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Building sustainable peace, democracy in post-conflict societies requires holistic approach focused on leadership training, Second Committee told

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Sixty-third General Assembly
Second Committee
Panel Discussion (AM)

Replacing the conventional wisdom on post-conflict reconstruction with a holistic approach focused on leadership training and training methodology could go a long way towards building sustainable peace and democracy in post-conflict societies, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) heard as it held a panel discussion this morning on "Post-conflict State capacity: Reconstructing public administration for conflict prevention, recovery and development".

Panellist Howard Wolfe, Director of the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, said Governments often assumed that building the right institutions, holding elections, and punishing bad behaviour with moral pressure and legal sanctions would lead to stability, security and democracy. But most transitional societies were culturally plural and suffered from a weak sense of national identity and community. They tended to dehumanize "outsiders", while focusing morally and legally on the "in group" instead.

Mr. Wolfe, who is also Director of the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, went on to note that calling political enemies to the negotiating table to immediately hammer out agreements often did not work. Democracy depended not just on competition; it also required cooperation. Diplomats and other peacemakers must first address the process and attitudinal dimensions of peacemaking, while distinguishing between technical capacity and collaborative decision-making capacity. Through training, conflicting parties were forced to confront issues and problems in hypothetical contexts. The lessons they learned, their new understanding of themselves, and their previous adversaries could then be applied to resolve real conflicts.

That approach to restoring trust, rebuilding fractured relationships, building a new consensus on the "rules of the game", and strengthening communication and negotiation skills had proven effective in Burundi, he said. In that post-conflict society, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity had conducted a long-term training programme for nearly 100 key leaders from all sectors of society, including hard-line extremist military figures viewed as key to the country's future. After six months of workshops, great cohesion had been built among those leaders. It had trained more than 100 members of the newly integrated army's high command and 100 members of the national police force, turning former belligerents, in many cases, into constructive citizens and leaders.

In neighbouring Rwanda, meanwhile, Government officials took a decentralized approach to peacebuilding, said John-Mary Kauzya, Chief of the Governance and Public Administration Branch in the Division for Public Administration and Development Management of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Officials dismantled old politico-administrative structures and mentalities, replacing old leadership groups with ones that could preach the message of peace. They created local leadership bases and encouraged local participation, in addition to setting up structural arrangement to build trust between Government and the people, and among the local people themselves. The focus was on transparency and accountability, sensitivity and responsiveness of the public administration, sustainable capacity development at the local level, and efficient service delivery.

He said that in Rwanda, and elsewhere, decentralized networks of local institutions, individuals and humanitarian operations could help re-establish Government services, mobilize communities, improve democratic processes, and demonstrate the responsiveness of public institutions, thus building trust. Decentralized governance was also conducive to peace since it ensured better implementation of national policy and laws. But its success depended on the design, as well as the political, bureaucratic, and social will and strength of the central Government. It could mitigate conflict by allowing sufficient shared exercise of power among competing groups at the centre and the periphery. It could also mitigate violence by strengthening the central Government and enabling it to sustain a stable, strong State. However, in fragmented societies with high levels of mistrust, there could be danger in placing undue emphasis on decentralized governance.

Odette Ramsingh, Director-General of South Africa's Office of the Public Service Commission, said that, in that country's post-apartheid era, the African National Congress faced the daunting task of reconstructing the apartheid public service into a vehicle for delivering services to all South Africans, rather than just the white minority. Its approach to reconstruction was underpinned by reconciliation and nation-building, but rather than discard all existing structures, the Government had rebuilt many of them, and set transparent legislative and policy framework targets. However, white power had not disappeared overnight. The "sunset clause" embedded in the 1993 Interim Constitution had given white public servants security of tenure. The public service overhaul involved replacing conflict, corrupt practices, inefficient management, bureaucratic red tape, and a predominately white male workforce servicing the privileged white minority with reconciliation and nation-building, effective governance and accountability, administrative efficiency, and a workforce representative of and serving society at large.

She said the African National Congress leadership had developed a series of "white papers" identifying several key priorities to achieve a democratic South Africa, particularly in human resource development and affirmative action, giving equal opportunity in pay and opportunities for all ethnic races. Fourteen years later, previously disadvantaged sectors of society accounted for 87 per cent of the public service workforce, a sound ethics framework had been set up and access to basic amenities had improved. A total of 88 per cent of the population had access to piped water, and since 1994, electricity had been extended to 3.5 million more homes. By 2006, more than 70 per cent of South African households had sanitation services and 25 per cent of the population were receiving social grants. The country had experienced unprecedented economic growth, from between 2.4 per cent to 5 per cent annually. Yet, challenges still abounded, including the need to halve poverty levels by 2014, ensure all public service managers were female by 2009, turn the tide against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, reduce serious crime and heighten citizen engagement, among other priorities.

Opening the panel discussion, Committee Vice-Chair Troy Torrington ( Guyana) said four aspects of reconstruction were generally acknowledged as fundamental to achieving and sustaining peace: providing security and the rule of law; regenerating a peacetime economy; re-establishing efficient governance institutions to deliver services and fundamental freedoms; and repairing the social fabric to engender national cohesion. Re-establishing credible governance and public administration institutions and systems was arguably the most critical determinant of sustainable peace. Sustainable recovery rested on the leadership's political will to reconstruct societal institutions on a new course, and a sound public administration system with well-equipped public servants to help them do it.

He said the panel discussion would look deeply at the aftermath of conflict, and discover what would permit an emerging, new system to rest on a firm foundation that built faithfully on society's traditional and cultural heritage, but that would establish new parameters that would rectify inequities, mistakes and bad governance from the past. It was necessary to build from the ground up, because there could be no firm foundation without paying attention to local-level needs, structures, problems, concerns and attitudes. Many of the challenges in post-conflict situations were interlinked, and the solutions must be as well.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Afghanistan asked about reconciliation in post-conflict situations, how trust should be built, and the role of neighbouring countries in that process.

Mr. Kauzya responded by saying it was difficult to apply a general framework everywhere because post-conflict countries had no homogenous identity. It would depend on the causes of conflict in each particular country, the extent of conflict and who had actually taken power. In some cases, it was the United Nations itself that had taken power as an interim Government. There was a need to look at a holistic picture encompassing the national Government, the development partners supporting it, the civil society that must work with it and the private sector. Furthermore, while talking about conflict, it was necessary to find a way to communicate to all parties that the main issue was that each one would gain when everyone worked towards development.

Ms. Ramsingh said that one of the key principles of the South African public service was that of value for money, which was always intertwined with the issue of effectiveness. That was critical to shaping a desirable public service. It was not merely about delivering service, but quality-driven service as well.

On the issue of reconciliation, she said the South African experience was really about the type of post-conflict national leadership the country had. If the vast majority of South Africans actually saw their leaders as liberators, then that leadership would start with a clean slate. The South African people really believed in their leadership, and it could therefore drive reform.

Mr Wolfe said the role of regional States could either be "very positive or very negative" in post-conflict situations. In many instances, regional engagement was complicated, because the regional States were perceived as partisans of one side or the other.

Sweden's representative also participated in the discussion.

In closing remarks, Moderator Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said the public administration system was the backbone of Government. As States reviewed their own habits, they should look at the breakdown of governance processes -- inadequate service delivery, mismanaged public projects, lack of accountability and transparency, exclusion and marginalization, and lack of participatory decision-making -- which were all warning signs of governance under stress. The process of restoring health services was part of a long continuum that started before a conflict erupted, continued in the intermediate aftermath and into the long-term restructuring of post-conflict administration and governance.

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