In our world today, there are several conflicts and wars driven by zero sum political games. This challenges peace everywhere. More than ever improvements to the work of developmental cooperation in conflict transformation and peacebuilding is needed. This means that we need to revisit what the terms “conflict transformation” and “peacebuilding mean, discuss how we can transform power within them, and learn from past failures and successes. These terms often lose their impact as they are misused as a tool for international relations posturing, and by governments and UN agencies to politicise development work. In a sense, development and peacebuilding are political in nature but should not be used by short term agendas of governments interests.
Before I delve deeper into the discussion of the future of what developmental cooperation and peacebuilding could look like, I would like to introduce several different definitions for Peacebuilding and highlight how peacebuilding processes are affected by the varying approaches governmental and non-governmental institutions adopt as a result of the definition.
The term “peacebuilding” is defined by the United Nations as “strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, to lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development.” The organization Conciliation Resources on the other hand defines it as a long process centred around the dialogue of different social groups and transformation. The focus here is on social change, driven by community’s own agency. According to International Alert peacebuilding is also a dialogue process that involves reconciliation “peacebuilding is done collaboratively, at local, national, regional, and international levels. Individuals, communities, civil society organisations, governments, regional bodies, and the private sector all play a role in building peace.”
The contrast in perspectives on the process is quite evident in these definitions, while the UN mostly takes a hard security measure/approach, exclusive to governments, other organisations see it as a collaborative effort centred around dialogue among different groups at different levels. I tend to agree with them. I see “peacebuilding” as a holistic process in which communities and individuals contribute to building an infrastructure for peace. This means addressing root causes on multiple levels and across sectors. Peacebuilding as I see it, is a continuous process since it serves as both preventative of conflict and constructive for structural and societal transformation.
Now to address development cooperation; in many parts of the world this is still viewed strictly as international aid. This is a narrow understanding, since development cooperation is very much all the processes that are designed and implemented to support a country in development. The Development Cooperation Forum has set three functions or tasks; 1/Support development efforts of countries to provide universal social basic standards, 2/ Promoting the alleviation of poverty, 3/ supporting countries efforts to participate actively in the provision of international public goods. The forum also sets criteria for engagement in development cooperation, which allows for easier categorisation of activities.
Where is “peacebuilding” in this you might wonder? I would say all of them. There is a tendency in the conversation around development and programming to separate “topics” or “fields” of development. This I see, does more harm, since social/political issues are often interconnected and feed or fuel conflicts and so they should not be viewed independently. This would bring me to my next point, and to pose these questions that challenge our perception of power in development cooperation. Who defines what “peacebuilding” and “development cooperation” mean for the south? Who sets the priorities for development programs and decide what should be the focus? The answers unfortunately lay in main offices in Europe or North America, often set by civil servants for the “Global South” with little to no interactions with the contexts in question.
I would like to start by highlighting that the language used here to refer to countries in Africa, Asia, and South America as undeveloped is based on stereotypes as well as a form of othering that is meant to highlight Europe and North America as “developed”. There is little questioning around the validity of these claims. The terminology indicate the type of relationship of development cooperation. These terms must be challenged and reframed to address power imbalance.
The adopted approach also ensures that “developed” countries are in control of funding and decide unilaterally what issues should be addressed and who is targeted. This is changing slightly in the recent years, with international organisations attempting to bridge between their “local” partners and donors. However, at the heart of it, the process remains very much colonial in character. It simultaneously decide for the people in the “global south” what their priorities are and ignores the role these governments take in the various conflicts as both contributing factors and perpetrators of different forms of violence.
Decolonising Peacebuilding – why is that the future of cooperation
Over the past years, there has been an increase in decolonial initiatives that target security, migration, and economy among other issues. To decolonise means to remove the colonial worldview and to change dysfunctional systems that benefit and operate on colonial legacy. The Black Lives Matter movement have prompted a discussion to examine colonial thinking within the Peacebuilding field. Decolonisation of the Peacebuilding field means to allow for even broader voices affected by colonial structures to contribute to the transformation of said structures. It also means shifting and changing the design of peace processes and programs so that impacted social groups can set the priorities for the various issues. The process of decolonisation means a massive shift first in thinking of how Peacebuilding can be but also engaging with an even wider range of stakeholders.
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, to decolonise is to be critical of existing structures and question what benefits whom. Hegemonic power is always at the heart of such questioning, and on the long run, empowered communities are more able to sustainably resolve their issues than any third actor will, no matter how well funded they are. More research and learning must happen so we would know how this process could look like. Better, yet knowledge that is produced from countries that are still facing the consequences of colonial legacy.
International organisations and donors must review the bureaucratic process of their programming, to shift its mindset from having implementers to -actual- partners and stakeholders. Development cooperation is an important multilateral diplomacy exercise, it has the potential to bring people together in spite of their differences. But only if third actors or supporting communities are aware of their role and power.
“Decolonising Peacebuilding – Berghof Foundation.” https://berghof-foundation.org/library/decolonising-peacebuilding (May 16, 2022).
“Preparing for Post-2015 and 2016 DCF Objectives of Development Cooperation.” www.un.org/ecosoc/dcf (May 16, 2022).
“Terminology | United Nations Peacekeeping.” https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/terminology (May 16, 2022).
“What Is Peacebuilding? | Conciliation Resources.” https://www.c-r.org/who-we-are/why-peacebuilding/what-peacebuilding (May 16, 2022).
“What Is Peacebuilding? – International Alert.” https://www.international-alert.org/about/what-is-peacebuilding/ (May 16, 2022).
 (Terminology | United Nations Peacekeeping n.d.)
 (What is peacebuilding? | Conciliation Resources n.d.)
 (What is peacebuilding? – International Alert n.d.)
 (Preparing for post-2015 and 2016 DCF Objectives of development cooperation n.d.)
 (Decolonising peacebuilding – Berghof Foundation n.d.)