We have witnessed revolutions and developing social movements across North Africa and the Middle East. When can we call revolutions–like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya–“successful?” While the citizen-led overthrow of Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi were celebrated, new governance structures are now under pressure to quickly create change as citizens look for economic and social results. In some cases, citizens have only removed the head of state, but the same regime and institutions are present. Is this a success story?
What are the theories of change necessary to move from the conflict and violence associated with revolutions to consolidate sustainable peace and stability? Scholars and peace building practitioners reveal some priorities for nations to begin to build the foundations for peace and move forward positively.
Repair broken relations. Conflicts and revolutions develop out of long held grievances (held by isolated and repressed groups) and greed (of those in positions of power who have political and economic incentives to keep the status quo). Countries and communities must come to terms with the legacy of their past (through reconciliation and criminal courts) and repair trust between both the state and the people, and among divided political or ethnic groups engaged in conflict. Build institutions that are legitimate. This includes creation of a fair election process, a security structure, provision of social services, and when necessary a disarmament, demobilization and reconciliation process. Create and uphold policies and programs that sustain peace. Such transitions are much easier said than done, but will require the collaboration of both the private, public and civil society sectors.
Interaction’s Monthly Developments Magazine recently published an article, NGOs in the Post-Arab Spring Environment, which pointed out the unique opportunity for NGOs to assist in the state building and peace consolidation process by providing social services and economic empowerment programs to vulnerable populations. The author, Lina Hashem of Islamic Relief USA, points out that NGOs must focus on small-scale development projects, and remain politically neutral to thwart social unrest. While NGOs must stabilize factors that could contribute to violence in the short term, through vocational training or livelihoods programs, operations must also lay a foundation to address the root causes of conflict.
The article forgets to stress is the importance of ensuring conflict sensitive programming in NGOs’ interventions in post-conflict environments. While neutrality is a necessary action, NGOs must engage in conflict assessment to ensure that their interventions and actions are conflict sensitive. Practitioners (and their clients) benefit from understanding the conflict context where they work; recognizing the interaction between their activities and the conflict; and should use that understanding to promote positive impacts. There are many models of conflict assessment used by practitioners—form USAID, Worldvision, and the UN–to ensure that their programs are maximizing peace and minimizing the return to social unrest. NGOs are not alone—there are opportunities in the post revolution environment for the private and public sectors as well.