Libya: the value added of local peace and reconciliation processes

Libya goes through challenging months as the country heads towards elections on 24 December. On 2 July 2021, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), supported by the UN, was not able to reach a consensus on the constitutional basis of the upcoming elections. Earlier in June, during the Second Berlin Conference, there was no significant progress in terms of withdrawal of foreign troops or mercenaries from the country.

In this highly divided context, community-based reconciliation processes are critical to address conflicts stemming from local grievances. However, too often, local populations and communities are not sufficiently involved in the higher-level peace processes. To bridge this gap, Interpeace has gathered a broad range of change agents involved in establishing a common vision of priorities for peace to bring solutions at the local level through community dialogue.

The deep political divisions that characterize Libya both stem from and feed into local grievances – creating a vicious cycle and making the work at the community level all that more important. Since 2011, Interpeace’s engagement in Libya has focused on the development of local infrastructure for peace and social cohesion. Amid this prolonged state of conflict, Libyans are frustrated with the continued political stagnation, failed dialogue processes, and unkept promises. In the context of long-standing multifaceted crisis in Libya, there are high hopes for a democratic transition in the coming months, even with the last setbacks, but that is complicated by numerous social and political challenges in addition to the ongoing conflict and the spread of Covid-19.

The years of conflict have also weakened the already fragile social cohesion and widened the gaps in the country. Re-establishing social cohesion and inclusion must be a priority while building sustainable peace in such a complex conflict situation as the one in Libya. Through its project “Strengthening Local Cohesion in Libya: A Pathway to Lasting Peace”, Interpeace seeks to reinforce local resilience capacities for sustainable peace and contribute to the development of local environment for stability and future growth in Libya. Almost 30 communities benefit from the programme.

Over the last ten years in Libya, Interpeace has developed and accompanied a network of over 200 ‘Change Agents’ or ‘Dialogue Facilitators’, across the country working directly with the population. This group is made up of influential individuals of all ages, genders and social status. Its members play an important role in building resilient peace in Libya from the bottom-up, by ensuring that engaged communities are equipped to be more resilient to conflict, especially at the community level. This initiative is aimed at catalyzing collaboration between Libyan communities, and with national authorities, to establish a common vision of priorities for peace through strengthening dialogue platforms and building the capacity of change agents in local communities. This effort is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs.

On the practical level, I was greatly empowered in my social participation. There were some activities I stayed away from, thinking they belong to the specialists, and I never participated. I felt that it [the engagement in the initiative] gave me the courage to participate. I was staying away from those having opposing ideas and positions, but I began to intervene in positive ways. If a tough situation occurs, I try and find constructive solutions to it,” says a female change agent from Tobruk.

In the programme’s framework, Interpeace sets up various initiatives to bring together change agents based in different parts of Libya and support their efforts in building peaceful social environment. The most recent gathering took place in Tunis from 20 to 28 June 2021. It was organized to help these community leaders and influencers in identifying and addressing priority issues inside communities.

This experience can be characterized in two ways: we established relationships in all Libyan cities when maintaining direct communication. I mean, now I have friends in every Libyan city, and I can say that 60% of the advantage I gained is the fact that I personally know young people from all the cities and from different fields. […] Personally, I have met influential people in different communities, wise people and influencers in civil society. […] We know mistrust that can exist among individuals towards international organisations working in Libya, but Interpeace has a different approach – this is a special experience,” explains a male change agent from Tobruk.

Forty change agents divided into two groups participated in four-days sessions for each. The workshop aimed at providing the dialogue facilitators who are based in the eastern part of Libya with the required skills and tools to design and conduct community dialogue tailored to their local context.

I am shy – even when I have something to say, I prefer to stay in the background, keep quiet. I am not social by nature, I prefer staying at home. My participation in the workshops […] made me want to express my point of view whether or not it is accepted by the other party. Now, on the social level I have the power to participate in ongoing projects in Libya, such as enhancing the role of women in electoral processes, as voters or as candidates, as well as at the level of national reconciliation,” says a female change agent from Al-Baida.

This work is critical with the current changes taking place in the sensitive political context of Libya and ahead of elections in which communities will play a key role.

The role of the change agents will be critical in the eventual implementation of a political agreement in bringing public support, particularly among civil society, who are likely to be key champions of any peace outcomes negotiated. The sustainability of a political solution will be dependent on a shared societal agreement about what peace means and what it entails, but also community engagement –going beyond simple outreach - as an actual process of inclusion in the implementation to ensure sustainable peace,” concluded Renée Larivière, Senior Director for Programme Management at Interpeace.

Strengthening the role of young women as advocates of peace and security in Palestine through creativity and art

The political sphere in Palestine is male dominated, with young women in particular excluded from political and security decision-making. Significantly, existing social norms, growing conservative attitudes, prevailing gender stereotypes and socio-economic hardship hinder women’s participation at positions of influence. As a result, young women are often not engaged or involved in traditional power structures, and ultimately, have limited knowledge of their civic and political rights, including the capacity to express their political and social views.

To help shift this reality, Interpeace’s Palestine programme (Mustakbalna) has since its creation engaged diverse actors across the political spectrum and key sectoral groups within the Palestinian society, including women and youth, as change agents to promote constructive dialogue, enhance civil peace and greater stability within the Palestinian community.

In 2018, Mustakbalna partnered with The Freedom Theatre to strengthen the role of young women as advocates of peace and security in Palestine through creativity and art. Combining technical capacity building on UNSCR 1325, human rights, and gender with training on the use of innovative advocacy tools such as participatory photography, videography and theatre, young women from six different areas in the West Bank were empowered to act with influence, stand up for their rights and lead positive change in their communities.

Empowering women through art   

In 2000, the Security Council passed UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This resolution was a milestone because it acknowledged the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls, as well as the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and peacebuilding. More than just victims of conflict, the resolution recognized women as actors of change and as peacebuilders, as well as acknowledged the importance of including women in all stages of conflict prevention and peace negotiations. However, in conflict-affected countries, women – and young women in particular – often do not possess technical knowledge of UNSCR 1325 and generally lack the space, confidence and advocacy skills to voice their concerns and aspirations to decision-makers.

Thinking of ways to address the particular challenge faced by young women, the Mustakbalna programme in partnership with The Freedom Theatre delivered a series of capacity building workshops, theatre and drama workshops, and participatory photography/videography sessions, to enable young women in target areas to improve their confidence, advocacy skills and technical knowledge of UNSCR 1325. These comprehensive training efforts helped 120 young women between the ages of 15-25 to find their “own voice” using creativity and art. Throughout the sessions, young women improved their ability to have oftentimes difficult conversations about security concerns, covering issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse with their peers, project staff, and key stakeholders, while at the same time linking these concerns to broader reflections about UNSCR 1325 and to what extent it can be used as an advocacy tool. These improvements were confirmed by participants’ parents, and other project stakeholders, including women leaders, who were impressed by the level of knowledge and expertise demonstrated by young women such as displaying greater confidence and courage, greater awareness of their rights as women and as Palestinians, and greater clarity in their communication and self-expression. As a result, young women were able to bring forth their concerns and aspirations through various means and with various audiences.

The photography and videography workshops trained young women in the use of cameras and mobile phones to document issues around them and examine how these tools can be used as an advocacy instrument. Young women produced photographs and short films portraying their everyday realities, concerns and challenges regarding security, sexual harassment, societal pressure, abuse, and discrimination (gender and age) but also their aspirations and role in society. Meanwhile, the theatre and drama workshops covered not only theory and practice, but also interactive exercises such as use of body language and confidence-building. As a conclusion to the workshops, the works produced by young women, such as theatre sketches, photographs and short films, were presented in local communities to foster discussion around the role and concerns of young women.

Additionally, as part of the objective to raise broader awareness about issues concerning women in the Palestinian society, Interpeace’s partner, The Freedom Theater led the production of a play “Us Too – Women of Palestine”. The play highlighted powerful personal stories of harassment, struggle for equality, and women’s dreams of determining their own future, which toured in different locations in the West Bank.

In October 2018, a National Gathering was organized to conclude the training elements of the project. For the first time, the young women working groups were brought together from across the West Bank: Jenin City, Ya’bad, Nablus, Tulkarem, Tubas, and Hebron to help build stronger relationships, networks and communication channels with each other and with local organizations.

Connecting young women with decision-makers

As an integral part of the project, communication channels were created between young women and local decision-makers through introductory meetings to provide women with concrete opportunities to practice advocacy and accountability. These meetings were organized in all target areas, where participants discussed the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and the role and particular security concerns of young women. Over 120 participants attended these meetings including young women, representatives of local municipalities, Governorate Offices, political parties, women’s and human rights organizations, legal institutions, and informal community leaders.

Furthermore, through the advocacy engagements facilitated by the programme, a meeting between young women and representatives of the National Coalition for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Palestine was organized. The discussion covered issues such as gender-based violence and discrimination against women including honor killings, violence against women by the Israeli occupation, raising awareness among men of women’s rights, gender, and UNSCR 1325, as well as the challenge of forming a unified front among women on the issue of women’s rights in Palestine.

Both decision-makers and women leaders acknowledged the importance and necessity of listening to these strong – but often marginalized – voices and recognized the place and potential of young women as “future leaders” of the Palestinian society.

Ensuring young women’s access to community structures at a local level is key to enabling them to later participate in peace and security processes at the national level. Fostering greater awareness of young women’s rights and opportunities can enable them to use such frameworks, and UNSCR 1325 specifically, as tools to advocate for a greater role for themselves.

The implementation of the Interpeace and Freedom Theatre project “Advocates for peace and security” was made possible with the generous support of the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA).

Photo credit: The Freedom Theatre

Kenya: Raising Local Voices for Peace in Mandera

Hassan Ismail likes to joke that the trajectory of his life has been defined by conflict. Born and raised in Kenya’s Mandera County, Hassan has experienced violent clan conflict several times in his life. On two occasions when he was a child, his family was ransacked in violent episodes of conflict, losing their entire herd of camels and with it their livelihood. The second attack that took place when Hassan was a teenager proved the most devastating. Hassan’s father, known in his prime as a hardworking family man, was unable to set the family back on its feet due to the frailties of age. Life became a difficult struggle. But through sheer determination, Hassan was able to struggle his way through school and to embark on a life of service to the community. He has worked as a school teacher, a humanitarian aid worker and now coordinates Interpeace’s new peacebuilding programme in Mandera.

03_Hassan (right) makes a point during the induction of the Mandera programme team. Photo credit - Interpeace

Hassan (right) makes a point during the induction of the Mandera programme team. Photo credit: Interpeace

Hassan is quick to clarify that his experience is not unique. His story rings true for many people from Mandera County, which has had a long history of clan conflict and marginalization. While many of the conflicts were traditionally rooted in territorial disputes, they have in recent decades been compounded by competition over political and economic opportunities. A new national constitution adopted in 2010 ushered in Kenya’s Second Republic, and with it a new era of devolved governance. The advent of devolution was welcomed by many residents of Mandera, who were optimistic that their historical marginalization might finally come to an end. But while devolution brought national resources, social services and governance closer to the local population, also provided a new frontier for contention between the County’s various clans for political and economic power.

It is in the midst of these challenges that Interpeace’s Mandera peacebuilding programme seeks to provide a glimmer of hope. Implemented in partnership with Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), the programme’s goal is to integrate grassroots aspirations for peace, building on local capacities and providing a strategic link with decision and policy makers at the national level. The programme marks a departure from past peace initiatives, which were largely top-down interventions mobilized to contain situations that had already escalated into violence.

“Many peace efforts were unstainable because local voices were missing from the equation,” Hassan explains.

01_Members of the new Mandera Programme team during their induction. Photo credit - Interpeace

Members of the new Mandera Programme team during their induction. Photo credit: Interpeace

Taking a bottom-up approach, the Mandera programme seeks to progressively build peace by placing local populations in the driving seat, particularly in the identification of both the impediments to peace and possible solutions.  The NCIC completes the picture by providing the crucial channel through which the government will better understand the underlying causes of these clan conflicts.

One of the ways in which local voices will be captured is through the Mobile Audio Visual Unit (MAVU). Interpeace has decades of experience using audio-visual means, mainly mobile cinema, to build trust and understanding among communities divided by either conflict or geographical distance. The MAVU approach involves facilitated dialogues catalyzed through documentary films, which are additionally used to bring the voices of local populations to the attention of policy and decision makers.

“The opportunity for the government to perceive the conflicts from the perspective of grassroots people will make a great difference,” Hassan says. “It will pave the way for the development of long-term structures for peace, built and endorsed by people at the grassroots level.”

Read more about Interpeace’s work in Eastern and Central Africa.

02_Some members of the new Mandera programme team during their induction. Photo credit - Interpeace

Some members of the new Mandera Programme team during their induction. Photo credit: Interpeace

Engaging people in peacebuilding and statebuilding - Why and how?

Interpeace’s International Peacebuilding Advisory Team (IPAT) will host a one-day training and learning event on citizen engagement in peacebuilding on 26 November. The event will be an opportunity to learn about practical ways to operationalize important aspects of Sustainable Development Goal 16: Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.

The mechanisms for citizen participation in established democracies do not always exist – or are not as robust – in countries attempting to emerge from conflict. State institutions are often significantly weakened and lacking in the public’s trust, while society itself may have a yet-to-be developed sense of “citizenship”.

In such contexts efforts to create meaningful public participation can have multiple benefits. They can:

Yet the prevailing practices are not necessarily conducive to enabling greater public participation and citizen engagement. Mediation efforts tend to concentrate on the powerful elite players while other international actors work with national civil society groups that are not necessarily representative of the wider population.

From more than 20 years of experience in peacebuilding, we know that peace cannot be imported from the outside and that it must be built from within a society. This is why Interpeace tailors its approach to each society and ensures that the work is locally driven. Interpeace believes that every society has what it needs to build peace. Our role is to support societies to harness their strengths. Together with local partners, we jointly develop peacebuilding programmes. We help to establish inclusive processes of change that connect local communities, civil society, government and the international community through our Track 6 approach.

The course

This one day training course draws on Interpeace’s experience with inclusive peacebuilding but will also create space for participants to share their experiences and engage in peer learning.

Throughout the day we will make use of inputs, group work, case examples and video clips that illustrate public participation on issues that matter, in various peacebuilding and statebuilding contexts.

Key questions that we will explore during the day will be:

Event details

When and Where:  Thursday 26 November at the Interpeace Office, Maison de la Paix, Geneva.
Sessions will run from 9.30-12.45 and 14.00-17.45.

Main course facilitator: Koenraad Van Brabant, Senior Peacebuilding Adviser
Main working language: English

Cost: CHF 85 per person, for the one-day training. This includes the course fee and coffee and tea but snacks or lunch are not provided. Though there is time out over lunch, this is a full day event and participants are expected to be present during both morning and afternoon sessions.

Applications to: with mention ‘citizen engagement course’.  Acceptance to the course is on a first come, first served basis – acceptance is confirmed by payment in advance of the course fee to Interpeace

IBAN CH88 0027 9279 2135 5200 G;