The recent joint UN-WB report on preventing violent conflict, Pathways for Peace, highlights the need for more inclusive efforts to proactively manage the risks of violence.
As one of the authors of the report, which recommends the use of Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessment (RPBAs) for prevention purposes, I was curious as to how the model offered by the joint UN-EU-World Bank RPBA could be used earlier in the evolution of the conflict by developing joint platforms for prioritizing areas of risk and more proactive planning for addressing them. In fact, there is already much in the RPBAs that resonates with the study’s main findings. The example of Cameroon, where RPBA methodology has been used successfully to help the government respond to subnational pressures and spillover of the security and displacement crisis created by Boko Haram, suggests the value-added that this engagement approach offers for violence prevention. Other RPBAs offer examples of specific methodologies that could play an important role in shifting RPBAs upstream. For example, in Central African Republic the use of perception data was instrumental in the design and finalization of the 2016 National Plan for Recovery and Peacebuilding. As the Pathways study illustrates, statistical measures of inequalities do not always neatly correspond to the perceptions of these inequalities. Understanding perceptions, through surveys, focus groups, community mapping, or key informant interviews therefore play a critical role in targeting the groups and issues at highest risk, and building a common narrative for prioritization.
Yet, as I learned in a recent RPBA workshop in Beirut with UN and EU colleagues, the implications of shifting RPBAs further upstream, before violence has broken out, is hardly without challenges. To do so means evolving from the foundational model of conflict management. This model is based on a roughly linear peace process between two or more warring parties; it starts with fragility leading to the outbreak of violence, and concludes with a peace accord and a transitional government. Yet, as the Pathways study shows, the nature of violent conflict has shifted over the past decade towards more internationalized, protracted conflict that increasingly involves non-state actors and persists in cycles of violence of varying intensity, rarely coming to full peace or full war. In such contexts, devoid of the authorizing framework of a peace accord, a preventive RPBA implicates critical questions such as whether the important concept of national ownership requires government leadership and, if so, what role can RPBAs play when the government is part of the problem, as is often the case in sub-national conflicts, or when the legitimacy of the government is internationally contested.
We did not reach clear answers to these vexing questions during the workshop. Yet, at least two important insights emerge for more upstream RPBAs. The first is that the very decision to undertake a pre-assessment (which in turn determine the need for a full assessment) is an opportunity to improve coordination between the UN, WB, and EU, leading to a better development outcome for the client and beneficiaries. Each of the institutions carries out some form of early warning system; jointly discussing the prospective utility of a RPBA for a situation flagged through these systems is an excellent opportunity to develop more collective forms of risk assessment as per the Pathways recommendations. Moreover, agreement between the three largest multilateral organizations on the need to target emerging risks in a particular situation will be critical to overcoming the absence of an authorizing framework created by a peace deal.
Second, given that governments may be uninterested or averse to dialogue on potentially sensitive issues, the shift to prevention means expanding beyond the traditional conceptions of stakeholders to include civil society, the private sector, and even non-state actors where they play a governance role.
The RPBA methodology is increasingly attentive to this dynamic, and is continually learning and evolving to address fragility in moments of transition to prevent the outbreak of conflict. The recent implementation of the methodology in Zimbabwe highlights the turn towards these important considerations. The methodology has been deployed early in order to coordinate the work of the three organizations, and even in these early stages, the assessment team has attempted to both consult with a broad range of stakeholders, including civil society, academia and the private sector.
The training demonstrated that the methodology is flexible, has buy-in from three major developmental institutions, and can contribute positively towards the priorities identified in the Pathways for Peace study.