By Jasper Peet-Martel, Class XVI
Utilizing the incredible opportunity presented to me by Rotary International’s funded Applied Field Experience I wanted to better understand and contrast conflict prevention and mitigation work at the policy and local levels. Having prior professional experience working in the Burma/Myanmar peace process primarily at local levels, I was curious to broaden the scope and see what in practice national and regional policy work preventing violent conflict entails. A search for greater nuance to the age-old development trope of grassroots and policy level disconnection.
As a Rotary Peace Fellow, these thoughts are forefront as I traveled to Ghana, my new home for the three-month Applied Field Experience and the headquarters of the USAID project Partnerships for Peace (P4P) implemented by Creative Associates International. The project supports national and regional institutional efforts to build a sustainable peace in the Sahel through a focus on increasing West African capacity to counter violent extremism. The project specifically supports regional institutions such as the recently formed G5 Sahel and the governments of Chad, Niger, Burkina-Faso and Mauritania. These countries are all located in the Sahel region, a semi-arid zone stretching horizontally across the African continent from coast to coast, sandwiched in-between the Sahara Desert and the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa.
Following the rise of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region and the Malian crisis in January of 2012 when rebels launched an offensive in northern Mali in pursuit of independence from the central government, insecurity has risen in the Sahel. Contributing significantly to this destabilization are violent extremist groups, exploiting weak and corrupt governance and pre-existing local grievances in and amongst communities. The repercussions of these conflicts are extremely devastating, killing large numbers of civilians and destroying communities’ livelihoods – further exacerbating stagnated development in the region. Locally informed yet nationally and regionally coordinated, countering violent extremism (CVE) practices are a fundamental component to an effective and sustainable solution to these challenges. Given the increasing internationalization of violent extremism in the Sahel, methods of conflict resolution must be both locally informed yet nationally and regionally coordinated to ensure effectiveness.
As an intern, I had the opportunity to support the incredibly welcoming and inspiring Partnership for Peace project team in a variety of tasks including activity conceptualization and planning, Collaborating, Learning and Adapting framework development and communications. The project worked directly with national governments, regional institutions such as the G5 Sahel and civil society, to strengthen national CVE initiatives and action plans while working to foster a coherent and effective regional capability to counter the metastasizing threat of violent extremism in the Sahel.
As I reflect on my brief yet formative time in Ghana with the project I found many of my cynical preconceptions about policy work to be shaken. I was surrounded by incredibly skilled and informed professionals working to enact meaningful and systemic change in a challenging yet fascinating environment of limited mobility and political constraint.
Going forward I carry a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm that broader change can be made in how the world, regions, nations, and villages manage conflict and I am grateful for these opportunities of inspiration.