Peacebuilding in Africa: What comes after?

By Maame Esi Eshun

Sustainable peace eludes many African countries. Most post-conflict societies in Africa continue to be dominated by the aftermath of war, including weak health, educational, and infrastructural systems; growing slums; power and identity issues; corruption; and a legacy of violent tendencies which often do not easily fade away. When the root causes of conflict—largely land disputes, inequalities, the quest for power, and ownership of natural resources—are not thoroughly dealt with, violence can reoccur even after peace has been restored.

At the core of many of these issues is a lack of inclusivity in peacebuilding efforts. While recognizing the numerous reconstruction programs, there is limited evidence of reconstruction programs that continue to support the reintegration of all members of society to cope with the difficult and long-term process of transformation even after peace is restored. It is therefore imperative that in promoting sustainable peace, the physical, social, economic, and psychological wellbeing of all members of society are catered for. But how do we ensure that all members of society—men, women, and youth—are well supported for successful reintegration into society and adaptation to the change in the status quo in the ‘next phase’ after peacebuilding? What happens to these groups after peacebuilding, and how can post-peacebuilding challenges be addressed to prevent fueling tensions and conflicts?

What Happens After the Peace Process?

A study by Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda revealed that the aftereffects of conflict are gender differentiated (and often involve a change in gender roles), a fact that has serious implications for attaining sustainable peace.

Men have unique needs during the peacebuilding period that are often not sufficiently addressed. In Northern Uganda, for instance, changes in gender roles after the peace process left men disempowered, and agriculture, which used to be a primary economic activity for men, was no longer a viable option for them because farmlands and crops were devastated during the conflict. In situations like this, some men take on new roles in the household as women became the new breadwinners. In cases where men lose their livelihoods, the resulting idleness and loss of their role as the breadwinner of the family can lead to stress, depression, and even violence. Men often find it difficult to cope with disempowerment. As International Alert puts it, “violence is a means for men to assert themselves at a time of great social change and personal disempowerment.”

Due to entrenched cultural norms in which men are not expected to display emotion, men’s feelings are suppressed. For men that were involved in brutal violence and killing, the psychological impact and inability to cope with the depression and stress related to the trauma of flashbacks can lead to domestic violence, while some may contemplate or commit suicide. Research has shown that in Somalia, men have been adversely affected psychologically by the widespread break-up of families and prolonged separation from their spouses and children due to war and conflict.

For many women, the end of conflict and the restoration of peace do not herald an end to violence at home. Sometimes the trauma and frustration of their marriage partners are projected on them; hence rates of rape and assault may increase. Although women may strengthen their position within the household and community after conflict, there is often pressure on them to return to a more limited range of activities during and after the peacebuilding period. Even after peace has been restored, women may be subjected to displacement and resettlement in urban slums. And many still suffer from pre-conflict legacies of gender and income inequalities, with limited access to education, property, and land rights, especially in situations where men continue to control economic resources or resist women’s empowerment. Other conflict-affected women, especially the widowed, also face difficulties in accessing their properties and lands to support their reintegration.

Young people are also vulnerable in the period after peacebuilding, whether they are direct or indirect victims of conflict. With burgeoning social and economic changes in the post-peacebuilding period, many youth face the prospect of not being able to continue their education or build a livelihood. Studies have shown that when youth remain polarized and excluded, and when they lack legitimate channels for participation in society, they gravitate more towards peer groups that engage in disruptive and violent actions. In 2007, a Global Witness study found a continuing trend of youth marginalization in Liberia and enduring tension in the face of increased corruption. In Somalia, both male and female youth continue to lack access to school facilities, and often complain of an ‘emptiness,’ which some try to fill through drug abuse. If the basic needs of the youth—such as educational attainment, health care, and jobs—are not met, then countries risk youth grievances driving further conflict.

The above developments point to several conclusions: (1) even after peace is restored and stability achieved, underlying risks can still spark tensions and conflicts; (2) peacebuilding initiatives must target the root causes of conflicts through an integrated set of physical, social, economic, political, psychological, and structural interventions; and (3) peacebuilding and state-building initiatives must aim to create a transformed state that provides opportunities for and supports the reintegration of all citizens—men, women, and youth.

Addressing Post-Peacebuilding Challenges

Restructuring Societal Norms and Rebuilding Social Capital

Peacebuilding interventions should be geared towards restoring strained relationships within families by enforcing positive and respectful relationships and ensuring respect for human and civil rights. To be effective, peacebuilding initiatives must start at the family level by restoring social capital and the values, relationships, and trust that sustain it, while addressing traditional norms, values, and behaviors for a complete reintegration of indigenes into their families and communities. This should be encouraged not just through international and national peacebuilding initiatives, but also through community engagement and grassroots reconciliation with the involvement of individuals and household heads acting as agents of change in their communities.

Addressing the Vulnerabilities and Disempowerment of Both Men and Women

Post-conflict peacebuilding requires careful attention to the vulnerabilities of men. While peacebuilding programs and donor concerns are often focused on strategies to empower women, missed opportunities to engage demobilized men could be a long-term strategic oversight. To complement programs on women, peacebuilding initiatives should focus on helping men cope with the possibility of changed gender roles and on healing trauma. This can be done through interventions that provide mental and physical health support services to both men and women recovering from the trauma associated with violence, and to those who have been ostracized from their communities.

Engaging the Youth as Social Actors

The continued engagement of youth is essential for sustainable peace. Young people demonstrate more openness to change, feedback, and learning and are more future-oriented, more idealistic and innovative, and more willing to take risks than adults. It is imperative to identify and address the specific needs and priorities of young people during and after peacemaking through initiatives and platforms targeted at building their capacity while heeding their opinions. Building the capacity of youth should begin by making primary and secondary education and vocational training easily accessible. Peacebuilding initiatives should also be developed with input from youth, and include avenues, capacity-building workshops, and training programs that communicate opportunities and encourage youth to create innovative sources of livelihoods. This will enhance the creation of employment opportunities.

Structural and Infrastructural Changes

International actors, donors, and development assistance should focus on providing long-term support to state-building and reconstruction, especially in the educational and health sectors. Schools need to be rehabilitated for children to return, and health facilities and services must be rebuilt and made accessible and affordable, especially to the deprived and vulnerable. Investments in health, education, and capacity-building are critical for successful participation in economic and state institutions. Investment in education also opens the possibility to reshape gender-biased materials into gender-sensitive curricula.

Providing alternative livelihood options

Demobilizing armies and men without providing alternative livelihood options may not be enough for successful reintegration into society. Donor initiatives that target the provision of technical and entrepreneurship training are more likely to be successful when the exact needs of men and women (be it in agriculture or small non-farm businesses, etc.) are identified and supported with targeted training in record-keeping, management of income and expenditure, and marketing. Women’s organizations and groups should also mobilize the needed funds to support unemployed and vulnerable women in establishing small-scale ventures that will sustainably support themselves and their households.

Clarifying Property Rights

An important precondition for sustainable peace is clarifying national laws and policies on property rights through a highly consultative and participatory process. If property rights are not clarified early enough during the reconstruction process, then the already poor, vulnerable, and marginalized in society will be further denied opportunities in the reconstruction process. Property owners who lost their lands as a result of forced migration during the conflicts should be fairly compensated to prevent further tensions that could spark conflicts.

It has become increasingly clear that sustainable peace requires a fresh look at the whole approach to peacebuilding, at both the national and international levels. Of even greater importance, however, is peacebuilding programs and efforts that foster inclusivity and sustained peace by to taking into account the unique needs of men, women, and youth.

Maame Esi Eshun is a Southern Voices Network Scholar at the Wilson Center from May to July 2016. She is also a Research Associate at the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), a member organization of the Southern Voices Network. 

This article was first published by the Wilson Center

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