Current peacebuilding programmes in Nepal are not benefiting the people most affected by violence. The main problem is that the critical issue of inclusivity has not been properly addressed. Looking at the established ‘peace infrastructure’ and various peacebuilding activities, it’s easy to think a lot is being done to promote an inclusive peace. However, in reality very little is happening on the ground where it matters most.
By Prakash Bhattarai
Current peacebuilding programmes in Nepal have come in for widespread criticism for not benefiting the people most affected by violence.
Peacebuilding initiatives in Nepal can be divided into two broad categories: NGO-donor initiated programmes, and government efforts. While NGOs and donors have set up specific peacebuilding programmes, the government has chosen to promote peacebuilding via the Ministry for Peace and Reconstruction (MOPR).
Nepal was plagued by armed conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels for 10 years, from 1996 to 2006. Primarily an ideology-based armed conflict, the Maoists wanted to abolish the Monarchy which had ruled Nepal for over two centuries. However, the rebels ended their armed insurgency with the signing of a peace agreement with the government in November 2006.
The notion of conflict management and peacebuilding emerged in Nepal in 2001-2002 at the height of the violence. Prior to that, nothing substantive was being done in relation to peacebuilding. In 2006, as the conflict was ending, a broader range of peacebuilding initiatives were put in place in the country.
NGO-donor initiated programmes comprise mainly educational, advocacy and campaigning conducted via training, workshops, and socio-political dialogues. Specific activities include community mediation, empowerment of youth, women, ethnic groups, and victims of conflict. A limited number of activities focus on providing immediate social and economic support for communities and individuals.
No specific government ‘peacebuilding’ programmes
With regard to the government’s role in peacebuilding, no specific ‘peacebuilding’ programmes exist. However, various peacebuilding activities operate under the MOPR. For example, the Nepal Peace Trust Fund – a joint government-donor funding mechanism – currently allocates 39 per cent of its budget towards peacebuilding activities. The MOPR also has an Emergency Peace Support Project to provide support for individuals and communities affected by armed conflict. Local Peace Committees (LPC) also form part of the national peace infrastructure. The thinking behind LPCs was to make the peace implementation processes all-inclusive, with specific emphasis on local participation: individuals, civil society organisations (CSOs), local political leaders and various government agencies at district level. LPCs are also meant to find local solutions for the prevention and management of conflict at community and district levels. The government also formed a Peace Working Group with national and international participation. However, no mechanism involving both the government and the NGO sector has been established to date to deal with local and national peace initiatives.
Criticism of the role of NGOs and donors in the peacebuilding process in Nepal is widespread, including:
- Most of the training and workshops are conducted in the capital, Kathmandu, and regional and district headquarters, and not at the all-important local level. Often the participants at these events are also the same set of people. Very few of these events are attended by the people who need it the most, from local communities;
- Whilst a lot of money has been spent on peacebuilding training, advocacy, and campaigning, very little funding has gone to those most in need in conflict-affected areas and communities;
- Very few medium and long-term peacebuilding initiatives have been implemented that can contribute to the socio-economic upliftment of victims of the violence, and;
- Implementation of peacebuilding projects has been plagued by numerous cases of duplication and overlapping with regard to funding.
Very little happening where it matters most
The main problem with peacebuilding in Nepal is that the critical issue of inclusivity has not been properly addressed. Looking at the established ‘peace infrastructure’ and various peacebuilding activities, it’s easy to think a lot is being done to promote an inclusive peace. However, in reality very little is happening on the ground where it matters most.
The reasons for this can be summed up as follows:
- 1) The existing peace infrastructure, comprising LPCs, peace working groups and other civil society initiatives are not functioning properly, mainly because of the over politicisation of peacebuilding initiatives and a lack of proper policy direction.
- 2) Instead of a vertical inclusivity to peacebuilding it is horizontal in nature. As a result, there’s a serious disconnect between local and national peacebuilding efforts. Consequently, many peacebuilding initiatives at both local and national levels are controlled by politicians and Kathmandu-based elite NGOs. Donors are often also complicit in these horizontal initiatives. As a result, local groups who are socially and politically less powerful are often excluded from peace initiatives.
- 3) There exists a lack of coordination and coherence between local and national peacebuilding efforts in terms of funding, programming, messaging, and cooperation. There’s also a lack of consolidated peacebuilding efforts between donor agencies and local and national CSOs.
- 4) Disparities exist with regard to funding: whilst some peacebuilding initiatives are overfunded, others are underfunded. A lot of money has been poured into dialogue and advocacy initiatives – in the name of constitution-building and bridging societal divisions – but with little visible change. In fact, polarisation and tensions between communities have increased.
- 5) Whilst the promotion of ‘group’ inclusivity forms another aspect of peacebuilding, there’s serious concern about the lack of local community participation in the process. Where are the common people, is a question often asked when it comes to peacebuilding in Nepal. Despite seven years’ efforts at peacebuilding, there’s been very little improvement in the standard of living of ordinary people.
- 6) There is a distinct absence of a culture of ‘linking and learning’ between government and non-government institutions involved in peacebuilding initiatives. In particular, those involved at national level have not learned from those at local level. As a result, there exists a strong and unhealthy top-down approach to peacebuilding instead of ‘peacebuilding from below’.
The first thing Nepal requires now is an in-depth assessment of government, donor and NGO initiated peacebuilding practices in order to get a better understanding of just how inclusive the peacebuilding process is. Nothing of this sort exists in the country at present.
Secondly, Nepal requires multi-dimensional peacebuilding programmes that address the social, economic, and political needs of those people who form the most vulnerable group due to conflict. Such a multi-dimensional framework should also introduce conflict prevention activities. A good initiative in this regard is the donor communities’ efforts in formulating a Peace and Development Strategy Framework 2010-2015. However, whether it will promote greater inclusivity is questionable.
Government-led initiatives are important for launching nationwide peacebuilding initiatives, and therefore MOPR should do more in this area. Similarly, additional attention should be given to strengthening LPCs by empowering them to design locally driven participatory peacebuilding initiatives. At the same time, it is important to guarantee their independence.
Lastly, there should be greater coordination between the government, donors and NGOs involved in peacebuilding initiatives in Nepal, which could lead to a more organized and disciplined peace intervention process. Importantly though, better coordination of peacebuilding initiatives in Nepal should begin at the very top of government so as to ensure a trickledown effect to local level.
Prakash Bhattarai is from Nepal and is currently enrolled as a PhD candidate in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. His PhD research is focussed on assessing the dynamics of third-party coordination in armed conflicts and peace processes.
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