About the Author: Claire Sneed serves as a Conflict Prevention Officer in the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.
In October 2008, the U.S. Mission in Colombo hosted staff from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS). They came to Sri Lanka to help develop the scope of work for the Embassy’s two-year civilian stabilization program. This effort builds upon a ten-month engagement with the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka to bring stability and security to the East as it transitions to civilian rule. As a result of both the Embassy’s efforts and broad interagency coordination, Sri Lanka’s project was among nine selected to receive FY09 monies available through Section 1207, which provides Department of Defense funds for civilian-agency led stabilization and reconstruction in areas of critical strategic importance to the United States.
History of S/CRS support
The program for eastern stabilization emerged through a robust process initiated in September of 2007 when the U.S. Embassy requested support from Washington to address new opportunities in eastern Sri Lanka. These opportunities emerged in July 2007 when the Government of Sri Lanka effectively reclaimed control of areas that had been held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In response to this new opportunity, S/CRS facilitated a process that involved a series of interagency discussions, a scoping mission to the Eastern province, a briefing on results of the scoping mission to the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), and a subsequent meeting with Ambassador Robert O. Blake in Washington, D.C. In order to create a shared understanding of the issues, S/CRS organized a full-day, interagency conflict assessment exercise involving seventeen U.S. government agencies and offices that identified the key factors driving and mitigating the conflict in the Eastern Province. The Interagency Conflict Assessment Framework (ICAF) is a methodological tool for assessing conflict dynamics in countries affected by or at risk of conflict. The tool is available through the Department of State Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) website.
In January 2008, an assessment team, including USAID conflict and regional specialists, S/CRS facilitators and a Department of Justice police reform expert, traveled to the region to solidify the conflict assessment findings and provide recommendations for an integrated Eastern Province stabilization strategy. On the basis of this assessment, the Embassy submitted a proposal for a stabilization program aimed at improving the economic and social integration of areas vulnerable to conflict, reintegration of former combatants, and increased training for a civilian Tamil police force in the East. In July, the 1207 selection committee awarded $8 million to Sri Lanka for the two-year multi agency program, with USAID and the Department of Justice as the primary implementers.
In light of this ongoing stabilization project and the current situation in Sri Lanka, there were several goals for this recent mission. First, it was imperative to reassess conflict dynamics in the Eastern Province and recommend potential revisions to the proposed project. If changes were needed, it was important to create a detailed scope of work that would guide the eventual program implementer. Finally, it was imperative to recognize that there must be consensus among the broader country team and Washington proponents for the proposed way forward.
After assessing the situation on the ground, the team found that the dynamics and priorities in the East have evolved since January. While there were visible signs of improved security in some areas of the East, many citizens and civil society voiced a perception that security had worsened since the April elections. Despite the fact that these elections symbolized a commitment to democracy and could lead to the devolution of government authority to the local level, the newly elected authorities enjoyed relatively little public support. At the same time, the Government has invested in large-scale public infrastructure and development projects in the East, but these projects had yet to command the confidence of the people nor create material benefits for them. Likewise, while most of the populations displaced by conflict have been returned to their homes, or to sites located nearby their original homes, little had been done to help them resettle and secure their access to livelihoods, particularly for fishing families now relocated to inland areas. Finally, while initial efforts have been made to demilitarize political parties, there was no systematic approach to addressing the needs of thousands of former combatants or their communities.
As a result of these changes, the team decided that the original 1207 project merited a new strategy that focused on improving local security and decreasing incidences of violence. The USAID elements, implemented through a flexible, quick-response small grants mechanism, would focus on a community security and reintegration approach tailored to the needs and issues of each community. This approach would engage citizens, police and local government in security related problem-solving. It would also provide skills training, employment and counseling needs for demobilized former combatants. The Department of Justice, through the International Criminal Investigation and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) would support training for newly recruited Tamil-speaking civilian police in the East, and facilitate community-based policing in collaboration with USAID. The Department of Defense (SOCPAC) has agreed to continue its separate funding for social infrastructure improvements (schools and health facilities), which would complement community-defined needs, provide employment, aid confidence-building and the reintegration process. Final rounds of meetings with the country team, bilateral and multilateral partners, and other USAID implementing partners reinforced possible areas of complementarities and ways in which the 1207 resources could be leveraged to achieve the mission’s stabilization goals. Ultimately, the collaborative process has yielded a broad-based constituency in Sri Lanka and in Washington that aims to increase stabilization and promote peaceful change through a common and complementary strategy.
There are several key lessons that can be extracted from this engagement with the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka. The first lesson is that while time is often scarce, there is an important place for facilitating discussions amongst interagency partners, particularly relating to assessment and strategic planning. Second, such facilitated discussion can often yield new resources and better leveraging of those resources. Third, representatives of the U.S. Government do not always speak the same language, see, or interpret what they see, in the same way. Facilitation can enable a common vision to emerge across agencies and interests. In the case of Sri Lanka, where interagency country team collaboration and coordination is integral to daily operations, the facilitated conversation has helped to raise visibility in Washington and has helped to leverage new interest and resources. In addition, by broadening the conversation, a facilitated process can aid the expansion of the U.S. Government’s leverage with a wide variety of domestic and international proponents.