A central question guiding this project has been to examine how the interests, aspirations and values of different constituent elements of a society can inform the political negotiations. The cases reveal several basic modes: representative participation through political parties; consultative mechanisms where civil society has an opportunity to voice views and formulate recommendations; and direct participation, where all interested individuals engage in a process of developing and implementing agreements to address the conflict.
In South Africa and Northern Ireland, the political negotiations engaged all the political groupings with a requisite degree of public support that were willing to participate in the talks. In both cases, key actors realised that an agreement was not likely to be sustainable without the involvement and consent of all the other parties. Therefore there was no serious attempt to limit the negotiations by engaging exclusively with only the main armed opposition groupings. This was partially because political parties represented constituencies that would be likely to work against an agreement if they were completely excluded from the process. Furthermore, each society had a political tradition that helped to shape the more democratic structure of the peace process. In each place, there was a well-developed system of multi-party politics rooted in the vibrant political cultures of the different communities and many parties had processes for consulting members and affiliate bodies. These factors increased the potential for parties to serve as a channel of constituency interests and values; they could both represent prevalent opinions and help to 'bring along' their supporters in the process.
Nevertheless, there are likely to be limits to the degree that political parties reflect public interests and a consequent need to ensure that the negotiations are not commandeered by political elites to make deals that promote their own vested interests without regard to broader public concerns. In both processes, there were debates over the relative degree of influence each party should have in relation to the size of its support base. In Northern Ireland, this was addressed by holding elections for parties to the negotiations; furthermore, the agreement had to be endorsed through a public referendum. While perhaps not designed to do so, this system also provided opportunities for those outside the political mainstream to participate. As Kate Fearon describes, a cross-community group of women civil society activists formed the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition to contest elections, mobilising a sufficient constituency to win a seat at the negotiating table and consequently helping to ensure that the talks engaged with a wider range of views. As Eldred De Klerk documents, South Africans developed a two-stage process whereby all parties, regardless of the size of their support base, could participate in negotiations to determine the rules guiding the transition and the core constitutional principles. This was followed by public elections for delegates to a Constitutional Assembly which was in turn influenced by a public participation programme eliciting almost two million submissions. Negotiations in both places resulted in substantial and widely supported political and constitutional reforms. Furthermore, politicians who were forced to work across the conflict divides were better prepared for future cooperation in a more inclusive political system.
The Guatemalan peace process and the Philippines National Unification Commission (NUC) demonstrate a different mode of civil society participation through consultation processes. Enrique Alvarez and Tania Palencia Prado analyse Guatemalan efforts to end decades of war through negotiations that were spurred, in part, by church leaders on the government-appointed Commission for National Reconciliation that sponsored the Grand National Dialogue. It created an unprecedented space for non-combatants to discuss the structural causes of conflict. The participants identified key issues that were later incorporated into the official negotiating agenda. In response to the demands of civic activists, the UN-mediated bilateral negotiations between the government and the guerrillas were accompanied by a Civil Society Assembly. It included representatives from the diverse – and sometimes antagonistic – organised sectors of society to discuss the substantive issues and reach consensus on recommendations to the negotiators. The final accords, which addressed an ambitious range of issues, reflected most of their proposals. Yet the power of the pro-peace accord groupings was weak relative to those in support of the status quo. Implementation of some of the most significant provisions was impeded by a 'no' vote on a referendum for constitutional amendments. After decades of repressive authoritarian rule that inculcated fear and constricted the development of organised civil society, including representative political parties, the links between civic leaders and the wider public were relatively weak. Furthermore, the Assembly's tight timetable meant that, with notable exceptions, participants were unable to promote an informed understanding amongst the public of what the accords meant and generate sufficient support for the long-term reform they implied.
President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines appointed the NUC in 1992 to help revive peace talks with a number of armed opposition groups and to produce recommendations for a process towards a 'just, comprehensive and lasting peace'. Miriam Coronel Ferrer describes how, together with civil society organisations, the NUC hosted a country-wide consultation process involving both sectoral representatives and, in some cases, interested members of the public. It helped to revive interest in and support for a peaceful resolution of several violent conflicts, whose specific concerns would be addressed in bilateral negotiations between the government and the armed groups. The process resulted in a set of principles guiding the peace programmes of successive governments. Yet, as most of the conflicts continue and key recommendations were not implemented, some are sceptical about the commitment of those who control the state to substantial reforms.
One conclusion from the Guatemalan and Philippines experiences is that consultation processes – while providing a valuable opportunity to identify issues and build consensus – may be weaker forms of participation than the 'representative' model. At worst, they can be a superficial public relations exercise; at best, they can be an opportunity to contribute ideas to the political debate while strengthening the legitimacy of different elements of civil society to have a voice in policy-making.
The Malian inter-community meetings, the Mogotes Municipal Constituent Assembly in Colombia and South Africa's local and regional peace committees all reveal another mode of participation based on the direct involvement of members of the public in localised peacemaking. In each of these cases, local civic leaders instigated and managed processes engaging all interested community members in developing and implementing agreements to address the aspects of a conflict within their control. In Mali, a number of attempts by the government to negotiate a political settlement with the armed movements leading a separatist insurgency in the north resulted in agreements that failed to stop the fighting. Instead previously inter-dependent communities began to fracture along new lines of conflict. Kåre Lode describes how a group of non-governmental facilitators, drawing on traditions of community decision-making, stimulated a comprehensive series of locally-led inter-community meetings throughout the north that resulted in localised ceasefire agreements and strategies for addressing the main sources of conflict. The cumulative effect of this process was consensus on development priorities, an end to the war and the space for national reconciliation.
As Monseñor Gomez Serna describes, the citizens of Mogotes, Colombia were vulnerable to various armed groups and subject to corrupt authorities that promoted the interests of local elites. Inspired by the idea of popular sovereignty and triggered by the kidnapping of the local mayor by an armed group, citizens mobilised in protest to reclaim the local government. They created a Municipal Constituent Assembly based on principles of direct democracy, formulated an integral development plan, and created a community independent of all non-state armed groups. Mogotes thus became one of the first of Colombia's numerous 'zones of peace'. Although unable to address the conflict at the national level, they have created spaces of relative peace and begun to model a new kind of politics and governance.
In South Africa's deeply divided and segregated society, escalating political violence threatened the process of negotiations and devastated many communities. To address this problem, the political parties – in a process distinct from and prior to the constitutional talks – negotiated the National Peace Accord. As Chris Spies documents, it mandated a system of national, regional and local violence monitoring and mitigation structures, including regional and local peace committees that involved local people from differing backgrounds in proactively mediating disputes and facilitating localised agreements on the conduct of political events. By de-escalating conflicts at the local level, they made an important contribution to stabilising the country so that the national negotiations to decide the political future could progress.
In each of these three cases, local people engaged in processes to create a 'pragmatic peace' with others in their community so as to enable co-existence and work proactively towards mutually beneficial peaceful development. A significant factor was the scale on which they operated: by working at a community level, local leaders could facilitate processes that engaged hundreds and even thousands of people in face-to-face, direct political dialogue. Those who participated in these processes tended to feel ownership of the agreements reached and a degree of responsibility for their implementation. While the disputes might continue, new mechanisms were created for managing them peacefully. Although the agreements were not legally-binding contracts, the process created a general atmosphere of social pressure on those involved to cooperate in abiding by these agreements.