Fragile states and post conflict peace building (Keith Sargent)

Over the last ten years Keith Sargent has been increasingly involved in the post-conflict reconstruction of fragile states. This has led him to undertake research at the Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies. Here he describes some of the issues that he has been confronting.

Since my assignment to Bosnia at the beginning of 1996 – two months after the signing of the Dayton peace Accord – my interest in the problems of fragile states and recovery post conflict has increased considerably. This interest has been furthered by a number of factors. I have had to travel more to fragile and post conflict environs in recent years than to those that are stable. There has been an unprecedented increase in the incidence of violent conflict post Cold War (in Africa alone there have been conflicts in Darfur, the DRC, the Congo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Burundi, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, to name but some). A new development lexicon has evolved, with references to state building, peace building, stabilisation, transformational development, and other words and phrases that are often variously understood and interpreted, and quite often misunderstood. And, the Duty of Care assumed by the British Government has meant that professionals that wish to work in insecure situations have to have new, heightened emergency awareness skills, to enable them to take care of themselves (and their colleagues) in conflict and post conflict environs. The result is that my professional and personal interests have coalesced in such a way that I have commenced research at the new Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies. My particular concern will be with post conflict policy and strategy, and the gap between nation building and stabilisation approaches – to-date, largely driven by external concerns – and those of effective peace building.

In recognition of the need for greater joined up thinking and working in response to conflict, as well as to mitigate the potential for conflicts to develop, the British Government has recently created what has been called the Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit, (its name may change in the near future). This Unit - supported by DFID, the FCO and the MoD – has in part been catalysed by a recognition that Government’s response to post conflict planning for Iraq was less than adequate and in part the recognition of the inevitability of continuing armed conflicts globally. Its relatively broad remit currently encompasses (though is not confined to) stabilisation and security related activities in Somalia, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Iraq; consideration of how to deal with other emerging crises; and the running of a data base of Deployable Civilian Experts (DCEs) – a group of civilians who have various developmental and recovery expertise; who have been security cleared and specially trained; and, who are generally willing and able to deploy to hostile environments, sometimes at quite short notice.

I am now registered on the data base. Though I had received some emergency and first aid training prior to my deployment to Iraq in January 2004, I had to undergo intensive DCE training to provide “a raised degree of security awareness including anticipating and reacting appropriately to the most prevalent threats and most likely situations that (delegates) may encounter”. This covered risk assessment and reconnaissance; security planning; equipment needs and equipment security; negotiation skills; working with close protection teams; driving in hostile environments; dealing with security incidents including hostage taking and emergency evacuation; first aid, (everything from stemming arterial bleeding to resuscitation); and, many other smaller but important matters. Perhaps the biggest lesson for me, however, was that anyone thinking of deploying to hostile environments to work must receive such training.

Also this summer I attended the 7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government. Organised by the UN Department for Social and Economic Affairs, and held in Vienna, it focused on the Building Trust in Government. Plenary session speakers included Mdme. Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS), and Mary Robinson, ex UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and ex President of Ireland. My interest, however, focused particularly on the Workshop sessions concerning Governance Challenges in Crisis and Post Conflict Situations. There were five main themes: Governance, public administration and the delivery of services; Security a prerequisite for recovery; Recovery of judicial services; Constructing conflict sensitive constitutions; and, Conflict prevention through redistributive justice.

The full conclusions of the workshop can be viewed on the UNPAN Website, however, a few stand out in my mind and are worthy of reference. First, matters that require critical review, particularly the invariable lack of cohesion between actors involved with diplomacy, defence and development – this was particularly my experience of Iraq. Second a range of basic principles that were expounded, including but not confined to, the need to address poverty reduction in harmony with security sector reform; the need to re-establish trust between security institutions and the public; and the importance of ownership and thus dialogue between all parties effected by conflict. Finally, an inconclusive but important debate that needs to be continued: it relates to whether elections should be held in order to secure legitimacy at an early stage or whether they should be deferred (and if so by how much) in order for adequate time to be allowed for primary gains to be achieved from the recovery / reconstruction effort. Whilst the jury is still out on this debate – and any answer must be critically dependent upon context - it is my contention that for Iraq, elections should have been deferred and the Coalition Provisional Authority given more time to demonstrate that real and positive gains to all sides would be provided following the conflict.

My proposed research into the area of policy and strategy articulation for post conflict environments will amongst other things take into consideration such issues, principles and debate as raised above, and will draw on case studies of peace building in Muslim states.

The views expressed in 'Recent News & Reflections' are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any of the governments, organisations or agencies with whom they have been working.