Involving local communities in peacebuilding in Mali

Published on 26 September 2019

Danny Burns

Professorial Research Fellow

Seven years ago, Mali came into the spotlight as violence broke out following an attempt by armed groups to seize control of the North of the country and a military coup . While democracy was returned one year later, instability remains. Since then, Mali has consistently commanded international attention. The United Nations has over 13,000 peacekeepers stationed there and spends over $1 billion dollars a year on what’s officially its deadliest peacekeeping mission. And yet, despite the UN’s efforts, those of the Malian government and the rest of the international community, levels of violence continue to rise, as insecurity spreads from the North to include large sections of the center of the country.

When IDS first visited Mali with Humanity United in 2017, the message we heard was clear: efforts to build peace were simply not adding up. Perhaps the most critical missing piece was the failure to meaningfully include local communities. We also learned about the important work some were doing to try to address that gap. The name IMRAP – the Institut Malien de Recherche-Action pour la Paix – came up in almost every conversation. Their pioneering work – a self-portrait of Mali – had deliberately taken the national conversation on peace and security to Malian communities to help ensure their perspective was adequately taken into account.  When we met IMRAP, they told us that they were hungry to do more: to sustain and deepen their engagement; to let communities not just talk, but support them to take action; to launch a national conversation to make sure peacebuilding was no longer an elite business, but an imperative for all.

Systemic Action Research approach to peacebuilding

Our conversation with Humanity United began because they were interested in exploring the Systemic Action Research approach to peace building that we had developed with colleagues and communities in Kachin, Myanmar where the Kachin people have been at war with the Burmese majority for over 50 years. This programme was based on the assumption that communities could and should analyse the systemic factors that were driving conflict themselves and collectively generate effective solutions to them. Peace here was articulated as an interwoven network of local actions not a set of distant peace accords made by elites. The award-winning work proved to be extremely successful with major initiatives launched to tackle; drugs as drivers of conflict; land mines; conflicts between IDP camps and local communities etc.

Building on this model and the participatory track record of IMRAP (supported by Interpeace), Humanity United were prepared to invest a long-term, multi-partner initiative with the goal of supporting a community based and led approach to peacebuilding in Mali. This has resulted in the $4.5 million programme “Vestibule de la Paix’,” being launched.

The programme which is co-led by IMRAP, Interpeace, the Institute of Development Studies and Humanity United will be working with communities in the north, center and south of Mali to take forward their solutions to violence. We will also be channeling that experience into conversations with the Malian government and key international players to see how they could shift their practices to harness the power and agency of local actors and build lasting peace.

We believe these efforts can be transformative for Malian communities and they can help fundamentally change approaches to peacebuilding in Mali and beyond.

Danny Burns leads the methodological design of the Systemic Action Research process and represents IDS on the 4 organisation decision making council. Marina Apgar is leading on a complexity and action research based approach to Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning for the programme.

In IDS the programme is situated within the Participation, Inclusion and Social Change team. Other large scale action research programmes in the team include recent work on slavery and bonded labour in India and Nepal, and the CLARISSA programme which is focused on the worst forms of child labour in Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

For more information about the H3I initiative contact Danny Burns at [email protected]

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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