By Lydia O’Kane
Put “people at the heart of local peace and security efforts.” That’s the message from Caritas Africa and Caritas Europa on International Peace Day which is observed on 21 September.
Both agencies voice their concern “about the risk of a future partnership marked by top-down approaches,” and are urging leaders to be inspired by this year’s International Day of Peace theme, “Shaping Peace Together.”
Building peace through inclusive processes
They also invite leaders to make the upcoming 6th AU-EU Summit “an opportunity to commit to practical ways of building peace through genuinely inclusive processes.”
The 6th AU-EU Summit is planned for 28-29 October 2020, when AU and EU leaders are expected to adopt a joint declaration mapping out the priorities and concrete actions of EU-Africa relations in the next few years, including in the fields of peace and security. The last AU-EU Summit took place in 2017.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Advocacy Officer for Caritas Europa Luisa Fondello says, “For us it’s one of the high priorities to put people at the core of this new strategy.” In terms of peace, she adds, “it’s about building on the potential of local communities and ensuring social cohesion because that’s a strong component of this building, and sometimes it’s overlooked.”
Caritas Europa and Caritas Africa point out that “Despite the EU’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda principles and to creating a people-centred partnership, previous statements by EU institutions on their vision for this future partnership have consistently focused more on state security."
Both agencies emphasize that EU-Africa relations should “be based on multi-stakeholder partnerships, involving civil society and other actors, not only governments or intergovernmental institutions.”
This, they continue, “is particularly relevant given that peacebuilding is a holistic process that requires addressing the root causes of conflict and investing in community-level conflict prevention and social cohesion. “
Peacebuilding, they underline, “also requires important efforts towards the elimination of extreme poverty and the preservation of the rule of law.”
Local community engagement
In conclusion, both Caritas Africa and Europa call on EU and African leaders “to recognise the importance of local community engagement and the contribution of faith actors in peacebuilding efforts.”
Ms Fondello notes that there needs to be a more formal acknowledgement on the part of European Union and African Union decision-makers of the importance role of local actors, “especially now in the context of COVID recovery. We see that local communities and local NGOs are very much present and they are the ones taking the lead.”
She also says it’s important for local communities to be at the discussion table. “For example, we would see a bigger role for women and youth to be at the discussion table when it comes to peace talks.”
Both agencies are advocating for “grassroots participation, not only because it is indispensable for the effectiveness of peace building strategies, but foremost because it is a clear option for recognising each person’s dignity, for solidarity, for co-responsibility, and for the choice to work for the common good.”
“We envision and encourage,” they add,” the future EU-Africa partnership to benefit from the opportunity to put people at the centre of peace efforts by investing in community-driven initiatives. “