From Northern Ireland to DRC: Women and the peace process

(Above: Members of the delegation from DRC in Belfast, Northern Ireland )

All civilians suffer in conflict, but women and children often bear the burden.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Democratic Republic of Congo where citizens have suffered since 1994. Women were exposed to the harsh realities of conflict, but when it came to building a lasting peace agreement were denied a seat at the table.

In January, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy invited a targeted group of women political and civil society activists from DRC to learn important lessons about the role they can play in bringing about lasting resolution to conflict. Outbreaks of violence still occur in some regions even today, but we hope through best practice exchanges with key institutions involved in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland women activists will be encouraged to participate fully in the process.

Empowering women leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to facilitate meaningful change through their work was at the heart of WFD’s previous programme. Our support to Dyfcoside, a group composed of 8 women MPs and 12 representatives of women CSOs led to the submission of the first ever non-budget related edict in Province Orientale submitted by women representatives. This demonstrates how MPs and CSO activists can overcome traditional social barriers and work effectively together to advance issues of social justice on behalf of citizens. A model that could apply significantly to bringing lasting peace in DRC.

By facilitating the sharing of lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process, the delegation were encouraged to engage in inclusive dialogue with excluded parties from different communities and exposed to ways in which women build influence the peace process at home and abroad.

“The visit to Belfast was very beneficial as we were able to see women first hand who have taken charge when experiencing their own difficulties” Nasha Mulangala who has held various roles in civil society said. Meeting with women who initiated dialogue in Northern Ireland resonated with members of the delegation. Nasha added “I believe they can provide us with the tools to help lobby for our own cause and organise ourselves back home, both in Kinshasa and in the provinces.”

(Above: Participants at WFD organised workshop in Province Orientale, DRC, 2014)

Reflecting on the time in Northern Ireland, Eve Bazaiba, Secretary-General for opposition party Movement for Liberation of the Congo explained that “seeing how they get the community together is very important.” She added that “the conflict in Congo is very different because it was mostly political conflict but the consequences and the way of dealing with it are the same.”

As a post-conflict democracy that has received wide acclaim for its ability to successfully negotiate peace terms after more than three decades of sectarian violence, the Northern Ireland Assembly is an important case and reference point for modern peacebuilding efforts.

Monique Kapuwa Kande, member of Alliance of Christian Democrats (ACHRED), also participated in the visit explained that this experience “helps to guide [women in DRC] and show them the path that would help them see the direction they need to go on” she added that “by taking us to places like Belfast we were able to see things outside of the box and that there are opportunities available.”

To date, peace-building in Northern Ireland has utilised a range of actors working with various target groups at all levels of society to address the causes and dynamics of conflict through reconciliation and reconstruction, state-building and political and social transformation.

Sustainability of any peace-agreement is crucial and the Northern Ireland model points to this. Ms Kapuwa Kande noted in DRC “we get bogged down in the conflict and can’t really see anything that is beyond the immediate but this visit has given us ideas for a long-term approach.”

In the future, WFD wants to engage grassroots activists in DRC to engage communities in solutions that can lead to sustainable peace. Women often bring a different perspective to negotiations that men are missing. “By helping women and educating women you are helping the community, it has that cascading effect” Lucie Basonea Isude, member of New Alliance of Democrats (NAD) explained, “The presence of women in these political discussions is necessary.”

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Achieving peace: Lessons shared from Northern Ireland to Colombia

The rejection of the peace deal between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in October 2016 cast doubt on the future of the peace process, but now gives the opportunity for legislators and the parliament to play a central role ensuring any agreement represents all sectors of society.

The experience in Northern Ireland shows that setbacks on the path to peace are expected but divisions can eventually be healed and peace achieved. Through WFD’s Multi-Party Office (MPO), lessons from politicians and other key figures involved in the Northern Ireland peace process were shared with their Colombian counterparts in a series of roundtable discussions which took place in early February.

On 14 February, the first workshop looked at the role that the Church and other community leaders can play in peace-building. During a series of preliminary meetings in early February, Rev. Harold Good, a minister in the Methodist church and former Director of the internationally acclaimed Corrymeela Community Centre of Reconciliation, and Father Michael Kelleher, who encountered the peace-making work of Father Alec Reid who played such a vital role in the Northern Irish peace process through his work as a youth minister in Clonard Monastery, met various key stakeholders involved in the peace process in Colombia.

“Churches have a huge role to play. We need to bring healing. We need to get the people who caused the hurt to engage with the people who were hurt” explained Rev. Harold Good. This theme was explored with over 50 representatives from the Colombian Congress to provide insights into how similar initiatives can work in Colombia.

Inclusion of different groups is key for the success of any peace agreement, especially to ensure effective cooperation between governments and legislatures in achieving a deal that represents justice for all citizens. Drawing on lessons from Northern Ireland, the second session explored the role the British Government played and efforts that were made to integrate and include ex-combatants in the process.

(Above: Rev. Harold Good and Father Michael Kelleher meet with key groups involved in the Colombian peace process ahead of the workshops with Congress this week)

Monica McWilliams, signatory to the Good Friday Agreement and a delegate to the multi-party peace negotiations from 1996-1998 for the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, a political party which she co-founded, explained how crucial effective power-sharing was to securing a deal in Northern Ireland. This approach to governance was painful for some communities in Northern Ireland but “a peace agreement means sharing power – especially with your enemies” she said.

“The concept of changing your enemy into your opponent was very important” Michael Culbert, formerly of the IRA and representing Coiste Na n-Iarchimí, the national organisation of the Republican ex-prisoner network throughout Ireland, explained. Following the peace agreement in Northern Ireland the number of Sinn Fein representatives in the legislature grew to almost half.

Chris Maccabe, shared his wealth of experience from a range of roles in the UK Government’s Northern Ireland Office. Chris noted the significant constitutional and legislative changes that were needed to deliver a successful peace agreement. “The British Government”, he explained, “recognised the need to get as many people round the negotiating table as possible” and by holding elections in which the top ten parties could be part of the negotiations an inclusive process was ensured.

The final session of the week looked at implementation of peace agreements and how each stakeholder, whether ex-combatant, civil society representative or politician, can contribute to ensuring a long-lasting peace.

“So many people gave so much to us – that’s why we’re here today” said Monica in the final session where she reflected on the role President Clinton played enabling Gerry Adams to attend the peace talks in the US, or President Mandela’s inspirational visit and offer of support. “You won’t take all our ideas but you might find some useful” she added.

As the experience in Northern Ireland demonstrates bringing together divided communities will encounter challenges, but ensuring you learn from the experience is key. This is what WFD, through the Multi-Party Office, is trying to achieve with the Congress of Colombia. “In Northern Ireland we had many setbacks on the road to peace” explained Rev. Harold Good “but we learned from each of them – just as you have in Colombia. It’s a powerful example for the world to learn from”.

(Top: Key stakeholders from Northern Ireland participate in round-table discussions with the Colombian Congress, Middle: First workshop on 14 February explored the vital role of the church and community leaders in peace-building with Colombian Congress)
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Moving Mozambique away from its violent past

A legislative sector approach can help move Mozambique away from its violent past

By George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Europe and Africa

The legacy of the independence struggle and subsequent civil war in Mozambique still influences and shapes many aspects of its governance. The signing of the Rome General Peace Accord which ended the civil war in 1992 was supposed to bring an end to the war and start the process of healing the country. The 1990 constitution provided for a multi-party state and paved the way for the 1994 elections. The 2005 constitution went further, providing for the establishment of provincial assemblies. These, however, have limited powers over provinces’ administration, which is overseen by central government appointees. The main strength of the Provincial Assembly is its power to approve the Provincial Government’s programme and oversee its implementation.

According to the constitution, Provincial Assemblies should have been established within three years of the constitution’s adoption. Yet it was not until 2009 that Mozambique had its first elections for Provincial Assemblies. The ten new assemblies were underfunded, ill -equipped and their staff lacked training and skills to adequately support their members. Most of the assemblies still haven’t got a permanent home, but rent space from other government departments.

They also don’t have the technical skills to effectively scrutinise the Provincial Governments’ programmes and budgets. They lack the necessary support needed to conduct effective oversight. All Provincial Assembly members are part-time (except the Assembly President). Some tend to hold full-time jobs in the public sector – the very institution they are supposed to oversee.

The assemblies are also hampered by the vast geography of each province, compounded by poor transport infrastructure, which makes the task of oversight very difficult. However, it is important to recognise that provincial assemblies do hold a key to ensuring political representation in Mozambique. Their significance is only likely to increase as Mozambique goes down the route of decentralisation.

Since 2009, the relationship between the two main parties in Mozambique has continued to deteriorate. In 2013, Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) leader Alfonso Dhlakama revoked the 1992 Rome peace agreement and returned to the bush. Former president Armando Guebuza and Dhlakama negotiated a new peace agreement that would secure the 2014 elections when RENAMO succeeded in winning three provincial assemblies – but claimed victory in six.

They subsequently introduced a constitutional amendment which would have allowed for devolution of political powers to provinces. The proposed amendment would allow the winning party to appoint provincial governors. Having had the constitutional amendment defeated in Parliament, RENAMO threatened to take control in those provinces by force. The dominant Mozambique Liberation Front party (FRELIMO) responded to the threats by attempting to disarm RENAMO. The country has since seen an increase in armed conflict between the two parties.

Mozambique has had steady economic growth and is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies following the recent discovery of new natural resource deposits. The country still remains one of Africa’s poorest nations and can ill afford another protracted civil war. The population is also wary of further conflict after the last war. Citizens would like to see their leaders demonstrate greater political maturity in negotiating peaceful solutions.

In this tense political context, it is important for the donor community and democracy partners to bring the focus back to making the institutions of Mozambique’s democracy work effectively and responsively to the citizen’s needs. It equally importantly needs to demonstrate that the decentralised legislative structures at national, provincial and municipal levels can function and bring about equitable levels of development across the country.

For this to happen the donor community must consider working together to support a single legislative sector initiative to strengthen the provincial and national assembly. Mozambique’s neighbour South Africa is a great example of how a sectoral approach has helped to develop national and provincial legislatures. A sectoral approach also provides value for money and looks holistically at the long-term developmental needs of the growing legislative sector.

The Mozambican constitution also requires the President of the Assembly of the Republic to promote institutional relations between the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. The current President does this through the Speaker’s Conference, a meeting between the presidents of the provincial and national assemblies. This forum could be made more effective and play a much more important role in guiding the legislative sectors development.

Another plus for the sectoral approach has been the establishment of the parliamentary training centre, Centro de Estudos e Formação Parlamentar (CEFP), in 2013 with the support of WFD. The Centre’s new strategy is to encourage greater sharing of experience between the assemblies and support ongoing capacity building.

Finally, the donor community must explore ways to encourage the development of the institution of the opposition within assemblies. One cannot expect to develop mature opposition parties without supporting them with the research and skills needed to develop effective policies or to hold the government to account. Donors need to examine the current level of support provide to party factions in parliament and the provincial assemblies. Respecting the role that the opposition plays in an effective assembly is an important part of the culture of a mature democracy.

Armed conflict should never be an option in a democracy.


George Kunnath, Regional Director Europe and Africa visits the construction site of the new Maputo Provincial Assembly in Matola accompanied by the Assembly’s President, Joao Muringano Matola.

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