What's In Blue

Posted Mon 11 Oct 2021

High-Level Open Debate on Diversity and State-Building

Tomorrow (12 October), the Security Council will hold a high-level open debate titled “Diversity, State-building and the search for peace”, under the “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace” agenda item. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief in person. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, former South African President Thabo Mbeki and a civil society representative will brief via videoconference (VTC). Council members will participate in person, while non-Council members will submit their statements in writing.

Kenya prepared a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s debate, which is one of the signature events of its Council presidency. The concept note says that most of the situations on the Council’s agenda stem from domestic conflicts in which issues relating to identity—whether ethnic, racial, religious, partisan or socioeconomic—are often a cause of conflict or exploited to fuel it. It notes that throughout history, such forms of identity have been “manipulated and turned into instruments for mobilisation to compete for economic resources and political power”. Moreover, it observes that the real or perceived marginalisation and exclusion of groups from political processes and economic resources have been a source of violence and the formation of separatist movements.

The concept note maintains that diversity is increasingly used and sometimes weaponised to cope with issues such as the economic crises which started in the mid-2000s and have deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic, rising youth unemployment, and growing inequality. This trend is even visible in traditionally stable and wealthy countries, according to the concept note. The concept note also highlights the role of social media, which it describes as “producing echo chambers” that feed civic polarisation, misinformation, disinformation, incitement and extremism.

According to the concept note, to effectively prevent and resolve conflict, the Council and its associated peacebuilding bodies need to “deploy ideas, methods and frameworks that reflect an appreciation for the surge in conflicts driven, or worsened, by diversity”. It advocates for states to develop abilities to mediate group dynamics and differences among diverse populations, while contending that state-building efforts in peacekeeping and peacebuilding situations need to better manage diversity. State-building further requires conflict resolution, political mediation and economic development approaches that, according to the concept note, strengthen the ability of countries to pursue and maintain civil cohesion.

The concept note proposes several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting, including:

  • How can early warning and early response tools be made more useful and acceptable to states that are increasingly vulnerable to diversity-defined violent conflicts?
  • How can UN bodies, regional organisations, and development institutions be more effective in delivering the skills, incentives and joint initiatives to mitigate and resolve conflicts sparked by exclusion or the perception of it?
  • How should states and the Security Council deal with social media and digital commons that are directly involved in stoking violence through incitement, hate speech, fake news, and deepfakes?
  • How can peacekeeping transitions prevent relapses into violent conflicts that have pitted [against each other] armed actors claiming to represent the interests of groups defined by identity?
  • How can the UN’s existing mechanisms be strengthened to help states embed conflict resolution and inclusion in pre- and post-conflict state-building processes?

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may reflect on their own experiences with challenges relating to identity and state-building. In Kenya, politicised ethnic violence in the aftermath of the December 2007 presidential election resulted in the death of over 1,100 people and the displacement of at least 300,000.  An AU-appointed panel of mediators, which included former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, helped broker an agreement in February 2008 to reform state institutions and address longstanding grievances. Tomorrow’s debate further reflects Nairobi’s interest in peacebuilding and sustaining peace—Kenya serves as the informal coordinator between the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and previously served as PBC chair in 2016.

There are numerous examples of the role of identity in conflict situations on the Council’s agenda. The fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region stems in large part from competition for political power between ethnic groups and their grievances over being marginalised by the central authorities. Mali’s instability in the past decade was triggered by a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs, who sought their own independent state in the country’s long-neglected north. Terrorist groups that have proliferated across the Sahel have sought to exploit identity-related issues, recruiting among the traditionally nomadic ethnic Fulani who have felt discriminated against by the authorities. In turn, the Fulani have been victims of attacks by communities that associate them with extremist groups, driving a cycle of inter-communal violence.

Speakers at tomorrow’s meeting could highlight UN peacebuilding reforms in recent years that have recognised dynamics related to diversity and state-building for preventing conflict and sustaining peace. The Advisory Group of Experts (AGE), which prepared an initial report for the ten-year review of the UN peacebuilding architecture in 2015, stressed the importance of inclusive national ownership for successful peacebuilding. The AGE warned that national ownership cannot simply entail national elites imposing peace “on fractious populations that lack even minimal trust in their leaders”, but that “[t]he national responsibility to drive efforts to sustain peace must therefore be broadly shared across all key social strata and divides”. In resolution 2282 of 27 April 2016 on the ten-year review, the Security Council echoed this point, emphasising that “inclusivity is key to advancing national peacebuilding processes and objectives in order to ensure that the needs of all segments of society are taken into account”. Likewise, Sustainable Development Goal 16 indicates the important role that state institutions can play in peacefully managing diversity. The goal aspires to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; provide access to justice for all; and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

While no formal Council product is anticipated for tomorrow’s debate, Kenya may prepare a summary of the main ideas raised or lessons identified in the meeting, to be circulated in a Council letter following the meeting. Such a summary could provide a basis for further Council discussion of this issue. Later this month, Kenya is expected to organise a closed Arria-formula meeting on hate speech, which will also include a discussion on the role of social media.