These are two fundamental questions that definitely need more attention out there and which are further related to how we measure peace in the first place.
In my recent article, ‘What has changed with peace? Local perceptions of empowerment in Mozambique’, I explore the first question in the context of Mozambique. Several pillars of peace in Mozambique have been examined in the literature in the last two decades. Democracy, development and statebuilding in general have been critically assessed and discussed thoroughly. Yet, what about the voices of everyday people, the ordinary farmer, the simple, unknown and unnamed everyday person who is out there, figuring out her own survival?
‘How have Mozambicans perceived the changes arising from peace in their daily lives?’ was my guiding question. In particular, I was interested in how peace has changed people’s perceptions of empowerment, including their ability to influence political spaces and to improve their own lives. Unsurprisingly, I found that institutional reforms, favoured in peacebuilding practices, do not necessarily generate the expected changes at the local level. But more importantly, I found that what people referred to as indicators of change did not necessarily correspond to the priorities that frame the mainstream peacebuilding agenda.
This leads me to the second question: ‘What is it that everyday people want and expect from peace?’ It seems to me that whereas ‘participation’ and ‘local ownership’ has been on the spot when it comes to peacebuilding, in practice this only seems to apply in the case of pre-defined agendas. But where are the local voices when it comes to defining the very agendas that will frame peacebuilding activities?
Whereas it is the case that there exist many interests in keeping those specific agendas (i.e., democratization/elections, marketization and security sector reform) at the forefront of policy activities, it is also the case that we still lack better tools and training to grasp what is it that everyday people want in the context of peacebuilding. This is particularly so because most participatory techniques are based on direct personal interaction with local constituencies, which can be very time consuming and expensive.
The good news is that technology may be a tool to facilitate this process. About a week ago Prof. David Roberts (Loughborough University) introduced me to the website Hearing Voices, which is part of a collaborative project between academics who are concerned precisely with what local subjects think are the most important aspects to be addressed in the aftermath of war. The website is basically a place where people can write their answers which will then be collected and shared with the institutions that are directly engaged with peacebuilding practices.
I was happily surprised with the first question that appears on the page — ‘At the end of war, do you want elections before new roads?’ In the focus groups I conducted in Northern Mozambique, roads were on the top of the list of things that people complained that had not sufficiently changed in the last 20 years, and this is was something that had negative effects in their ability to improve local trade and, thus, local economy.
Human development is usually the ‘forgotten’ agenda, because it is portrayed as conditioned to other more ‘urgent’ reforms; yet it is infrastructure and basic services that often are more ‘urgent’ to many people than decentralization reforms or privatization. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if, actually, prioritizing health and schools would not lead to a better environment where to implement reforms in the field of democracy and decentralization…
The point is, I only think this because of what I heard from the local people I spoke with. Priorities certainly change among people and according to different contexts, and the least we (academic and practitioners) can do is take the time to listen.