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  • Writer's pictureGustavo de Carvalho

Time to shock the system: enhancing UN Peacebuilding Fund Projects in Guinea-Bissau

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Gustavo de Carvalho

This assessment on the capacity needs for implementing United Nations (UN) Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) projects was conducted between October 2021 and January 2022. The engagement with around 60 stakeholders in Bissau and New York provides an overview of how the capacity to implement better PBF projects can further trigger their potential to become a more catalysing tool in the country's peacebuilding process.

This needs assessment study is based on the understanding that if PBF projects are better designed and implemented, it may help ensure Guinea-Bissau's path to stability. It acknowledges that to develop effective institutional and individual interventions, the capacity-building initiatives need to be based on a solid understanding of the context of the project

During interviews, stakeholders were somehow cohesive and complementary in identifying challenges faced by Guinea-Bissau. Far less cohesive was their understanding of how to address them. This disparity confirms that while peacebuilding often focuses on identifying conflict causes, it should also focus on the conditions and approaches that can assist a country in sustaining peace.

This situation shows that in better implementing PBF projects in Guinea-Bissau, a systematic and continuous capacity building process needs to be designed for critical stakeholders in the country. The ever-changing dynamics in Guinea-Bissau are essential in understanding the broader peacebuilding context. They must be included in the design and implementation of PBF projects.

There is an underlying need to address the linkage between development and peace in the country. Most actors understand the importance and links between development and peace. However, there is strong dissonance on what constitutes peacebuilding and how to build its intentionality in the design of projects.

In the past 15 years, the PBF has allocated more than USD 45 million to the country. A considerable amount, especially during the 2012 coup, was not spent and had to be returned to the UN. PBF projects are still implemented through a short-term focus lens. They are heavily driven by UN agencies, programmes, and funds. Further understanding of risk management skills could be particularly beneficial in designing and implementing projects.

Ownership and inclusivity are part of the discourses in the country. Still, very few national actors feel fully included or perceived ownership in identifying priorities and designing projects. The design of PBF projects should be done more broadly to ensure that priorities are not only "accepted" by internal actors. Instead, the UN should pursue a more substantial buy-in and sense of national ownership in ensuring that different peacebuilding players effectively internalise peacebuilding priorities.

These issues show the importance of fostering the ownership of local and national authorities to own PBF projects effectively. PBF projects are still perceived as mostly externally driven, reinforcing divisions rather than unifying actors.

Not surprisingly, government and civil society actors have, to a large degree, taken the back seat in defining priorities and responses of PBF projects. Generating knowledge and awareness of the PBF functions and roles opportunities should be an imperative and a regular part of the calendar of the PBF secretariat and the implementing agencies.

It hopes to shed light on how institutions (external and national) respond to the political, social, and economic environment. It also identifies how these institutions enable or constrain the implementation of successful projects. Finally, it aims to identify the necessary skills to ensure adequate performance that achieves intended results on individuals engaged with the PBF and the support needed from their institutions to maximise the impact of the funding received on the national peacebuilding process.

The PBF size is proportionately large in Guinea-Bissau, considering the small pool of funders present in the country. Therefore, unlike in other recipient countries where the PBF may be pretty small compared to more significant pockets of funding allocated, the catalytic nature of the PBF in Guinea-Bissau needs to be better understood within the context of the country.

While the support it provides for the continuation of UNCT's presence in the country, it should focus more on the sustainability of action and how projects effectively transfer and build skills. This approach should ensure that projects can see results long after the short-term timeframe of PBF projects is finished.

The PBF provide a flexible funding mechanism regarding thematic areas that no other donor would engage with. However, unfortunately, this thematic risk-taking propensity is not followed by its ability to fund a broader range of actors and effectively strengthen the role of civil society. A more robust engagement of PBF projects recipients regarding planning and adaptability must be included from the onset of initiatives.

In 2021, much of the discussions on PBF projects were centralised on bureaucratic arrangements, including no-cost extensions, competition for agency-specific portions of funds, and fractured relationships across the UN system in the country. UN actors should be further empowered to understand their joint role and capacity of influencing and implementing projects in the context of institutional changes.

Guinea-Bissau's fragmented political space where everything could be a priority requires a further understanding of strategic positioning and capacity of implementation. No actor can resolve all the problems alone, and acknowledging limitations can ensure more targeted projects with clear intentions of change and the ability to measure results. Lack of ambition may be frowned-upon at times, but "biting more than one can chew" certainly does not assist the PBF to become more effective.


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