Peaceful societies are built on their ability to manage competing interests in ways that are seen as broadly fair and legitimate. In places which are emerging from violent conflict, at risk of conflict, or in conflict, a great deal hangs on the process of decision-making. Peace requires compromise and the accommodation of different interests. This can only be achieved if decisions – and the processes by which they are reached – are seen as legitimate by everyone.
Sadly, many crucial decisions are still made behind firmly closed doors. While there is sometimes a need for secrecy, when decisions are taken without consulting or informing a wider group of people – and sometimes without even understanding their concerns – they often fail to overcome the conflicts they were intended to address.
Even when peace negotiations succeed in stemming the immediate violence, they often put to one side a range of difficult issues that leave key conflicts and tensions unresolved. The Dayton Accords in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan and South Sudan are two examples. By contrast, in countries that have been more successful in gradually building more peaceful societies, such as Northern Ireland, people from across the spectrum emphasise that one of the most fundamental lessons was to exclude no one.
Saferworld works in a number of conflict-affected countries to enable marginalised or excluded groups to participate in policy- and decision-making. The aim is to ensure that political processes – both those that relate directly to peace and those in other areas that have an impact on conflict dynamics – are inclusive and legitimate. This means helping to create the space and structures for participation, and supporting people to engage in policy- and decision-making in an informed and constructive way. In parallel we carry out research and advocacy to improve decision-makers’ understanding of local people’s needs and fears, particularly of groups that are marginalised.
In Somalia, with its long history of violent conflict and an ineffective state, the political process has been dominated by a small elite of contested legitimacy and little accountability. In this context, since 2004 Saferworld has been working to strengthen the capacities and confidence of Somali non-state actors to participate effectively in processes of policy- and decision-making. We do this both through support for the development of robust and representative non-state actor platforms, and by helping non-state actors to identify and articulate their concerns and turn them into policy proposals. By this means Saferworld has contributed to a more inclusive and democratic political process in Somalia. A recent independent evaluation of this work confirmed that “the NSA platforms now enjoy widespread legitimacy and are routinely relied upon by government and the international community for consultation on the key issues facing Somalia”.
In Georgia, political processes tend to be dominated by the strong nationalist government. Although there is a relatively well-established civil society, this is often characterised as an ‘NGO elite’ with a Tbilisi-centric focus. Since 2009, we have supported civil society groups from Georgia’s diverse regions to develop their own analyses of conflict and security risks that reflect local dynamics. These served as the basis for developing regional peacebuilding stratgies. Saferworld then supported the civil society groups to present their security concerns to Georgian decision-makers, at national and regional level, and to advocate their strategies for peacebuilding.
In Yemen, a handful of powerful elite figures control much of the political, economic and military power in the country. In 2011, hundreds of thousands of young men and women took to the streets to demand a more just and equal political system. Since former President Saleh stepped down in late 2011, Saferworld has been working to ensure the transition process in Yemen is more inclusive and responsive to the needs and concerns of young men and women. Our work has three main components: research into young people’s perceptions and priorities for Yemen’s transition at local and national level to inform evidence-based advocacy; workshops to strengthen the advocacy capacity of select youth leaders and help them develop stronger, more inclusive networks across Yemen; and building constructive relations between youth leaders and Yemeni decision-makers so that young people can bring their concerns, insights and experiences to bear on politics.