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. 

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