Monday 23 December 2019

Peace in the Triple Nexus: a response

Development Initiatives have produced a thought-provoking blog on “the Nexus”; which sounds like an exciting new film for Christmas, but is instead a reference to the triple nexus idea of humanitarian, development and peace (HDP) programming; and the challenges of bridging what are sometimes contradictory strands together across institutional, disciplinary and political divides.

While their main conclusion is that peace funding needs to be scaled up in order for coherent HDP programming to be realised, I thought the article also risked repeating some of the conceptual barriers that still seem to bedevil the chances of achieving that coherence. So in an attempt to add some constructive criticism here are some thoughts.

The problem here, for me, is how peacebuilding itself is conceptualised. Here are the authors:
“HDP programmes tend to work from different departure points. For humanitarians this can broadly be characterised as saving lives; for peacebuilding, as stability and security; and for development as opportunities for addressing poverty”. 
Peacebuilding is not about stability and security; it is about a long term and inevitably convoluted, contested and complex journey towards establishing the basis by which conflict can be managed without recourse to violence. This will frequently include aspects of how resources and wealth are distributed, the extent to which economic growth is inclusive, and to which institutions are effective but also perceived as legitimate and, ultimately, how contestation can be carried out through peaceful means. And while stabilisation is very much an essential part of breaking what are often cyclical conflict systems, complete with their own political economies, you can’t divorce your initial response from the longer-term factors likely to impact on the potential for longer term peace. There are dilemmas and trade-offs throughout, which span the three HDP strands. Therefore locking ourselves conceptually into a “peace = security/stability” box undermines the real extent to which HDP is ever possible. Because *all* not only *some* programming is political.

This article implies essentially that of the three strands, only peace programming is political. The authors state:
“Peacebuilding in most of its forms is a political enterprise” 
They also, in reference to OECD DAC’s ‘3 Cs – Collaboration, Coherence, Complementarity – state:
“They could be viewed as a spectrum with the humanitarian-peace nexus at the lower end with a minimum expectation of complementarity; the development-peace nexus in the middle; and the more established and less contentious humanitarian-development nexus at the higher end between collaboration and coherence”. 
Taken together this is depressing stuff. The idea that humanitarian work is not political or is somehow less contentious is surely not borne out by experience on the ground. Injecting what are often huge amounts of resources into a situation that has frequently arisen out of violent conflict, and is thus charecterised by competing groups, will always be intensely political. It will and does create winners and losers. It will and does run the risk of becoming instrumentalised by elites, both from among the target population or their surrounding host communities or governments.

But the really depressing point for me here is about expectations: relegating the humanitarian-peace nexus to the ‘lower end’ with “…a minimum expectation of complementarity” (and presumably not therefore much in the way of coherence or collaboration) is likely to make those risks more, not less likely.

The authors do however highlight some of the learning that has emerged on Nexus programming elsewhere; including the importance of factoring in analytical lenses on conflict sensitivity, the identification of peace dividends alongside immediate humanitarian need and thinking about how the design of immediate responses help or hinder long term developmental and/or peace outcomes. I would think building on those insights would require thinking that reverses the expectations outlined by our authors and makes the case for looking at all three HDP strands at each and every stage. 

Like any conversation worth having this is likely to be a difficult and challenging one, in order to get to the nub of how actors from humanitarian, developmental and peacebuilding backgrounds could and should work in a collaborative, coherent and complementary way. It’s a goal well worth aiming for, and DI deserve real credit in opening some of these questions up to debate. 

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Innovative finance, conflict, ... and peace?

Can private finance unlock potential to help break cycles of conflict and build durable stability and peace? Pertinent questions posed in a thought-provoking article from Donata Garrasi from the Office of the UN’s Special Representative to the Great Lakes; and someone I had the great pleasure of working with during her time as the Coordinator of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding & Statebuilding.

The article highlights some recent scholarship from Georgia Keohane, Capital and the Common Good, and argues persuasively that if we were able to create and sustain FDI flows into the markets of fragile states in the form of social impact investments, supported by a screening process to ensure conflict sensitivity and human rights principles were not compromised, together with a knowledge platform to capture learning as we go; then this would represent a chance to generate both economic and peace dividends.

It’s a compelling prospect and it’s fair to say dogmatic arguments about private investment not being part of the development space are now largely in the past. Donors are rightly looking at innovative ways in which these public private partnerships could or should work and there have been strong proponents on both sides of the fence; Paul Polman arguably having been one of the more prominent business voices in recent times.

And yet. My main challenge to the thinking in this article is that it is so clearly written from the vantage point of the pinnacle of the UN system. For example, the Bretton Woods institutions’ creation at the end of WWII are cited thus:
“The intent was to use financial institutions to further economic development and prosperity and create global stability – the ultimate public good. In other words: economic development for stability; just what is needed today”. 
This is true to an extent. But the institutions were also designed to seal the new power dynamics that had emerged in the West following the conflict, as the world emerged from the colonial era into the new bi-polar world that would assume the contours of the Cold War soon afterwards.

The article cites the need for a ‘knowledge platform’:
“…that would bring together investors with a multi-disciplinary community of practice dedicated to enhancing investment in fragile countries”. 
It suggests the World Economic Forum or the OECD as hosts, and calls for visionary leaders from North and South to set the course. But we’re not short of visionary leaders, including from the South, and those who combine public and private sector spheres; such as these women from Bangladesh. Why do these platforms always have to sit in Northern institutions; be they set amid snow-topped Swiss mountains or Parisian boulevards? 

I listened to a fascinating podcast this morning, which focused on political settlements and why some peace deals fail or falter. Both Jonathan Cohen, of Conciliation Resources, and Jan Egeland, S-G of the Norwegian Refugee Council and longstanding architect and supporter of peace accords over 20 years, spoke powerfully about the gritty, grainy realities of why some fighters return to the gun. What united their perspectives was what happens when young men and women who have demobilised, taken the first tentative steps out of fighting, find that they have nothing to transition meaningfully towards, whether that is employment, a role with dignity or both. 

There's also a distinct absence in the article of any reference to the governance challenges likely to dominate any post-conflict environment. Endemic corruption, rampant elite capture and the routine use of violence as a means of sustaining access to resources are not issues that can be 'screened' for and dealt with easily, particularly if there are investments at stake. The level of trust this engenders was to me captured by visceral comments made to me by civil society activists in Liberia almost 7 years to the day, as they sought to support their own growth into long term peace through the New Deal. This is perhaps why investments of a less scrupulous nature are also a long standing feature of these environments.

As both Jonathan and Jan noted there are examples where economic growth has played an important and positive role, in providing alternatives for former combatants, marginalised groups and others; but this isn’t the uniform experience. Grounding conversations in how to generate economic growth that supports long -term peace to me means locating those conversations in those environments, where they can draw on the reality of the contexts being discussed. And with each of them being unique in their own right, it’s likely uniform approaches of the type normally associated with discussions emerging from the high peaks of finance are unlikely to have the traction they would need to succeed.

Clear-eyed conversations, grounded in gritty realities but with the ambition Donata rightly outlines for harnessing the power of growth – now there’s a winning investment..

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Peter da Costa: Teacher, mentor, visionary and friend

This morning I had the sad privilege of attending the memorial of Peter da Costa, along with some of his family and friends here in London. Taking place in the suitably grand surroundings of Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, we said goodbye to a teacher, a visionary and passionate advocate for the rise of Africa and all its people. With the word ‘all’ being the important one.

I’ve never written an obituary before, and by comparison to the heartfelt and beautiful contributions this morning it won’t compare. But many of you knew Peter as did I, as a co-conspirator, a colleague and a friend with whom we conjured up ideas and tried to find ways to bridge divides and try doing old things in new ways. For those of us trying to contribute to peace, to fairness and human progress he was in my view the sort of person humanity desperately needs more of, but of whom it has so few. Amid the sadness however, and Peter would be the first to say this, his ideas remain with us even if their progenitor does not. We can all build on them.

Peter was a man of amazing combinations. A fierce intellect, reflected in an academic record that broke new ground, combined with a deeply human, humble and empathetic approach. The happiest I ever saw Peter was when he was drawing ideas out of people who hadn’t had the chances he’d had, couldn’t articulate them in the same language, but did have the qualifications of experience and a willingness to share it.

A profound sense of pride, particularly in the younger people he worked with and whose potential he sought to bring out, particularly in the form of partners supported by the Hewlett Foundation, for whom he worked as an advisor. Yet this was often combined with a lack of tolerance for what he perceived as laziness, from whomsoever it came. I think in hindsight he couldn’t stand the idea of people not contributing what he could see they were able to, in the mission to which he was so committed.

But in that mission, which I would describe clumsily as Africa finally emerging as a continent among equals, with all of its people – women every bit as much as men – able to reach their potential, he exhibited another combination. A depth of kindness and non-judgmental empathy to those around him, together with a fierce lack of tolerance for corruption or the abuse of power, from whomsoever that emerged.

Peter understood and spoke the languages of different tribes in the development world. Technology. Political economy. Innovation. Data. Evidence. Power. Conflict & peacebuilding. That he could combine them and see new ways for them to work together was reflected in his many achievements. He broke boundaries and silos, persuaded governments, pushed through sheer stubbornness and supported initiatives that stood the test of time, such as the Africa Data Consensus. He was a revolutionary who sought to take people with him.

One of my last memories of Peter was standing in a Nairobi nightclub. Over the impossibly loud music, and thudding, floor shaking bass, Peter was trying to outline a thought on something to do with political economy. An absurd situation, and I’m afraid I moved the conversation on to football instead. He rolled his eyes, but with the familiar twitches of a wry smile. A microcosm of Peter – high expectations, a fearsome intellect, but all the while deeply human.

I thought of him earlier this week as I saw the sun come up over Hyde Park. It’s not enough to never forget Peter, he’d want more than that. Take his ideas and example forward. I know I’ll try to.