The call for a shift from the traditional “donor-recipient” dependency of the past towards a “partnership of equals” is a recurring motive in today’s peacebuilding discourse. To move from endorsement to action, the global community with its very diverse stakeholders needs to address the barriers to equal partnerships and to improve its performance in translating realities into politics and thus ensuring that critical issues for sustainable conflict transformation are tackled. As we are living in times when states are reducing the space and influence of civil society, especially for peacebuilders and human rights defenders, this is more important than ever. The first plenary session of the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum therefore discussed how the perspectives and expertise of local stakeholders can be reconciled with the often top-down demands and approaches of donors, states as well as implementing and not-for-profit organizations.
Starting with the FriEnt PBF2021 keynote film, the main questions of the panel where shared: What determines peacebuilding? And who decides what peacebuilding should look like? How can we establish equal and meaningful partnerships which serve the interests of all involved and affected by peacebuilding (conflict?)?
A partnership of equals seems to be out of reach for the time being: The status quo of “Global North-Global South” partnerships is based on structural inequality. This is among other things due to prevailing imbalances in financial possibilities, political resources, technological knowledge and peace infrastructures. To avoid that partners in the Global South are only recipients of policies designed by the Global North, a partnership of mutuality in which the agendas are set by a broad group of actors (multi-stakeholder), could be a step in the right direction. One of the speakers called this “functional equality”, where the voices and needs of the weakest in society are put forward. These inclusive politics or mutual partnership approaches require political will, particularly when supporting governments in political processes of transition. Moreover, successful partnerships not only need an inclusive agenda setting process, but also inclusive implementation to create mutual impacts on the ground.
Take the youth on board – representation alone is not enough: To create a successful mutual partnership the opportunity costs of such a partnership must be equally high for everyone. Social movements, riots or activism often point at what the root causes of conflicts are or more specifically, what agenda is missing in the program of governments or international partnerships. Intergenerational dialogues on structural violence and peacebuilding needs are important to get young people, which are the majority of the population in the Global South, to the table to improve the agenda setting and the relationship between the government and the youth. This is not a matter of representation or temporarily power sharing, but about digging deeper to discuss the real issues of peace and conflict. To build a mutual partnership, civil society actors must be strengthened so that they can become actors who participate in decision making fora on an equal footing.
Create change in the development and peacebuilding sector: The way in which decisions are made in a (donor) organization and in a (global) partnership is essential if we aim for partnerships that are mutually adaptive. As a first step, every single organization can reflect on its own assumptions regarding its objectives, structures and on how (equal) it perceives its local partners. These self-critical reflections could lead to a transformation of power relations and fields of action, by for example creating a culture, in which criticism from partners is becoming a realistic option for the organization as well at its partners in the Global South. For this radical change, an appropriate language and the self-reflective reappraisal of the colonial past and structural racism in (donor) organization and partner relationships is a prerequisite.