Thursday, February 21, 2008

What is the UN Peacebuilding Commission and what is it doing in Guinea-Bissau?

According to the Global Policy Forum, the Peacebuilding Commission was first proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to assist with the prevention of violent conflicts before they started, which appeared easier for the UN than their normal task of tamping down existing conflicts. “Annan proposed that the PBC would have a broad membership that would include not only UN member states but also development agencies and possibly even NGOs,” Global Policy Forum writes of the new integrated approach.

The important matter, notes Ellen Margrethe Løj, Co-Chair of the General Assembly Working Group on the Peacebuilding Commission, is that the international community was not very good with dealing with transitioning a war-torn country form military support (the blue helmets) to the long-term development phase. (A place like Haiti comes to mind.) Hopefully, by bringing the actors together around a single table – and there is still some debate on the role of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the process – this umbrella organization can help move the country beyond security issues to development and nation-building issues.

From its website, the Peacebuilding Commission will:

  • Propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery;
  • Help to ensure predictable financing for early recovery activities and sustained financial investment over the medium- to longer-term.
  • Extend the period of attention by the international community to post-conflict recovery;
  • Develop best practices on issues that require extensive collaboration among political, military, humanitarian and development actors.

So far, this method has been employed in Sierra Leone and Burundi.

How is it doing? According to Carolyn McAskie, head of the Peacebuilding Support Office, the office has learned this:

"The development link to peacebuilding is also very important," she explains, "to the G77 members of the Commission but also to the western countries because, as any practitioner knows very well, one of the reasons these countries fail is that they are often 'aid orphans.' They may have two or three faithful donors but do not have the 25 donors that their neighbors have. Thus, resources for development are a very important issue for these countries. But that has to be juxtaposed with keeping them on track politically as well. You can have the most beautiful reconstruction program, but if you run into serious political problems, it can all be offset. We need to get the balance right." She adds, "Therefore the SC has to be engaged, as the GA will be. But the GA is a very large body and we should keep in mind that it is difficult for it to engage in practical change, which is why I believe ECOSOC, as responsible for economic and social issues, could be involved."

With this in mind, perhaps the one benefit the Peacebuilding Commission can lend is providing certain “failed states” with the proper exposure they need to become stable.

So, finally: What is the Peacebuilding Commission doing in Guinea-Bissau? Here is a summary of exploratory meetings with the government:

While Guinea-Bissau was struggling to overcome years of political strife, civil unrest and corruption, Prime Minister Martinho N’Dafa Cabi today told the Peacebuilding Commission that his Government was consolidating recent fragile gains, but needed help to make improvements in key areas, including security, fiscal management, combating drug trafficking, youth vocational training and election assistance.

“We have the courage necessary to see the peace consolidation process through, but that courage must be [bolstered] by commitment and support from the intentional community,” Prime Minister N’Dafa Cabi said, as he highlighted the serious challenges his country faced after years of sporadic civil conflicts and military uprisings, which, by the late 1990s, had left the tiny West African nation politically polarized, poverty stricken and unable to pay its workers or to educate its children.

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