Advancing peace through national prevention strategies – the right diagnosis sets the right foundation for action

Armend Bekaj, Programme Manager in the Foundations’ Peacebuilding thematic area writes about the latest International Training Programme (ITP) alumni online seminar hosted by the The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research (DPCR) at Uppsala University.

The United Nation’s New Agenda for Peace, presented on 20 July 2023, outlines ‘an extensive and ambitious set of recommendations that recognise the inter-linked nature of many of the challenges we face’. Secretary-General António Guterres underlined the need for Member States to renew their commitment to ‘uphold and strengthen the multilateral system as the only viable means to address an interlocking set of global threats’.

One significant challenge relates to the increased levels of conflict and violence, particularly in the past decade. During 2022, the highest number of conflict-related deaths were recorded since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In the New Agenda for Peace the UN Secretary General outlines concrete recommendations for Member States to prevent violent conflict and to promote sustainable peace.

One of the Agenda’s recommendations focuses on developing national prevention strategies that should aim to address different drivers and enablers of violence and conflict in societies and strengthen national infrastructures for peace. These strategies should put  human rights for all at the center, including  economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights. Human rights are understood as critical in protecting against marginalisation and discrimination, which can provide a breeding ground for grievances that may lead to violence.

To explore the above topic, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research (DPCR), Uppsala University, hosted an online seminar with alumni of the International Training Programme (ITP) in mid October. ITP is a training course which is co-organised annually by the Foundation and DPCR, providing practitioners, policymakers and researchers with a unique opportunity to explore the use of dialogue and mediation in building and sustaining peace.

To initiate and frame the discussion, Céline Monnier, Senior Program Officer, Prevention Peacebuilding and Protracted Crises at the Centre on International Cooperation (CIC) gave a presentation on research on prevention that CIC has conducted over the past few years and highlighted specific questions to consider in designing national prevention strategies.

A number of participants subsequently took the floor and shared reflections from their work and contexts, including Alicia Arias Salgado from Ecuador, and Alimou Diallo from Nigeria.

The seminar outlined some of the conceptual challenges to our understanding of terms such as ‘prevention’, and even ‘violence’. Céline Monnier underlined the social and political commitments required at the country level to embark on true and effective conflict prevention that not only have to be created but also maintained.

The New Agenda for Peace clearly places ownership and responsibility on Member States in developing and implementing national prevention strategies that should embrace whole of government and whole of society approaches. It further identifies the increasing consensus that prevention needs to be a system rather than a set of haphazard and isolated projects. These strategies must be multidimensional and people-centered and, critically, backed by political will and commitment, recognising that the task of tackling root causes of violence can otherwise risk causing unintended harm. Because in the end, ‘a bad prevention strategy can do more harm than no strategy at all’.

Participants highlighted the individual challenges to peace faced by individual countries. While a country such as Colombia may be grappling with issues of social inclusion of former combatants, Ecuador faces a major challenge with narco-trafficking. In Nigeria, one issue relates to street crime which is interwoven with youth alienation and high levels of unemployment. It is therefore paramount to gain a deep understanding of causes of violence before preparing a strategy for addressing them.

The discussion concluded with the following key takeaways:

  • New Agenda for Peace offers a new sense of urgency for Member States to conceptualise and implement national prevention strategies as a matter of utmost importance for the eradication of violent conflicts at their inception stage.
  • The right diagnosis is fundamental for national strategies. The work preceding the actual national prevention strategy is just as important as the strategy itself, and can be even more important. This work relates to identifying the causes of violence and having a social and political consensus on the diagnosis of the problem. That is because, as agreed by participants, ‘violence is a system, and prevention needs to be a system, too’.
  • The challenge is to build a national system or a prevention strategy that is sufficiently contextualised to the reality within communities so as to be effective in countering and preventing conflict and violence. The challenges at the country level may vary greatly. That is why it is important to customise national strategies that are responsive and effective for each country concerned.

Armend Bekaj