Inclusive peacebuilding and statebuilding in emerging and multicultural states

Gaudence Nyirabikali

1 August 2017


A large proportion of currently conflict-affected settings is comprised of post-colonial states which, in view of their recent formation and the diversity of the populations within their borders, are also characterised as emerging and multicultural states. In these settings, marginalisation based on ethnic and/or regional identity in the political and socio-economic processes figure prominently among the causes of violent conflict. A constructive transformation of such conflicts thus requires adequate inclusive mechanisms that accommodate the various interests and the recognition of the social groups constituting these societies. This implies an understanding of inclusion as both a process and an outcome.  Whereas this approach is widely acknowledged in the peacebuilding and statebuilding discourses and policies, including the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,[1] its implementation remains wanting and in some cases, shortfalls have led to the re-emergence of violent conflict and intractability. Cases like Mali and South Sudan illustrate well such a situation, as in both countries ongoing violent conflicts have been further worsened by the inadequate implementation of already achieved peace settlements.

This article argues that it is the practice of peacebuilding interventions, rather than the models it is based on, that presents serious shortcomings. Among these limitations, insufficient attention to institutional arrangements and their significance for sustainable peace and development are the most notable. How thus can the actual practice of peacebuilding and statebuilding be enhanced for more effective institutional reforms conducive to the emergence of inclusive societies? The ongoing peace processes in Mali and South Sudan may inspire some insights in this regard.

Mali and the 2015 peace agreement

In Mali, the implementation of the 15 May and 20 June 2015 peace agreement[2] has been hampered foremost by a continued lack of inclusiveness in the political process and socio-economic issues, as well as the weakness of the overall implementation of agreed measures.[3] Moreover, whilst the 2015 peace agreement includes provisions for the inclusion and increased representation of northern regions in national institutions, there is no articulation of how such representation is to be implemented.

A clear specification of representation criteria and mechanisms (who, how and at what level) is very important, given the prevalence of inter-community conflicts among the various ethnic groups populating these regions. This concern over representation mechanisms was equally echoed by participants in Mali’s recent conference for national harmony (conférence d’entente nationale) which figured among the provisions of the peace agreement and took place from 27 March to 2 April 2017.[4] Among other recommendations arising from this conference, participants expressed the need for the implementation of a system of proportional representation in the local elections to enable the representation of minority groups in decision-making processes.[5]

Concomitantly, the mandatory representation of rebel coalition groups in decision-making arenas is only tied to the two-year interim period after which the political process will normally be conducted in accordance with the constitution and other national laws (see Annex 1 to the 2015 peace agreement).[6] Such a short-term perspective of inclusive mechanisms contradicts the long-term conception of inclusion as both a process and an outcome. Moreover, the grievances of rebel parties cannot be resolved within the two-year interim period, and hence some representation to pursue them through the political agenda is required.

Within the ongoing implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, the continued lack of clarity about the representation of interests in the political process weakens the peace process and raises doubts over the power holders’ commitments to realising agreed changes, especially with regard to inclusion and related aspects of power and resources distribution. To increase confidence in, and adherence of the belligerent parties to the peace process therefore, agreed provisions need to be supplemented with clear institutional mechanisms of implementation to avoid confusion and reduce the risk of relapsing into violence.

South Sudan and the August 2015 peace agreement

A similar situation is observable in South Sudan, where the implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement has stalled due to a lack of inclusivity in the Transitional Government of National Unity.[7] In contrast to Mali’s 2015 peace agreement, South Sudan’s of August 2015 clearly details the conditions and mechanisms for the inclusion of all relevant parties and stakeholders, including power sharing ratios in the Transitional Government of National Unity.[8] However, effective implementation of this framework has been hampered by a lack of commitment to inclusion on the part of the government in place, resulting in continued violence and the emergence of new opposition movements, such as the National Salvation Front (NSF), whose establishment was officially announced on 6 March 2017.[9]

Without the inclusion of opposition parties that are signatories of the agreement, unilateral implementation of some aspects of the agreement by the government, such as the national dialogue forum launched in May 2017, does not promote cooperation and consensus-building. Rather, this approach reinforces violence and jeopardises the chances of achieving the permanent ceasefire required to relieve the population at large from the humanitarian crisis looming in the country.

Plausible insights for peacebuilding and statebuilding interventions

From the two illustrative cases described above, some relevant aspects emerge that could help bridge the persisting gap between theory and practice of both peacebuilding and statebuilding. These include: (a) an institutional framework that promotes an inclusive democratic process, which in turn ensures equitable political participation and the representation of the different groups within a society; (b) sustained cooperation among parties to a conflict in the implementation of peace agreements; and (c) a long-term vision in the planning of peacebuilding and statebuilding initiatives.

An inclusive approach is necessary not only in the negotiation of peace agreements but also in their implementation. Institutionalising this relationship has critical implications for the quality of peacebuilding and statebuilding outcomes. Intervening actors from the international community have a critical role to play in this regard not only by facilitating dialogue among the immediate stakeholders during the negotiation of peace agreements, but also by supporting the development of appropriate institutional structures to translate the results of such dialogue into reality on the ground.

The ongoing peace processes in Mali and South Sudan are not the first in the history of peacebuilding and statebuilding in either country. Tremendous efforts were previously invested notably in the implementation of Mali’s 1992 National Pact and the implementation of Sudan’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which led to the establishment of South Sudan as an independent state in 2011. Although these peace agreements strived to promote a decentralised and participatory democratic system in both countries, some failings obviously occurred in their implementation as violent conflict re-emerged. In both cases, the decentralised system of governance, which constituted the key institutional framework for citizen participation, was coupled with competitive elections but did not include any provision to ensure the inclusion and representation of the various social groups in the governance process. The lack of contextualised institutional provisions has instead enabled the accumulation of political power in the hands of individuals and the perpetuation of the injustices that led to violent conflict in the first place.

Issues of ethnic and regional marginalisation, unequal access to economic and political opportunities, lack of voice in the political process and of influence on decisions affecting one’s own life, are common to most intra-state conflicts, which dominate the post-Cold War era. Failure to reduce inequality and enhance inclusive decision-making increases the likelihood of violence resuming. Alternatively, sustained inclusive political processes through institutionalised collaboration across the conflict lines can strengthen political stability and social cohesion. Despite significant underlying challenges such as poverty and illiteracy, fostering a bottom-up governance with inclusive representation at all levels of public administration to avoid exclusionary policies may help create a basis for peaceful coexistence in emerging and multicultural societies.

As the various sides of an intra-state conflict are bound to coexist in the same environment, dialogue is needed for them to agree firstly on this inalienable reality[10] and secondly, on the best alternative ways of solving contradictions without resorting to violence. Assisting parties in conflict to transcend their respective original positions and identify mutually satisfactory pathways should constitute a key pillar of peacebuilding and statebuilding interventions. Whilst most peace agreements offer great potentials for such developments, implementation is often hampered by various factors including a lack of funding, short-term and unsustainable engagement by external guarantors, and insufficient coordination of invested efforts. The long-term perspective required in building inclusive institutions must also be taken into consideration when designing peace interventions. There is a need to sustain the commitment of conflict parties to long-term cooperation and not just over the transitional periods.

Finally, measures aimed at enhancing commitment, cooperation and coordination among conflicting parties should include some leadership and peace education specifically tailored for leaders, given the tendency among the leadership to take capacities and skills in these areas for granted, even when the evidence on the ground points to the contrary. A case in point would be the rule of law, and its intrinsic principle of equal application to all, including the leaders themselves. Such a kind of capacity building would fit within the mediation activities of intervening external actors, owing to their comparative advantage in political, economic and development sectors as well as their capacity to work across hierarchies and in different contexts.[11]


[1] United Nations, ‘General Assembly Resolution A/RES/70/1’, 25 September 2015 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[2] United Nations Security Council, ‘Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali emanating from the Algiers process (S/2015/364/Add.1)’, August 2015 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[3] United Nations Security Council, ‘Report of the Secretary General on the Situation in Mali (S/2017/478)’, 6 June 2017 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[4] United Nations Security Council, ‘Report of the Secretary General on the Situation in Mali (S/2017/478)’.

[5] Malinet, ‘Rapport Générale de la Conférence d’Entente Nationale, Bamako, 27 mars – 02 avril 2017’, 2 April 2017 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[6] United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), ‘Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan’, 17 August 2015 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[7] United Nations Security Council, ‘Report of the Secretary General on the Situation in South Sudan (S/2017/505)’, 15 June 2017 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[8] UNMISS, ‘Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan’.

[9] Africans Press, ‘News from South Sudan – Breaking: Gen. Thomas Cirillo declares new rebel group called ‘National Salvation Front’ (NSF)’, 6 March 2017 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

[10] Territory being a fixed factor, ethnic groups living in the same geographical area must come to terms with this reality and agree to find ways of coexisting peacefully.

[11] As highlighted by Richard Whitman in his March 2016 EU-CIVCAP Expert of the Month article – see Richard G. Whitman, ‘The Importance of Mediation for the EU’s international profile’, 1 March 2016 [accessed 31 July 2017], available from:

Photo credit

Title photo: EC Photo/Arnaud Zajtman

About the Author

Gaudence Nyirabikali

Gaudence Nyirabikali is a freelance consultant with expertise in peacebuilding, governance and international development.


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