By MIRIAM CORONEL FERRER
Against the grain of the dominant model, the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is evolving into a model of its own. Its unique feature is that it has effectively combined socio-economic development initiatives during the ceasefire, prior to the comprehensive peace agreement.
As Metro Manila geared for the big rally last February 29, I left for Japan to spend six days with a group of leaders from Mindanao and Sudan.
While those of us flying from Manila eagerly awaited breaking news on the size of the rally, our African friends who were traveling via Nairobi worried about a planned transport strike that would make it impossible for them to get to the international airport in Nairobi, Kenya. Fortunately for them, a political compromise was forged the day before between the presidential contenders. Reminiscent of the Cambodian compromise in the 1990s when the prime ministership was shared between Hun Sen and Prince Ranaridh, incumbent president Kibaki and contender Odinga agreed to share political power as president and executive prime minister, respectively.
The agreement put a halt to communal fighting and is returning normalcy to the Kenyans and also for the South Sudanese who depend a lot on Kenya for the flow of goods to their recently liberated region.
Leaving behind the troubles in our home bases, we settled down to a series of workshops with our Japanese host, the Hiroshima University Partnership for Peace Building and Social Capacity led by Yoshida Osamu-sensei. With myself representing the South-South Network for the Engagement of Armed Groups as co-chair, we discussed the two peace processes to give us insights on the link between ceasefires and socio-economic development.
Common sense will tell us that the two should support each other. Peace, even temporary, allows for development initiatives to start and flourish. Both the ceasefire and development interventions, in turn, can help sustain the political negotiations. In this manner, the tandem serves as effective confidence-building measures to the political negotiation.
More importantly, development programs respond to the immediate rehabilitation needs of communities affected by the armed conflict. The provision of seeds and farming implements, and the construction of schools, farm-to-market roads and water system enable people to return to normal lives on their own and with dignity, while the protagonists hammer out their agreement.
Despite these fairly intuitive assumptions, most peace processes actually have not made the link. A usual model is to arrive first at a comprehensive peace agreement. Only in the so-called post-conflict phase are socio-economic needs addressed. The logic followed is that the political solution will take care of development.
International development agencies and foreign government are generally more inclined to follow this counter-intuitive logic. Their natural tendency is not to go in while the peace remains fragile. They do not want their staff to be unduly put at risk, and their money wasted by renewed fighting. So they push the two parties to go fast on an agreement.
Against the grain of the dominant model, the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is evolving into a model of its own. Its unique feature is that it has effectively combined socio-economic development initiatives during the ceasefire, prior to the comprehensive peace agreement. Despite the hesitancy of the international community, the government-MILF process has also convinced foreign governments and aid agencies to help rebuild Mindanao now. The MILF even got Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) president Sadako Ogata and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney to visit MILF camps in this pursuit.
In contrast, the North-based Khartoum government and the south-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement have signed a final peace agreement with several protocols that, first and foremost, enabled the SPLM to set up its own government and armed force in South Sudan, and to assume the vice-presidency and National Assembly seats in the Khartoum government. The security protocol allowed the setting up of joint forces in the oil-rich Abyei area and two other contested territories. Many aspects of the different protocols will be implemented in the next three years, including the referendum in Abyei where people will choose to remain either as part of the North or the South.
Meanwhile there is no defined mechanism or agreement with international agencies to begin and support socio-economic development initiatives in the former conflict areas. Since relations between the Khartoum government and the SPLM remain unstable, and with the Darfur crisis to complicate matters, there is little incentive for overseas development aid to come in now with a development package. Aid is coming in mostly in the form still of humanitarian assistance for relief and demining rather than for longer-term, grassroots-based socio-economic upliftment programs similar to what have been started in Central Mindanao.
The unique process going on in Mindanao does not mean everything is all rosy. Mr. Von Al Haq, MILF co-chair of the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) said at the workshop, that the political solution founded on an understanding of the historical roots of the problem remains the key. There are in fact fears that the ceasefire and development interventions may be whitewashing the lack of political will to reach a political solution, which for the MILF refers to self-governance. Or that worse, the tandem turns into a form of counter-insurgency. Retired General Rodolfo Garcia, chair of the government negotiating panel who attended the Hiroshima workshop, stressed this is not at all the intent of the government. The delay is due to the difficulty in getting consensus on the touchy issue of ancestral domain.
Indeed, there may be merit in the MILF having more time to prepare for future governance under better circumstances, since as Gen. Garcia aptly put it, "haste makes waste."
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