This paper analyses media reform programmes as part of wider peace-building interventions in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. It concludes that the most effective interventions were those where local populations participated and took ownership of the projects, ensuring that the media initiatives were culturally relevant and demand-driven. The impact of projects can be sustained after international assistance is over only if they are wholly owned by the people, professions, and communities that they were designed to help.
The NATO military intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in late 1995 marked the beginning of a new post-Cold War era of international intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states. A new doctrine of humanitarian intervention evolved, justified by the moral ‘responsibility to protect’ populations from the excesses of war, oppression, and other disasters. Over the past 15 years, these peacebuilding interventions have struggled with the stigma of neo-colonialism and undue Western cultural and political influence.
Given the political nature of peacebuilding and counterinsurgency, the importance of communication cannot be overstated: politics is about communication, persuasion, and consensus building. Further:
- As all politics is local, the local audience is the first priority.
- Two-way grassroots communication is essential to building local understanding, cooperation, and support.
- Communicating to the grassroots requires an understanding of how information is transmitted across a society and the way in which traditional networks are used. This may mean using unconventional approaches.
The most effective stabilisation and reconstruction programmes are those in which local professionals, civil society, and communities have participated and taken ownership. But local ownership cannot be taken for granted. The international community must quickly establish effective partnerships with local actors in a project’s entry phase, taking into account the following recommendations:
- Achieving local ownership requires planners and implementers to have as full an understanding of the context, culture, and history of a society and situation as possible, as early as possible. Cultural, historical, and situational awareness is crucial to success.
- Demand-driven development projects are the most likely to succeed, but they require an approach to communication that places as much emphasis on listening to the local population as on transmitting information to it.
- International missions need to act as learning organisations. They need to maintain rolling research programmes, public opinion polling, public consultations, media monitoring, and analysis in order to understand the drivers of conflict, the word on the street, and people’s perceptions. They also need mechanisms for capturing and passing on institutional knowledge so as to be able to learn from experience in spite of staff turnover.
- Establishing the levels and extent of local capacity, knowing where to find it, and being confident about its authenticity are vital to meaningful, and not just cursory, consultation.
- Internal education and communication campaigns are as important as public ones if international officials are to learn the ‘art of letting go’.