeing a politically sensitive audit of the Central Bank (after facilitating talks with a rival institution), to engagement with the IFIs, the European Union and others in efforts to foster a more transparent and resilient economy – has led it to take the unusual step of establishing a dedicated economic unit.
One set of actors recently identified as falling into a “blind spot” for most mediators is local business elites. The potential benefit of business for peacemaking and peacebuilding was illustrated in the early 1990s by the successful engagement of South African business groups in the dialogue that led to the country’s National Peace Accord, and was later championed by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as he proposed a “global compact of shared values and principles” to the World Economic Forum at Davos in 1999. Mediation experts have also offered cogent analysis and advice on this subject. However, as Josie Lianna Kaye argues, international efforts have been more effectively directed towards making “the business case for peace” than mediators have been ready to embrace what she terms “the peace case for business.” This would involve a deliberate effort to assess and calibrate the benefits of including pro-peace members of local business elites – many of whom have intimate understanding of what still functions within a conflict-affected state and what will be critical to its future prosperity – within their mediation strategies.
Underpinning all these issues is the rapidity of technological change. A newly-released Digital Toolkit for Mediation, prepared by the UN’s Mediation Support Unit and HD in response to a request made by Secretary-General Guterres at the June 2018 meeting of his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, represents an initial attempt to assess the implications for mediation of growing connectivity and reliance on digital technologies. Drawing on a survey of mediators and brief case studies, it offers tools and advice on the many opportunities, as well as the risks, that new technologies offer mediators and their teams. Common features of peace processes today include data breaches; leaked information; monitoring and surveillance; intense scrutiny on social media; misinformation and disinformation; and competition, disruption or control of crucial internet resources. Conversely, new technologies offer mediators a range of tools – from social media to geographic information systems and data analytics – to increase their understanding of the conflicts they are engaged on, and new ways to communicate and consult with conflict parties and other stakeholders.
The Toolkit is deliberately modest in scope and anchored in the well-worn, human-centered principles that guide effective mediation. But the practices it describes – HD’s innovative work in Libya in support of the UN’s efforts towards a National Conference, or its application of the Live Universal Awareness Map (Liveuamap) to its work in Syria; UN tools and projects such as efforts to build a machine-learning based system for detecting and analysing public opinion in the Arab world, or social media and radio monitoring in Uganda and Somalia; women’s digital inclusion in the constitution-making process in Fiji in 2012; the risks in some situations of using any digital or electronic device for fear of imperiling the lives of interlocutors – suggest a wide range of possibilities for exploration, and add new layers of complexity with which mediators are working.
Moving forwards, the challenges mediators face remain daunting. Avenues for response are visible, but questions regarding hard politics and diverging interests at the national, regional and international level, remain. We need more, and better, process design for the kind of multi-layered mediation efforts required by multi-layered conflict. We need to pay further attention to inclusion of all kinds – involve more armed actors and regional players, more women, more youth, pay more attention to the local and to other excluded minorities and constituencies, but also to business actors – and mediators need to recognise that the impediments to reaching durable peace place a premium on incremental processes and a long term perspective. As the logical conclusion to this ambitious list, we need more mediators – men and women – with the skill, stamina and imagination to thrive in their almost impossible assignments. However, we must also recognise, openly and honestly, that in the absence of leadership from, and hard decisions by, political and military elites amongst conflict parties and those who support or might hold advantages over them, the sustainable peace that populations demand and mediators pursue will remain beyond our reach.
Title picture: Afghan youth gather at 4-day Hackathon in Kabul to create innovative solutions to curbing corruption. February 2019. UNAMA Photo/Fardin Waezi