"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
I have just finished reading Sharath Srinivasan’s, “When Peace Kills Politics: International Interventions and Unending Wars in the Sudans”. A very interesting read, both due to recent events in Sudan but also my work the past (almost) 20 years. The core argument of the book is that, “The tragedy of peacemaking is that even when it seeks to bring about a world that can sustain non-violent civil politics, the means that it has available to do this, and the ends it pursues as enabling this, risk coercing and debilitating that very politics, in turn motivating political violence and reinforcing its currency.” (p. 13).
Much of the argument resonated with me. Peacebuilding in Liberia, the Sahel, the Great Lakes region (to name a few regions I’m familiar with professionally) indeed do seem to follow the pattern suggested by Srinivasan. Despite efforts, it’s hard to argue that international actors supported the emergence of civil politics in these places – Liberia being the one possible exception. I did have to think of two other regions with which I am familiar – Mindanao and Aceh. Both the Bangsamoro Peace Process and the peace between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government can be described as successful. Yet both of these stand out by the fact that the ‘footprint’ of international partners were fairly light. (For Aceh one has to point out the exceptional situation post-Tsunami as well).
The nature of foreign interventions is of course problematic. International attention, and the corresponding emergency relief / mediation / aid caravan(s) rush from crisis to crisis. The international actors involved rely very much on domestic political agendas and (electoral) cycles. Inevitably local politics needs to be simplified and international interests (economic, migration, counter-terrorism, etc…) are often difficult to understand and can result in counterproductive policies. But key is probably understanding and supporting local politics – and in the end its local political dynamics that are in the lead over the medium to long term. (One could say international actors should particularly pay attention to do no harm). An important sentence from the conclusion to the book states that, “Peace interventions in the unending wars of Sudan and South-Sudan suggest that peacemaking will not end with non-violent civil politics unless it begins with such politics as well.” (p. 285).
The current situation in Sudan is marked by the collapse of the peace process / transition since the fall of Bashir in 2019. Unfortunately this fights the pattern of Sudan, could have severe ramifications for the country and the broader region, and reflects the difficulty to move to civilian politics. It is not clear if foreign (at least Western) actors can do much about this. International actors need much more humility and less hypocrisy.
21.05.2023, Brussels, Belgium.
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.