“The Missing Link” is out and I am somewhat relieved – it was such a long process.
I started working on this publication more than a year and a half ago. The field research took me to Timor-Leste and Liberia, while a colleague went to Burundi. My goal was to demonstrate the relevance of public sphere dynamics to governance and political stability, particularly in countries emerging out of violent conflict, and to offer practitioners a tool-kit that would help assess and address public sphere capacities and challenges. The unrest that broke out in Timor in spring 2006 had been the trigger to this thinking. I had lived in this country during the transitional period and sensed what had gone wrong: the international community, in its desire to quickly build governance institutions, had forgotten to ensure that these were connected with the people. To the Timorese leadership, used to the hierarchical “closed” communication environment of a military resistance movement, the lack of national dialogue and a culture of “closed” institutions seemed fine. The violence of 2006 proved that they were not; the government and people of Timor paid a high price for this oversight.
Anyone who has ever lived and worked in a country that has just emerged out of conflict knows of the lethal combination of fear, weapons and rumors. It is a combination that, combined with prevalent high expectations and low trust in state institutions, generates fertile soil for peace-spoilers and their vested interest in continued unrest. Post-conflict environments are marked by high degrees of uncertainty paired with the need for important decisions: to give up arms and return to civilian life or stay in the jungle; to leave camps or stay; to invest or keep the money abroad; etc. Information in such an environment is power and those without can be easily manipulated.
In most cases, policy-makers do not recognize the centrality of communication and a national dialogue platform for stability and long-term governance. This study tries to make the point and calls for a change in current aid practices and policy.
I am happy I can now share my findings with you – have a look and tell me what you think!