There is a growing recognition that long-running, complex conflicts cannot be sustainably resolved by top-down peace processes or headline deals at the national level. Local drivers of violence also need to be addressed, so that unresolved community grievances do not generate new waves of violence or undermine national settlements. The Central African Republic (CAR) provides a clear illustration of both the need for and potential of bridging the gap between the local and national in peacebuilding.
CAR has seen over two decades of conflict and failed peace initiatives. Violence has in recent years become increasingly fractured, localised, and complex, with multiple armed groups active in spite of a peace deal signed in 2019. The violence is fuelled by a wide range of local conflict drivers and national actors who deliberately manipulate local tensions to advance their interest.
National-level or externally sponsored peace processes have often only engaged political and military elites and ignored the protracted conflict in communities. This has resulted in very weak connections between national level processes and local peacemaking efforts that deliver only temporary peace. At the same time, local settlements generated by community-level dialogue have faltered over time, lacking real buy-in, and being vulnerable to national-level dynamics and policy challenges. This cycle is currently at risk of being repeated.
Since 2021, we have been piloting the Decentralised Dialogue with the aim of developing sustainable, inclusive and legitimate local mechanisms to allow community views to be articulated, identifying the communication channels and messengers to ensure these views are heard at the right level, and to act as a forum for the discussion and dissemination of resulting agreements and policies.
We identified civil society organisations in Bangui and Bossangoa to form a core team to shape and drive the Decentralised Dialogue process. This was followed by inclusive Focus Group Discussions to define the priorities for dialogue, and training the core team of facilitators from civil society.
Decentralised Dialogue processes will be convened in all communes of Bossangoa sub-prefecture (including rural communes), identifying methodologies and messengers to bring insights from the dialogue to the right levels in Bangui, and defining follow-up mechanisms to reinforce and sustain space for dialogue. Lessons will also be gathered from the pilot to bring understanding of what works and what doesn’t to a future roll-out to other regions of the CAR. This pilot project is supported with German Federal Foreign Office funds via the Zivik funding programme of IFA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen).
The principles of the Decentralised Dialogue
The model of the Decentralised Dialogue, as developed by Central African civil society organisations with support from Conciliation Resources, is built on three core principles:
- Dialogue at the local level must be inclusive, bringing together representatives of communities, the state, civil society, religious leaders, business and young people. It does not seek to replace or replicate formal peace processes or political negotiations. Armed group or political party members must be included, but as community members not representatives of any group;
- Dialogue must be communicated, with the collective views, grievances and recommendations from the local level effectively transmitted upwards to decisionmakers and given voice in national-level dialogue or peace processes, the results of which are then transmitted down to the grassroots;
- Dialogue must be sustained for the long term, with the aim of building trust, lasting relationships and ultimately robust mechanisms that last beyond the timescale of a single crisis or donor funding cycle, as well as demonstrating the benefits to all of establishing effective feedback loops for transmitting accurate, timely information between local and national.
Through these principles, the Decentralised Dialogue aims at building robust, sustainable two-way links between the local and the national, to ensure local needs and voices reach the national level in real time, able to shape emerging national settlements rather than reacting to them, and that local processes and agreements are in turn informed by an accurate understanding of wider dynamics. This is particularly critical in contexts, such as the CAR, where trust and communication between government and local communities have been shattered by decades of violence.
Photo credit: MINUSCA