What do we mean by early peacemaking?
Early peacemaking is hard to pinpoint. It is shrouded in secrecy, denial and discretion. Peace processes are incremental and subject to cyclical collapse and relapse. ‘Early’ is often too late for people embroiled in violence. This focus on formative peacemaking is occurring within dynamic and complex contemporary trends in peace processes. Shifts are well underway from linear thinking (and ‘doing’) focused on negotiations and ‘getting to the table’, toward an understanding of political transitions as ‘ecosystems’ and multiple dialogue spaces – increasingly including virtual spaces.
Why focus on early peacemaking?
Exploring the formative stages of peace processes is vital. This is when the logic and sequencing of future phases sets in. Exclusions and blind spots often get fixed early on, plaguing the credibility of the process, and the sustainability of agreements and implementation later. Early inclusion is critical to establish positive path dependence, but inclusion in peace processes means different things to different people and peace practitioners still struggle to achieve it in practice.
Peacemaking is more complicated than ever before. It has been thrust into unprecedented terrain by a powerful combination of forces and factors: polarised geopolitics; presence of transnational groups with globalised and extremist agendas; multilayered proxy wars; populism, nationalism and xenophobia (online and offline); weakening of democracy resulting in shrinking spaces for citizen advocacy and civil society mobilisation; and protracted, cyclical violence.
Nor are peace processes immune to Covid-19. Social, economic, and political life globally has been disrupted in ways we are only beginning to understand. Attention is being diverted away from peacemaking to addressing the pandemic in many places. Initial hopes for global ceasefires have not borne fruit. Instead, inequalities and mistrust have been further underscored.
How to navigate complexity in formative phases and beyond?
Accord 29 considers developments in pre-formal peacemaking and looks at how established practice can be enhanced. It comprises articles from individuals from all over the world working in a multitude of different ways to pioneer and sustain pathways to peace: negotiators, advisers, mediators, analysts, and activists. A diverse array of people also peer reviewed the articles, bringing in yet wider angles and perspectives from former fighters, donors, diplomats, researchers, and advocates.
How to navigate complexity in early peacemaking is a crosscutting theme throughout the Accord. Authors identify innovations that blur the boundaries between discrete peace process phases. They recognise peacemaking potential by a variety of different actors, at multiple levels and in formal and informal spaces. Some examples spanning thematic and case study articles include:
- the delicate balancing act of insider mediation in Myanmar
- moving away from mediation track ‘hierarchy’ in Kenya
- the possibilities for localised peace accords to stimulate national change in Afghanistan
- shifts in funding of peace processes and the importance of flexible funding to seize opportunities for peace
- alternative and inclusive governance spaces outside a functioning formal peace process in north-east Syria
- navigating conflict sensitive and coordinated peace support in South Sudan
- the promise, potential and perils of social media in peacemaking
- ways in which peace secretariats can promote relationships and connections
- the ways young people are opening informal dialogue spaces ‘in’, ‘around’ and ‘outside’ the formal negotiating ‘room’
Peace practitioners face numerous challenges to overcome impediments to dialogue, such as proscribing armed groups as terrorists, and to ‘do no harm’ or aggravate the conflicts they are trying to resolve. Risks can be better anticipated and managed through rigorous analysis, shared planning, strategic division of labour and flexible funding support.
Early peacemaking aims to disrupt the many costs of war, stop escalation, and provide alternative peaceful pathways. Authors in the Accord highlight the challenges conflict parties themselves face in moving from the battlefield into dialogue, as well as the diverse contributions of non-violent movements. They also look at the promise and potential of digital technology to bring in new tools and more perspectives. Accord 29 concludes with a set of suggestions for peacemakers and policymakers so they can be better prepared to identify and grasp opportunities when they arise.
Peace processes need proactive support and energy to get off the ground, now more than ever.
Transitions from fighting to talking rarely happen spontaneously, and demand creativity to sustain. Peace starts when opportunities are made and seized. Intelligent, principled, and strategic investment and support is essential to nurture nascent peace pathways.