Every year, war and armed conflict affect the lives of many. According to a 2017 estimate by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 40 active inter- and intra-state conflicts around the world resulted in 167,000 fatalities in 2015.
Armed conflict destroys human life, but its consequences go beyond the loss of life. As scholars of conflict argue, war is a development problem because war is often triggered by inequality and resource competition. War leads to refugee issues, infrastructure devastation, long-term social, political, economic, and environmental instability.
Peace creates conditions for development so productive ways to build peace and prevent conflict are needed. As suggested in a 2015 Guardian article, this is particularly evident now due to the increasing aversion of Western states and allies to intervene in armed conflict and build peace outside their borders. Because of this, peacebuilding and violence prevention in the future may increasingly need to be driven by those local to conflict.
As scholars and practitioners of political violence prevention in West Africa and Central America, we have witnessed the benefits of locally led peacebuilding. Our involvement as members of the Purdue Peace Project (PPP), a political violence prevention initiative collaborating with individuals in El Salvador, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria, has shown that an effective way to address conflict, build security, stability, and economic resilience in vulnerable places, is locally led peacebuilding.
Locally led peacebuilding is “an approach in which the people involved in, and most affected by, violent conflict work together to create and enact their own solutions to prevent, reduce, and/or transform the conflict.” The term “local” refers to those in country versus international agencies or outside actors. “Local” also means the inhabitants of a community or region in conflict in contrast to national-level organizations. In locally led peacebuilding, outsiders are those not immediately affected by the conflict (e.g., academics, NGOs, aid workers, funders). In an interconnected world where global factors may contribute to local conflicts, the role of outsiders is to encourage and support the efforts of locals leading peacebuilding.
Our experiences in West Africa and Central America demonstrate that locally led peacebuilding offers the potential to address situations that lead to underdevelopment and insecurity. We refer to two examples from PPP’s work to demonstrate how this is possible:
Chieftaincy Dispute, Tuobodom, Ghana
For decades, the people of Tuobodom, a town in the Brong Ahafo Region in central Ghana, have lived in conflict over a chieftaincy dispute between two royal families. Over the years, this conflict has resulted in loss of life and injuries. It has contributed to a general state of fear in the community. Tuobodom citizens have been unable to find employment because of stigma associated with being from Tuobodom. The conflict has also led to underdevelopment in the town. In August 2016, with support from PPP, local citizens brought together representatives of the two factions. Chiefs, elders, religious leaders, politicians, youth, and other community members engaged in peacebuilding by coming together for the first time in decades. The mere act of coming together in one place to dialogue about how to resolve the conflict was symbolic of the potential for peace. Recent peace activities in Tuobodom (e.g., soccer tournaments, concerts, a peace march), that bring together citizens from both factions are new opportunities to inspire unity and a peaceful Tuobodom that can grow economically.
Violence Associated with Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Liberia
In 2013, the PPP convened a group of Liberians employed as pen-pen drivers (motorcycle taxi drivers), among others. Together, these drivers formed a local peace committee called the Pen-Pen Peace Network (PPPN) to promote peace among pen-pen drivers, many of whom fought during the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003). Pen-pen drivers contribute to the Liberian economy. However, pen-pen drivers have been involved in armed robberies, mob violence before and during political elections, and conflicts with the Liberia National Police (LNP) and customers. Since 2014, the PPPN has been designing and implementing activities to promote peaceful behavior among pen-pen drivers, engaged them in their Ebola prevention campaign, and are now working with pen-pen drivers in several counties towards peaceful 2017 general elections. So far, the PPPN’s efforts achieved collaborative relationships between pen-pen drivers and the LNP, as well as more peaceful behaviors among the pen-pen and others involved with them. Such contributions have supported stability around a key sector of the Liberian economy.
We do not argue that locally led approaches to peacebuilding are the solution to all conflict and instability. We recognize the challenges of locally led peacebuilding. However, we have observed the importance of local ownership of conflict and its solutions. Locally led approaches have the potential to bring peace and foster stability that may contribute to resilience and development over time.
About the authors: Liliya Yakova, PhD, is the Associate Director of Operations of the Purdue Peace Project, Purdue University, USA. Stacey Connaughton is the Director of the Purdue Peace Project and an Associate Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, Purdue University, USA.