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Peace Consolidation

This post is part of IPSA‘s pre-conference blog series. You can join the conversation on April 13th here.

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.

Join the dialogue about making change stick at IPSA’s 2012 conference on Friday, April 13, 2012.  RSVP here.

IPSA Reading Group Tackles International Intervention

This post is part of IPSA‘s pre-conference blog series. It was cross-posted from Wagner Today.

When it comes to humanitarian crises, is all awareness good awareness? Does responsibility ever trump sovereignty, and if so, when? NYU Wagner students gathered to discuss these questions, among others, at an International Public Service Association (ISPA)-sponsored reading group with Professor John Gershman on March 21, 2012.

The thought-provoking and animated discussion began with a look at the controversial Kony 2012 video,  a production of Invisible Children, Inc.  that has gone viral, especially among young people in the United States. The video tugs at viewers’ heartstrings, encouraging them to join an international movement that is calling for the arrest of Ugandan Joseph Kony, a leader in the Lord’s Resistance Army, on charges of war crimes and child abuse. The video has generated substantial support for the campaign against Kony. However, it has also drawn criticism from those who say it misrepresents and oversimplifies the conflict.

Reading-group participants noted the video’s lack of information about what Ugandans have done to fight Kony, and the limited airtime for African perspectives. The video ignores the potential costs of military intervention and many other issues affecting Ugandans and other countries involved in the crisis, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, where Kony is believed to be living. Does the IC production constitute “badvocacy”? What do we make of all the college students who might not have otherwise known the name Kony, and now wear wristbands for the cause?

This led to a broader conversation about U.S. intervention in international affairs. Too often, sound bites about conflicts in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Uganda, among other nations, leave out the history of U.S. actions that exacerbated the problems giving rise to these conflicts. Domestic politics and dependence on oil also play a role in whether and how the U.S. chooses to respond to conflicts across the globe.

It is often easier to criticize than to propose solutions. But the IPSA group did have some ideas:

  1. Consider the appropriate size and scale of U.S. military budget and action. While the costs and benefits of social programs has been a hot topic in U.S. politics in recent years, there has been relatively little talk of this nature with regard to the military and international interventions.
  2. Prepare for peace, not just for war. Support culturally competent peace-building efforts to try to avoid the need for international interventions in the first place.
  3. Tell the truth about complicated conflicts. Sometimes quick summaries are necessary, but public awareness campaigns must eventually translate into nuanced, contextualized understanding and action.
  4. When considering international intervention, think critically about questions such as: What is the history of this conflict? Who is telling the story and how does that affect the way it is told? What is the source of legitimacy for the intervening parties? What is their relationship to local actors? Who is best served by their actions?
  5. Make eye-catching movies about ways to address inequality in our own neighborhoods. Where is the shiny video encouraging people in the U.S. to occupy bank-foreclosed homes?

The IPSA Reading Group, organized by NYU Wagner students in coordination with Professor John Gershman, meets regularly to discuss issues related to international development and policy. This conversation will be continued at IPSA’s 2012 conference on Friday, April 13, 2012.  RSVP here.

Remembering Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)

Just over two years ago, I awoke to the news of Benazir Bhutto’s death. My immediate reaction, like the rest of the international community, was shock. But after the initial shock passed, I was overcome by grief. That day, I wept for her, for her family, for Pakistan, and also for those of us who had lost a great role model.

In November 2002, I attended a special lecture of Bhutto’s at Middle Tennessee State University. I was a junior in high school, and had decided to attend the lecture because of the promise of extra credit for history class. At my parents’ encouragement, I was told not only to attend her lecture because it may improve my grade, but to really listen to what she had to say. And I did.

I sat close to the back of the large auditorium in which she spoke, but over seven years later, I still remember her face. Dressed in royal blue and her trademark loose-fitting hijab, she was gracious, well-spoken, and often just downright funny. She told the audience of her days growing up in Pakistan as the privileged child of a wealthy political family, her studies at Harvard and Oxford, her avid belief in democracy and its impact on her rule as Pakistan’s first female prime minister, her struggles against gender discrimination, her travels across the world, her imperfections, and most importantly her ultimate mission in life – to return to Pakistan and improve the lives her people.

To say that Benazir Bhutto left an impression on me that autumn evening would be an understatement. She inspired me. My home country, Sierra Leone, was barely out of a brutal decade-long civil war, and though I was young, I too knew I wanted to improve the condition of my land and my people. I wanted to follow in Bhutto’s footsteps. In many ways, I did. In the years that followed, I spent an ample amount of time traveling and studying world cultures and religion. I went on to study comparative government at Harvard, and wrote my senior thesis on democracy-building in Sierra Leone. As time passed and as the memory of that November evening became increasingly distant, I never forgot how Bhutto motivated me to pursue a career in public service.

So in early 2007 when Bhutto reappeared onto the international scene, ready to return to Pakistan from exile and to run again for political office, I could not help but to take notice and to see what next she would achieve. For the last few months of her life, I followed her every interview, every rally, every political move. And though the threat of violence was imminent, I never imagined it would ultimately claim the life of the woman who I admired so much.

It has been two years since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated after leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The memories of that day are still fresh in my mind – the last image of her waving toward a crowd of supporters, her entry into the vehicle which moments later would be attacked, the shots and blast that took her life, the rioting in the days afterward… For her life to come to such a violent end, for her to never see Pakistan fulfill its potential, one may sadly conclude that Bhutto lived her life in vain. I know that this is not the case. To me, Benazir Bhutto exemplified strength and grace in the face of opposition and illustrated to the world the profound impact that a life of public service can have. It is for these reasons I thank her and will always remember her.

Effie O. Johnson
Master of Public Administration (MPA) Candidate, May 2011
International Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy
Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, New York University
A.B. Harvard University, 2008

Democracy and accountability are messy

This week’s Economist has three articles about democracy in three different countries. They form an interesting set. Going from east to west:

Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai will remain president without a run-off election. The second-place candidate from the first round, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, bowed out rather than face the massive fraud that was expected in the second round. The twist: Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) declared Karzai the winner despite significant doubt on legality of the move, and whether the IEC has the authority to make that decision. Obama and other Western leaders endorsed the outcome. Best line: "The Taliban gleefully claimed that the election had been decided in Washington and London. Most independent observers would concur." And then: "It is hoped that the legitimacy absent from the electoral process can be ‘earned’ through good behaviour."

Next door, protesters in Iran have made a habit of turning up to officially sponsored celebrations. Thousands took to the streets in Tehran and smaller cities on November 4th, the thirtieth anniversary of the day Iranian students took 52 American hostages at the embassy in Tehran. These protests are clearly continuations of the ones that followed June’s disputed election. Key line: "The protests are unlikely to bring the government down, but its legitimacy is being questioned in a way that was once unthinkable."

And finally, many see positive signs in the political maneuvering leading up to Iraq’s January elections. The main electoral blocks are increasingly cross-sectarian. For example, Iyad Allawi (a Shia and former prime minister) and Saleh al-Mutlaq (a Sunni member of parliament) have formed the Iraqi National Movement. Their main rival: Unity, a group led by Jawad al-Bolani (a Shia and current interior minister) and Ahmed abu Risha (a Sunni leader of the Awakening movement). This is unquestionably progress — though whether it will last remains to be seen.

Blogging best practice requires somehow connecting these three stories. Forget the geographic proximity; that’s too easy. Let’s also ignore the fact that they are all Muslim countries. Here is there interesting thread: Accountability to the people. Afghanistan’s recent election debacle reinforces the public perception (and the reality) that the Afghan government answers to foreign governments rather than to its own people. That undermines every security and development effort. No amount of "good behavior" will counter it. In Iran, ongoing protests damage the regime’s legitimacy, giving moral support and political wiggle room to advocates for change within the regime. Iraq is the most interesting case: accountability to their bases can often drive politicians apart (witness the way US politicians in gerrymandered districts play to their parties’ extremes), but it may be that the need for a parliamentary coalition and the larger demand for national unity are having a positive effect.

By: Dave Algoso

The Effect of Development on Women

By Nhu Truong

Why have women been counted out of the equation for development? Why is it important that foreign aid should direct more focus to educate and empower women in ways that can allow and create opportunities for greater female involvement in society and the economy? And, finally, how do we identify the invisible pressures of culture and tradition that are visibly tied to prevalent perceptions of women’s place in the family, society, and a country’s development as a whole?

Joined by the Wagner Women’s Caucus and Professor John Gershman, students participated in IPSA’s Reading & Discussion Group on October 15, 2009 for a discussion on these important questions about the effect of development on women. The discussion was grounded on a reading of two articles: “The Women’s Crusade,” and “Rights Versus Rites.”
Read More…

September 28th “Off the Record” with Wagner Alumna, Gwen Neely

The “Off the Record” discussion with Gwen Neely was a great way for current students to meet a Wagner alumna who has taken her experiences here and turned them into a fulfilling career with DAI in Afghanistan.

Gwen was extremely candid about the pros and cons of working in Afghanistan and for government contractors versus NGOs. She also offered herself as a resource for future questions about jobs in developing countries.

Shortly after our discussion, Gwen was leaving New York to return to Afghanistan. We wish her well and hope to see her upon her return.

Sept 29th Reading & Discussion Group – Iran: What Does Engagement Mean? What Can We Hope to Achieve?

On Tuesday, September 29th, a group of 10 students joined Professor Gershman for IPSA’s first Reading & Discussion Group of the semester. Both first and second years came to discuss “Iran: What Does Engagement Mean? What Can We Hope to Achieve?” They brought their unique perspectives on the situation as well as a bit of background reading to facilitate an interesting and thought-provoking conversation.

During the hour-long discussion, the group raised such issues as: sanctions and their effectiveness, nuclear proliferation and what results negotation could have. The need to recognize Iran as a regional power was also discussed and was agreed upon by many. Using trade and the potential for economic growth as an incentive for nuclear transparency was proposed as a potential common ground solution during negotiations.

Stay tuned for the next Reading & Discussion Group on October 15th at 5PM! All are welcome to join IPSA & Professor Gershman for an interesting conversation about women in development.

Ashleigh Whelan

IPSA Member & Reading/Discussion Group Coordinator

Peace in the Middle East?

Peace in the Middle East has been talked about for as long as most of those alive can remember. This summer, I came to Israel & Palestine to learn about the realities of the situation that we do not see in mainstream media, experience what life is like here and start to develop an ideal of what kind of an effect I can have on the situation. Before coming, I had some interesting reactions from friends, family, even strangers — some thought I was wasting my time, others thought I was endangering my life and some thought this was the most important and exciting summer I would ever have. Having been here almost three months now, I can concretely say that only this last group was right.

I have been working with Windows – Channels for Communication, a joint Palestinian-Israeli effort that works with the youth of three sub-groups: Jewish Israelis, Palestinian citizens of Israel & Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Using single identity meetings and joint meetings where all of the groups gather with professional facilitators (from each sub-group), they explore their own identities, misconceptions about those identities that they want to change and examine their own beliefs about the ‘other.’ Over year long programs they gradually build trust and learn from each other. They challenge stereotypes, explore where they came from, why they exist and brainstorm ways to to make their societies change. Using their correspondence and ideas, they create a magazine written in both Hebrew & Arabic that is distributed all over, through community groups as well as schools. Many here accuse us and peer organizations of "normalization" — making life continue and improve conditions so everyone can adjust to the occupation and gradually accept it. We wholeheartedly reject this claim — the occupation is not okay, it is illegal, immoral and inhumane. I have seen firsthand the destruction it causes, both in terms of physical property and in the mentality of those directly affected by it.

We teach our youth (and remind ourselves) to doubt "common knowledge" — there is a reason that is has become "common" — someone or some group wanted it to be that way. Who are they? What do they really want? What do they have to gain from this common knowledge? These critical thinking skills help our youth question what they hear (including what they hear from friends, family, even what they hear at Windows) — our director, Rutie Atsmon, encourages everyone to look for the facts in the story. As a Jew, I have been told many times that "the Palestinians don’t want peace" and "they don’t want to talk to us." Well, let’s examine that — what was really presented at Camp David (since that is the current catalyst for these statements)? Were there meaningful negotiations possible or were lines in the sand already drawn? Look deeper than the news reports from that time and you may be surprised.

Misinformation occurs daily, for so many reasons, but as a result of mis-information (and more intentional dis-information) from both sides as well as the growing fatigue and sense of hopelessness, both societies have moved to the right (politically speaking) and are moving further away from each other. The political left is disappearing and those left are facing increasing pressure from their own people to abandon their beliefs in universal human rights and the universal right to self-determination. In some cases, the lives of these people are endangered, but they still press on, holding out hope for the future and standing firm for what they know is right. A youth-focused Palestinian activist from Husan, near Bethlehem, pointed out in a recent conversation is that clearly violence and working against each other hasn’t worked — so isn’t it time that we try the opposite, working together for common goals. We are all human and at the very basic level, the vast majority of people in Israel and Palestine just want a "normal" life, with food, water, safety and to see their children grow. When we fail to see the other as a human, we fail to make progress. My activist friend and my organization see the work that they are doing as having the potential to become a snowball rolling down a hill — it starts very small and slowly, but as it grows and more snow is included, it picks us speed and continues to grow and build. For the sake of us all, I hope they are right.

Ashleigh Whelan, ’10
Windows – Channels for Communication



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