By Suzanne Ghais, Ph.D. (sghais.com)
The other day I had coffee with my friend and colleague Eric Meade. We had a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion, and then, as two solo consultants in related but distinct lines of work, we did the usual thing and offered each other ideas for our respective businesses. I got talking about how I seek ways to support inclusive peace negotiations, and he pointed out that “inclusivity” is often code for a leftist/liberal view of the world. He suggested that, if I want to broaden my client base, I consider finding some other language.
This got me thinking. True, left-of-center types are more likely to talk about building inclusive societies, with greater economic and political participation of women, minorities, and various disadvantaged groups. But anyone who pays attention to peace processes has heard arguments that inclusive processes are more likely to produce durable peace. So, are those of us promoting “inclusive” peace negotiations actually advancing a left-of-center political agenda?
The answer, I believe, lies in what kind of inclusivity we’re talking about. As suggested by Eric (different, Eric, by the way, than the one in my earlier post about the UN), the political right might be interested in including the powerful–thus, in the case of peace talks, the strongest armed groups–while the political left might seek to empower the marginalized through inclusion.
For me, the key is the link between inclusion and the armed conflict itself. We know that including civil society organizations makes durable peace more likely (especially in less-democratic countries). My own research suggests that including civil society groups in peace negotiations helps direct the discussions toward the underlying sources of conflict. We also know that meaningful participation of women has a similar effect. I was intrigued that the Colombia/FARC peace process included conflict victims–clearly a relevant constituency. Finally, we know that excluding major armed groups increases the likelihood they’ll turn into “spoilers” who actively undermine the peace.
However, I’ve started to see calls for inclusion of youth, people with disabilities, members of the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups in peace talks. While equal rights for such groups are important causes in and of themselves, I question whether we are going too far in trying to shoehorn them into peace processes. It is true that peace talks offer an opportunity to reshape a society’s political landscape, but we risk serious backlash if we push issues that bear little to no relevance to the origins or dynamics of the armed conflict. In Colombia, one reason for the rejection by referendum of the first peace agreement was its language advancing LGBT rights. Beyond public rejection, the danger is that mediators and armed-group leaders will dismiss the experts’ advice entirely or will maintain an inclusive facade to please the foreign advisors but conduct back-channel negotiations in which the real decisions are made in the most secretive, exclusive way possible.
We must accept that ostensibly technical advice on how to make a peace process more effective is never totally apolitical. If some of the push for inclusivity echoes left-of-center politics, so be it. If inclusivity of armed groups pleases the right, so be it too. However, those of us seeking to build durable peace should stay focused on the kind of inclusion that will help achieve that goal–inclusion that will help address the societal needs and grievances that gave rise to conflict, inclusion that will highlight the impacts of conflict–and not just inclusion to advance outsiders’ political ideals.