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Conclusion: keeping the process open

AuthorsAndy Carl
Andy Carl closes the publication with a summary of key findings and conclusions. He reminds the reader that 'in every context there is a need to reach a basic working consensus about what inclusion could look like in practice' but that whilst 'effectiveness does not mean including all of the people all of the time... decisions on participation should be carefully considered as the cost of exclusion can have long-term and unintended consequences'. A series of insights on inclusion are drawn from across the publication's articles, structured in response to the three dimensions of the enquiry into inclusion in peace processes: 1) Who needs to be respresented? 2) How are meaningful mechanisms for inclusion best designed? 3) What kind of more inclusive outcomes can result?

1. Who needs to be represented?

The challenge in Afghan peacemaking is in a nutshell a challenge of how to include belligerents so that an agreement on ending violence sticks, and how to include wider society so that the settlement enjoys broad enough support and effects sufficient change to achieve a lasting peace. [Each previous national process] included the seed of the next round of armed conflict because it lacked provisions to bring the defeated party on board.

Michael Semple

Addressing diversity: Identity groups affected by conflict are complex and diverse, and rarely have agreed national representation to speak for them with ‘one voice’. In practice, their ability to influence a national negotiation process is complicated by their own internal dynamics, which can include clashing interests and accounts of the conflict, and tactics of violence or nonviolence. The question of ‘whose voice counts?’ is related to perceptions of ‘whose voice is legitimate?’ These are associated with the quality of the relationships that organisations have with the constituencies they claim to represent, and their ability to articulate their concerns and grievances. For outsiders, in making sense of whether a group has local legitimacy it is important to factor in their reliance on international support and whether this might substitute for a genuine domestic constituency. Taking an oversimplified approach to the question of representation of heterogeneous groups – whether armed or not – can unintentionally exacerbate internal divisions within them.

The challenge of ‘whole-of-system’ peace processes: Today’s conflicts tend to spill across multiple levels with complex local, national and international disputes ‘nested’ within each other. Understanding how to contribute to multi-level, ‘whole-of-system’ peace processes while working to common objectives is a critical and elusive challenge for any peacebuilding intervention.

Undermining peacebuilding: External governmental involvement can underpin or undermine societal inclusion. We continue to see evidence of international diplomatic actors failing to adopt a basic ‘do-no-harm’ approach. Multiple and sustained peacebuilding efforts to respect the basic rule of law are often compromised by realpolitik international calculus, which results in varying degrees of state tolerance for corrupt practices and legitimisation of flawed electoral processes. These political decisions forcefully undermine progress in peacebuilding and reinforce exclusion and instability.

Women’s leadership: It is no accident that the wider ‘inclusion project’ rides on the leadership, struggle and gains of the global women’s movement for equal rights and participation. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 recognised the roles of women in preventing and resolving conflicts, 16 years before Security Council Resolution 2282 in 2016 acknowledged that ‘civil society can play an important role in advancing efforts to sustain peace’. Examples cited in this publication and in research from the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) show how women have created multiple spaces for promoting gender equality and meaningful forms of participation – from pre-talks, through negotiations, to implementation and beyond.

Extreme exclusion of indigenous and minority communities: Elite members of society, even in the most violent armed conflicts, still enjoy a high degree of personal security, largely cocooned from the traumas of war. Indigenous and minority communities often have the opposite experience. In the many contexts studied here, they are disproportionately affected by armed conflicts and disproportionately under-represented in peace processes. Women and youth within these communities face yet another degree of exclusion.

Youth momentum: Graeme Simpson draws our attention to the marginalisation of 1.8 billion young people globally, and the under-explored potential of their contribution to peace processes. But overcoming the challenges of young women and men’s inclusion is, by nature, a moving target, as ‘youth’ is a status that all young people eventually outgrow. Factoring a deeper understanding of how young people can mobilise in peace processes includes paying attention to the particular needs for constantly refreshing youth leadership, who will have to deal with all the unfinished, difficult and deferred issues in the political settlement.

Diaspora justice: There are multiple innovative examples of how diaspora communities, another neglected demographic, can be part of a peace process, especially when there are state institutions that they can connect with – such as the National Coordination of Indigenous Women in Colombia (CONAMIC). They face the dual challenge of seeking inclusion in their host society as well as in their country of origin. Ending the cycles of violence and reprisals requires that the rights of diaspora and of all victims’ and survivors’ and are brought to the centre of the peace process. Their participation is in itself an important act of reparation.

2. How are meaningful mechanisms for inclusion best designed?

Moving beyond the policy soundbite: Christine Bell writes that inclusion struggles are about power: who holds it, how it can be redistributed, and who will persuade those in power to share it. But as long as inclusion policies remain ambiguous and without clear commitments to meaningful mechanisms for participation, they will be mantras that can ‘hurt more than help’. Different actors view inclusion differently. Aid actors see it as instrumental to achieving long-term development outcomes. Security actors see it as part of a strategy for countering armed violence. Diplomats and peacebuilders understand it as a requirement for a robust peace process to address root causes of violence. Human rights promoters understand it as a basic right. The tensions between these different ‘inclusion projects’ cannot be eliminated but must be better managed.

There are risks and consequences of ignoring the complex ways in which exclusion and violence affect different identity groups, preventing some from influencing political decision-making, while ensuring others continue to shape it. Approaches that fail to pay attention to these dynamics risk preserving hierarchical, patriarchal and authoritarian decision-making systems with obvious costs for peace, justice and development. Verweijen’s research shows how, in trying to address the inclusion of localised and fragmented armed groups into peace processes, there is a need to comprehensively understand the reasons underlying their divisions. It is important to look beyond simple conflict narratives about the stakeholders, to uncover the multi-faceted conflicts that hide behind them.

Preparing for participation: Political cultures of governance in contexts of protracted conflict tend to rely on top-down decision-making and ambivalent forms of consultation built around weak and often traumatised bureaucracies. So, while they may rhetorically encourage it, governance habits of participation in conflict contexts are poorly developed to deliver.

In those areas where violence has reigned for a long time … you have a fundamental problem of lack of trust in state institutions. Communities on the ground have seen processes like this before and they just don't trust them. If you want to change this, people need to see that their voice not only counts but that they actually are able to shape their own future.

      Sergio Jaramillo

Moments of rapid change: Sustained efforts towards greater inclusion shift social norms over time – like those relating to gender inclusion. These processes of ‘normalisation’ will not necessarily show direct signs of steady progress. Research findings indicate that pressure for change accumulates, building on previous efforts and then, during periods of natural or human-made turbulence, a system can change significantly in a short period of time. Preparing for future transitions enables groups to better take advantage of such opportunities to exert long-term influence.

Facing forwards: There tends to be a rush to resolve conflict. But the PA-X Peace Agreements Database has revealed tremendous innovation in ways of leaving a process open to options for dispute resolution and future inclusive change. It is important to understand better how to navigate the fluid ‘unsettlement’ after a peace accord has been reached. References to international legal frameworks in peace accords can provide ‘hooks’ to leverage change if applied in a smart way by local actors when new opportunities arise.

Effective peace processes do not run themselves but require professional management support – including impartial monitoring mechanisms and other necessary infrastructures to conduct the process. These infrastructures are one arena where inclusive practices can be both enabled and embedded.

Sequencing in the initial stages of peacemaking is a key consideration. Some researchers conclude that this means aiming for a limited agenda and participation, where the goal is to ‘stop killing each other and to get the weapons out of the way … and out of politics’. This is then followed by a broader peace process with subsequent negotiations and decision-making processes that address governance, institutions and the social contract, all of which are essential parts of peacebuilding. But we should not undervalue the multiplicity of preparatory efforts taking place in different domains. In all processes, talks on a cessation of violence are preceded by often unofficial initiatives. The case studies in this issue suggest that comprehensive inclusiveness of belligerents in the early stages of a process is difficult to get right but essential to address. 

Risks in tackling the challenges of ‘belligerent inclusion’: Poorly managed power-sharing arrangements have incentivised coercion and unleashed violent cycles of competition for power, positions and resources between and within armed factions. Power-sharing arrangements need to pay attention to whether and how they can be implemented in ways that avoid further fragmentation and find tactics for supporting the political transformation of armed groups and their constituencies.

Not all good things go together: Many of the case studies confirm that more directly representative forms of public participation such as national dialogues or referenda do not necessarily translate into influence over the content of an agreement. Also, elections, while an obvious, if limited, form of public participation, challenge the creation of conditions that enable consensus, compromise and reconciliation. This is equally true of referenda. In contemporary electoral democracies, party competition for political power can get in the way of promoting national interests, inter-group accommodation and peace. Politicians can end up trapped in a vicious cycle of intransigence.

Selection procedures and criteria for participation as well as rules for decision-making can either support or limit meaningful inclusion: Structural approaches to inclusion have a fair chance to remain relevant if considered useful by the negotiating parties, for example youth or women’s advisory councils or parallel forms of informal governance such as councils of traditional leaders. Reservation systems in legislation and constitutions during or after peace processes can be effective in ensuring structural change but take time to make their impact felt. Quotas also tend to preferentially benefit elites among the marginalised. Research suggests that more policy attention needs to be paid those ‘left behind’, through access to education, training or social empowerment.

Until we are able to push everyone forward, this system will be able to pull up only a few … If we are in the right direction, a day should come when we should achieve inclusive results without mandatory inclusion.

      Minendra Rijal

As peace processes move into the formalisation and then implementation of accords they require even wider participation. It is important to publicise the contents of the peace agreements through public education, translation and dissemination. Yet, the terrain for participation rarely has sufficient preparation. There is also the need for capacity-building because of the entry into formal politics of people with little experience in governance and administration. Post-accord implementation invariably introduces new negotiations, actors and constituencies as those previously excluded during elite negotiations now press for meaningful participation in the new governance arrangements.

There is a direct connection between civil society inclusion and human rights protections which safeguard physical wellbeing. They also secure the enabling environment for peacebuilding work – including through peaceful protest and dissent. Rights and the rule of law provide the backbone to conflict prevention.

3. What kind of more inclusive outcomes can result?

The promise of change: A peace agreement is the signal of change. Transition processes from violence to meaningful peace are long and complex. Political actors change and power-holders evolve. Unresolved and sometimes new conflicts emerge. Corruption cultures and practices and weak institutions tend to persevere, while divided communities, resistance to change and mistrust permeate the implementation environment. As a result, violence does not necessarily reduce immediately.

The first Constituent Assembly (2008) was the single-most intelligent body of governance Nepal has ever had because it was so inclusive.

      Manjushree Thapa

Self-reinforcing peace outcomes: Peace dividends from one aspect of the inclusion project can lead to unexpected dividends in others. PSRP research in Northern Ireland showed that when agreements were reached on progressive programmes of police reform and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, they also addressed some of the causes and enabling factors of violence against women. Violence in intimate partner relationships can decrease due to better policing and reduction of legally and illegally held arms.

Civil society inclusion is no substitute for a flawed process: Inclusion of civil society actors can bolster claims that a political process is legitimate. Their information and perspectives can be so valued that consulting with them in an official process may be deemed to be a political necessity. But their inclusion in a stalled process risks sending an impression of progress where there is none, and may mask fundamental challenges instead of addressing them.

The consequences of not implementing commitments: Certain peace agreement provisions are particularly resistant to implementation and will require new strategies and diligence. Commitments on accountability for harm or crimes committed related to the conflict are clearly the most fiercely resisted, as those responsible for implementing them also tend to be the most liable. Economic reforms and ethnic, gender and environmental commitments have lower implementation rates than those related to disarmament or power-sharing. Failed implementation in one area has knock-on effects that compound the complexities of implementation in others and risk enabling future conflict.

The need to find new ways to be more relevant and effective: Traditional modes of ‘settling’ conflicts are failing. Complex local, national and global political marketplaces that are siloed by sector mean that there is a pressing need to reach new ways of working that could unlock synergies across the development, humanitarian, security, justice, peacebuilding and diplomatic arenas. Future peace programming design needs to experiment with ways of moving more nimbly between multiple levels, and to develop better strategies for addressing parallel and competing processes and dynamics. A common commitment to inclusion is one area where we could see a strategic alignment of principles for separate but articulated interventions.

In conclusion

This publication is not a ‘how to’ manual, but an invitation to join the enquiry into how inclusion in peace processes can be more effective, with guidance for future experimentation with new forms of engagement and consultation. New strategies to break out of the self-sustaining and vicious cycles of war and exclusion will be best achieved through creating positive counter-momentum from efforts to build an inclusive peace.

The inclusion agenda remains contested. Dominant groups in conflict will continue to ignore how pervasive inequalities can be an important source of grievance leading to potential future conflict. Without sufficient alignment, different inclusion projects are unlikely to realise their potential to make a collective impact. To bridge the gap between peace agreements and the lived realities of social relations, peace processes today must focus on both elite negotiations and on the unofficial arenas in which different forms of inclusion can be promoted. Our shared challenge is how these can create a more integrated inclusion agenda and sustained synergies for change.

The peace process is a window of opportunities … If there is a final conclusion it is that we should be sure to keep the window open.


Issue editor

Andy Carl


Andy Carl is an experienced peacebuilding practitioner with a career of leadership in the NGO sector. Andy currently works as an independent writer and advisor to individuals, groups and organisations engaged in working on peace, justice and social change processes. He helped establish International Alert in 1989 and in 1994 he co-founded Conciliation Resources where he was Executive Director for 22 years.