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Post-tsunami aid and building civil society in Aceh OSLO (NORWAY) - Donors often say that the major obstacle in the post-tsunami relief and reconstruction work is poor co-ordination of the organizations involved. This may be true, but the observation does not help much unless we discuss why.

International development co-operation has become neo-liberal. A myriad of state and private actors compete for funds and influence on imperfect markets in order to reach diffuse goals. In addition, there is little trust in the state. In Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam it has even been repressive and suffers still from authoritarianism, corruption and inefficiency. To improve co-ordination, these factors should be addressed. But then the reconstruction work and the peace- and democracy efforts must be combined -- and this is not being done. That is the basic problem!

In principle, everybody wants to combine peace- and development work, at best by means of democracy. The question is how. In Sri Lanka several years of Norwegian facilitation of negotiations between the government and the Tamil guerrilla indicates that it is not always fruitful to avoid the political conflicts and to use instead "neutral" development aid as a carrot to promote peace. By now, the post-tsunami aid suffers from hidden politicization. Actors on the government side and the guerrilla give special privileges to their respective constituencies and sympathizers. At times this even increases the conflicts.

In Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam the situation has instead improved by way of explicitly political peace negotiations. Enlightened politicians, military officers and guerrilla leaders have made compromises on the division of power and the government of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. This has been followed by an international monitory mission and some space for civil society and media to act as watchdogs.

Many say that this was possible only because the tsunami made people around the world deeply concerned about the problems in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. But that was true of Sri Lanka as well. The major factors were rather that both Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the new Indonesian government realized that they would not be able to win the battle militarily -- and that the fledgling democracy in other parts of Indonesia stood out as a potentially more fruitful method to handle the conflicts than violent struggle over independence.

The bottom line is thus that the Indonesian democracy must be strengthened -- so that it does not only stand out as a potential but also real alternative. But while the progress in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam is due less to the regular reconstruction work than to the peace- and democracy efforts, the problem is that the former is swamped with money while the latter is neglected.

Even so it is true that the implementation of the peace accord has been more successful than expected. GAM and the Government have both demonstrated the best of intentions. The guerrilla has contributed to its own decommissioning and dissolved itself. The military and police withdraw their non-organic forces. The peace monitors are effective. Local combatants are being compensated to facilitate their reintegration into society. There are fruitful broad dialogues between all relevant parties (including civil society groups) on the governance of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.

But the real obstacles remain. Sustainable integration of the combatants in society presupposes new jobs within reasonably non-corrupt reconstruction work. This calls for supervision by a strong civil society and a working democracy. The Indonesian Reconstruction Agency is not even mandated to work on post-conflict issues (but obviously even wants to engage Indonesian soldiers in supposedly civil rebuilding).

Further, the implementation of the locally approved proposals on the governance of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam presupposes the approval of Jakarta. The President, the Vice President and the Government honor the intentions of the peace accord, but the nationalist opposition and conservative officers resist it. One method is trying to divide Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam into several provinces, which would nullify the peace agreement and the reconstruction work. Another is trying to block the chances for GAM and various civic groups to participate with their own parties and independent candidates in local elections.

The important thing is not if the first elections in April are postponed for a month or two. What is crucial is that both GAM and civic groups are not marginalised but can participate in a meaningful way. How would it be possible otherwise to transform violent conflicts into peaceful politics? The peace accord and the reconstruction work are at stake. This calls for more than the extension of the mandate of the peace monitors until after the elections. It calls also for quick and strong support for civil society and non-partisan political education among various democratic groups.

So what are well intending donors and other actors doing to promote this? So far, not much. I fail to understand why. Support for civil society and human rights based democracy in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam might have been controversial before the Helsinki agreement, but at this point it is the very basis for the successful completion of the treaty as well as the reconstruction work, as recognized by both parties. What can now be less controversial and more productive than to strengthen, develop and spread Indonesia's own democracy? What would be more prestigious to Indonesia than to offer the world a successful model for peace and development by way of meaningful political democratization?

Of course, I may be wrong. But it is not only the research of Demos (the Indonesian Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies) that emphasizes the importance of combining efforts at peace- and reconstruction by way of democratization. The most recent reports from the two internationally most reputed research institutes on the problems in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, the East West Centre and the International Crisis Group, point in the same direction. So if there are strong objections on the basis of better analyses it would be good to know.



Posted in Earthquake @ 10 January 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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