There is broad agreement within the United Nations and among peacemakers generally that lasting peace is not possible without the participation of those affected by conflict in the search for a solution. Inclusivity is key to building legitimate governments in a post-conflict setting. But is there such a thing as too much inclusivity? During a recent visit to New York, where he spoke at a meeting hosted by DPPA’s Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), Dr. Daisaku Higashi, Professor at the Sophia University of Tokyo in Japan, sat down with Politically Speaking to explore that and other questions. Dr. Higashi has written extensively on inclusivity in peace and peacebuilding processes. Based on his field research in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and East Timor, he argues that there needs to be a differentiated understanding of inclusivity in different phases of peace processes.
How do you measure inclusivity? When is a process considered inclusive?
Dr. Daisaku Higashi: I always argue that it is very difficult to actually measure inclusivity – there are many different types of inclusivity. But it’s relatively easy to identify exclusion, whether political, social, economic or religious. When you start excluding some specific group in the nation-building process, in many cases, it results in the resumption of the conflict very quickly. This was proven in the case of Afghanistan, Iraq and also in South Sudan. History demonstrates that when you have very robust exclusion against a political or ethnic group, of course, they feel that they are marginalized because they cannot participate in the political process, and they might think the only way to make their voices heard is to fight. I think that is a good way to see inclusivity.
You say that flexibility is needed on inclusivity. What do you mean by that?
I have been a very strong advocate for inclusivity in post-conflict peacebuilding. One of the conclusions of my research in Afghanistan and in East Timor in 2008 was that inclusivity is one of the key factors to determine success or failure of peacebuilding in a post-conflict situation.
But sometimes we need to differentiate between inclusivity in mediation processes and inclusivity in post-conflict peacebuilding. I was involved in the drafting of the new UN General Assembly resolution on mediation that was adopted in 2014 when I worked for the Japanese mission to the UN as Minister-Counsellor. All Member States agreed on the importance of inclusivity in the implementation phase of a peace agreement. There was some debate on whether to expand that to also include the importance of inclusivity in the mediation process, but a substantive number of Member States argued that it was risky because it might limit the flexibility of the UN mediator to get to a peace agreement.
This conclusion is reflected in several mediation cases. For example, in South Sudan, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African organization which mediated on South Sudan, started the High-Level Revitalization Forum in 2017 to revive the stalled 2015 peace agreement. It was important for IGAD to, this time, include not only the factions of Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, but also 20 other groups, including women and youth. And I don’t think it was a mistake, I agree that it was a necessary process. But in Addis Ababa with that large number of representatives at the end of 2017 and in the first six months of 2018, they could not find any agreement. They were able to voice their positions, but it was very difficult to find a concrete agreement.
At the end of the day, IGAD decided that they needed to bring Riek Machar and Salva Kiir together to find a basic agreement first, and then they could go and broaden the support for the other groups. So, in June 2018, Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed invited both to Addis Ababa. They had a discussion, but they couldn’t agree. Prime Minister Ahmed then requested the other big neighbor, Sudan, to mediate. Omar al Bashir accepted. He invited both Kiir and Machar to Khartoum. Bashir realized that he had some leverage over Machar, because he had supported him for a long time. But he did not have much leverage over President Salva Kiir, who had been supported by Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda. So, Bashir requested Mr. Museveni’s presence. Both Bashir and Museveni came together to convince Kiir and Machar to make some agreement in Khartoum. They had intense discussions and they reached a framework agreement. Afterwards, they did outreach to the other South Sudanese groups and after making some revisions to the agreement, they also signed this comprehensive agreement in September 2018 (except for a few opposition groups, one of which is still fighting now).
I think this process demonstrates that, yes, it is important to have some inclusive negotiation framework first, and it is good for many representatives to be able to voice their opinions; however, if it’s difficult to reach an agreement, we need to have recognition that sometimes peace agreements need to be flexible on participation and inclusivity. You might need to have an influential group meet and reach some agreement first, and then do outreach to the other groups. We cannot think inclusivity is like an ideological goal – it’s one of the questions that we always need to think about – but at the same time, to make some peace agreements possible, it might be necessary to have some flexibility on that.
What role has the UN had in ensuring inclusivity in peace processes? Can you give examples?
In the peace agreement in 1999 in Sierra Leone, participation of the RUF, the Revolutionary United Front, in the national elections in 2002 was guaranteed. They transformed RUF into the RUF/P, a political party, and participated in the national elections. But because they were quite notorious for the harsh attacks against institutions and civilians, they were not very popular. They didn’t get very many votes, but if the process had excluded RUF from the beginning, many experts say, that there would have been big problems, including the risk of relapse. One time, I think in 2000, the leader of RUF, Foday Saybana Sankoh, captured some 500 UN peacekeepers, which I think was the biggest threat for the peace process in Sierra Leone. Interestingly, there were not many RUF members who followed Mr. Sankoh’s attempt to destroy the process. One of the reasons was that the United Nations had started a very robust DDR process with the members of the RUF. Many of them had already disarmed and had gotten some financial support or job training. They saw that the peace process helped them reintegrate into society. They also knew that they could participate in the elections as a political party. I think this was quite an important success in the history of the United Nations. The UN special political mission withdrew from Sierra Leone in 2014, and I heard that the UN Security Council members stood up and clapped on that day to acknowledge the success of that process.
The same for East Timor: East Timor had a big crisis in 2006 when President Xanana Gusmão and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri started having political fights, and then their supporters started fighting. As a result, there were about 100,000 internally displaced people. The UN peacekeeping had already withdrawn from East Timor in 2005, one year later there was this political clash. The parties requested the UN Security Council to again dispatch multinational forces to East Timor.
The United Nations was able to contain the crisis, supported an inclusive dialogue between Gusmão and Alkatiri, and in 2007, supported the conduct of national elections. Gusmão, the previous president, came back as Prime Minister, and Alkatiri became an opposition leader. Gusmão included Mari Alkatiri in almost every decision-making process, so they started having more and more confidence working together, and more and more trust in each other. Atul Khare, Special Representative for East Timor at the time (2006-2009), and afterwards Ameerah Haq (2010-2012), facilitated very important talks between Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão and Mari Alkatiri. They invited both leaders together to international conferences, so they could both get recognition from the international community for being an important part in making peace in East Timor. The UN Special Representatives really played an important role here in increasing the confidence among rival leaders, but also in facilitating a constant dialogue. I think we can learn a lot from East Timor. In 2017, I took 13 students to East Timor to interview both Gusmão and Alkatiri and they confirmed that inclusivity was crucial to finding a peaceful solution.
How can inclusivity in the implementation of a peace agreement be enhanced?
Everybody agrees that we need inclusivity, but we need instruments to do so. One of the things I propose is to create some kind of inclusive platform of dialogue, bringing together different political or ethnic groups, where they can discuss the policy on how to reform national institutions like the police or the military in the post-conflict setting. In many cases, the police and the military are perceived as biased. It’s therefore very important to reform these institutions to be perceived as national, impartial institutions. The United Nations can support that kind of national dialogue. I am hoping that some flexible UN funding can support such initiatives. I also hope that more and more Member States become interested in supporting the creation of those kinds of platforms for dialogue.
Additionally, it might be beneficial for the UN, before deploying, to gather information from context-specific experts, including from anthropologists, who have studied that country for a long time, who know the language, the culture and traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. This kind of information could be quite useful for the mission leadership to understand how they can include local and traditional leaders into the national peace process, including having discussions on how to reform national institutions.
Does the need for inclusivity extend to armed groups?
In many cases, in order to create peace, you need to include the militia or insurgents in the nation-building process. I think one of the most important things is that those militias renounce violence and agree to disarm. It’s very difficult to have a co-existence of parallel military or police structures in a country. And as long as these armed groups are seeking peaceful participation in the nation-building process, I think it’s better to include them. Of course, in the long run, there also needs to be a transitional justice process. For example, in East Timor, they used a reception, truth and reconciliation commission in which villagers who became perpetrators of light crimes in the conflict apologized to the victims, while serious criminals were prosecuted. The commission enhanced reconciliation at the community level and across the country. More than 7,000 people made statements for the commission; many of them participated in that process to discuss, to confess, to try to forgive, and sometimes some compensation was made to the victims.
Title picture: People of Yei, South Sudan, gather during a visit of UN Special Representative David Shearer, November 2018. UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis