Monday, April 8, 2019
Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has been on the radar for peacebuilding experts for years, and with protracted crises specifically in Libya, Syria, and Yemen challenging traditional aid approaches to promoting peace, we are ecstatic to have Professor of Practice, David Wood, on the case. Wood was solicited by the German Government to conduct Peace and Conflict Analyses and make recommendations for foreign governments on how to provide foreign aid without increasing or creating further division amongst competing political factions; but also so as to make a positive contribution towards peace.
Wood hails from London, England and has previously worked on creating peacemaking and peacekeeping patterns for non-government organizations in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans, and United Kingdom Government's stabilization unit in South Asia. However, the 2011 Arab Spring inspired him to shift his focus to Libya, Syria, and Yemen, countries he found "essential for the change process in the Middle East and North Africa, but yet all exhibiting slightly different flavors and needs. One," he suggests, "has more humanitarian needs, another developmental, and the last would benefit from more mediation-oriented support." In Yemen, he continues, "there is an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, in Libya, there is an ongoing process of relationship building across divides, and Syria faces a challenging mediation process locally, politically, and internationally."
With the Arab Spring at its peak, the timing was right for peacemakers, like himself, to come together and align their resources in the Middle East to effectively guide the countries above toward positive, peaceful outcomes. His previous work had demonstrated that, while essential, large multi-lateral organizations such as the United Nations or large non-governmental organizations take a long time to respond to conflict dynamics and can be 'risk averse' in how they pursue making peace. In response, he founded a non-profit organization called Peaceful Change Initiative to bring about more rapid change to areas deeply affected by ongoing conflict. In Syria, they provide mentoring and support for mediation leaders in opposition-held areas, and in Libya, they provide support for municipalities to manage the relationship between political groups.
As Wood sought to further build upon his research and create frameworks for peacebuilding in these places, Seton Hall emerged as the perfect place to do so. "There was an opportunity," says Wood, "under the School of Diplomacy, to mix and merge the worlds of academia and peacebuilding practice. It was a great match for me." Because of his extensive knowledge of the context of Libyan political division, Wood was personally approached by the German government to compile the report Peace and Conflict Assessment of Libya: The potential for aid to promote peace (PCA), under the auspices of Seton Hall. His findings provide not only the German government, but essentially a host of countries around the globe, with policy recommendations that may shape the way foreign assistance is maximized. Wood says, "Seton Hall isn't doing the research just because the German government asked us to do it, we're doing it because strategically, it is essential to improve the interaction between humanitarian aid, development, and peace-building." In his report, Wood addresses the main question that foreign aid agencies ask, namely, "How do we provide assistance without making the situation worse, and actually help people find peace?"
In the PCA, Wood traces the background of post-Qaddafi political divisions, starting with the establishment of the National Transitional Council in 2012, which planned for Libya's transition toward a democratic government and society. The General National Congress, a product of the Council, started off with strong potential, but in the second national elections in 2014, hardline groups in the Congress did not secure re-elections and refused to recognize the results, and this resulted in two competing governments. While well-meaning, the subsequent UN-led mediation processes between the competing governments led to the international community taking sides with one of the conflicting parties. Wood then dives into the context and characteristics of the political tension currently gripping the country. He recommends peacebuilding actions for aid agencies who can only provide assistance to one government at the moment, but who seek to unify Libya once and for all.
While his report may be limited to Libya, the framework holds significance for any foreign country that seeks to provide humanitarian aid but doesn't know how. The cyclical dangers of fragility, conflict, and violence aren't unique to Libya, thus neither are the solutions Wood proposes. He suggests that agencies should support cooperation and negotiation across divides, and push for the public to closely examine the operations of armed groups. This report holds the key to reuniting a country that has been engulfed in turmoil for some time, but most importantly, it has the potential to serve as the basis for peacebuilding everywhere, for years to come.
Learn more about the peacebuilding work of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies by getting to know Wood's colleagues, Dr. Zheng Wang and Dean Andrea Bartoli.
Categories: Nation and World