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News, 5/15/2014

“Peace talks focus too much on the elite”

African peace processes and conflict prevention often forget the people and their needs, international experts stated at a seminar organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

A typical pattern in African peace processes: the international community comes, finances the peace talks, invites only the representatives of the elite to the table, and declares that peace has been achieved.

According to Sheelagh Stewart, an expert working for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), something is missing – state-building and winning the trust of the population.

“If things like education and infrastructure are not financed after the peace, the process will come to a halt because the State cannot control people’s expectations,” Stewart said at the seminar held in Helsinki on Tuesday.

Sheelagh Stewart. Photo: Juha Peurala
Trust is the key to state-building, Sheelagh Stewart stressed. Photo: Juha Peurala

Instead of donors helping the countries recovering from conflicts to control people’s expectations, financing often stops after peace is reached or is concentrated on bureaucracy and efficiency. It is no substitute for building people’s trust, Stewart said.

“The international community finances many peace processes. The key issue is that everyone is included in the processes.”

The decisions taken must be implemented

The international seminar organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs shared experiences and opinions on peace-building and state-building processes in Africa.

According to Salim A. Salim, former Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), African countries could also themselves do more for peace-building – otherwise people lose their hope of resolving problems.

“When peace has been achieved, a nation or at least an interim government is established. But the question is whether we have the capacity and resources to solve problems. Everyone wants peace, but who will maintain it? The problem is not a lack of decisions but the unwillingness to implement them,” he said.

Pekka Haavisto, Salim A. Salim, Vasu Gounden. Photo: Juha Peurala
Minister for International Development Pekka Haavisto visited South Sudan last week. According to him, the progress that had previously been achieved in the country is crumbling. Haavisto with Salim A. Salim (centre) and Vasu Gounden. Photo: Juha Peurala

South Sudan far from peace

The aggravated conflicts in countries such as Nigeria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic make peace-building a topical issue in Africa.

According to Minister for International Development Pekka Haavisto, who visited South Sudan last week, a normal course of life is far off in South Sudan.

“It was painful to see how the results of the peace process long supported by the international community are crumbling. The parties commented that in the end, conflicts have always been resolved and life has continued. They were surprised when I asked about the thousands of victims and impunity,” Haavisto said.

Haavisto is the co-chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS). According to him, the essential issue in peace-building is to emphasize the developing countries’ own leadership and ownership and the inclusion of all parties.

Anisia Achieng, Deborah Ajak Garang, Suzan Wasuk. Photo: Juha Peurala
Anisia Achieng (left), Deborah Ajak Garang and Suzan Wasuk are Members of Parliament from South Sudan. They say that women play an important role in calming the conflict in their country. Photo: Juha Peurala

The female Members of Parliament from South Sudan who attended the seminar believe that women play an important role in solving the conflict in their country.

“Women constantly talk on behalf of peace and care for the wounded. They are also the most concerned about families and about the identity and building of the community. That’s why they are a special force,” said Anisia Achieng, who is also a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa.

She says that the international community has good opportunities to support peace, but that sustainability rather than mere building is needed.

“A lot of money has been spent, but we need sustainable peace and justice.”

Teija Laakso /

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