viking-1‘Think of the exercise as stepping into a river – a river that was flowing before you arrived and will continue to flow after you leave. That river is the work of local people building peace.’

This was the message that Carolyn Hayman, Peace Direct’s Chief Executive and I placed at the  heart of our ’local ownership’ strand at Viking 14 peacekeeping simulation.  Held in Europe every three years, Viking is an international exercise that simulates a country facing deep crisis, this year set in fictitious Bogaland, requiring civilian and military peace support.

On March 21 – April 10, Sweden played host to the exercise and brought together staff from NATO, BFOR (the EU force) and the UN, along with army personnel from Sweden, Serbia, Georgia, Ireland and Bulgaria. This year an East Africa standby Battalion from Kenya were also in attendance.

Viking 14 peacekeeping simulation was centred on Command Post Exercise/Computer Assisted Exercise in the “Spirit of Partnership for Peace”. The aim of the 2014 Viking exercise was to prepare, train and educate participants to cooperate effectively during peacekeeping missions and operations. The exercise was well planned, establishing a Joint Exercise Control Center (JEC), a response cell, the military apparatus; a special representative to the United Nations Secretary General along with the two deputies; an EU delegation  and everything that we see in a real life peace keeping operations. The session attempted to address contemporary challenges facing present and future multidimensional crisis response missions and peace operations. It included planning and conducting a UN- mandated chapter VII peace operation in an unstable environment and based on a comprehensive approach, focusing on cooperation and coordination with all relevant actors and understanding their independencies and relations.  During these exercises, I wanted to ensure that local ownership was incorporated in all aspects of the exercise.

As a Liberian peacebuilder who lived and worked with humanitarian organisations during crisis, I found the planning to have been well organised with even our daily OCHA and Protection clusters meetings mirroring my own experiences. The exercise highlighted the value of local peacebuilding because it presented real challenges faced during peacekeeping operations through direct experiences. It demonstrated the essential contribution to be made by local and international peacekeeping staff in promoting local ownership in times of transition  and peacebuilding. A component central to sustaining long-term peace.

When I first attended the planning exercise for Viking 14, I was sceptical of the exercise and had questioned whether the exercise would have truly brought out what I am most interested in - local ownership. Experience in humanitarian, peacekeeping and development initiatives globally have shown, in many instances, local voices are side-lined. . I am of the opinion that many international organisations pay greater attention to their own needs or the donor needs, rather than what is good for the local population as articulated by them. As a consequence, projects are often poorly implemented and give little space for discussion on sustainability. This is something that has to change. I felt Viking 2014 exercise went some way to clearly exemplified how locals can lead on development, peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.

Despite my initial scepticism, I embraced the process with a determination to carefully analyse and monitor the planning of the real life scenarios. As my colleague Carolyn Hayman, Peace Direct Chief Executive paced the halls and several meeting rooms to discuss and advocate for the inclusion of local ownership, I took my time to carefully review the various events of the exercise. I asked colleagues questions regarding previous events, sharing our perspectives and contributing my personal peacekeeping experience to the discussion

The process of developing real life scenarios, and related injects to be used during the actual simulation exercise worked well and local ownership was flagged throughout the process, especially in the execution phase. Carolyn and I had incorporated into the incidents the involvement of local authorities; the use of local leaders to prevent violent incident from occurring; and the involvement of local NGOs in assisting the return to a normal situation; the involvement of local human rights organisations among others. All of these were incorporated through injects that triggered actions throughout the exercise. I actively participated in playing various roles, using first hand-experience to help train and educate officials. As the events rolled on, it was clear that local ownership had become a leading theme of the exercise. Interestingly, I was featured on Swedish National TV to discuss the importance of local ownership in peacekeeping operations, signalling what I believe to be a central component to all future missions and a change in discourse.

My years of experience with the Catholic Relief Services and  Mercy Corps during the civil war in Liberia, to now consulting and leading a network of local peacebuilding  organizations,  helped in leading the  mainstreaming  and placement of the various roles locals play during peacekeeping operations. Our tasks were well fulfilled in that we had incorporated into the incidents the involvement of Local authorities; the use of local leaders to prevent violent incident from occurring and the involvement of local NGOs in assisting the return to a normal situation; the involvement of local human rights organization among others. All of these were incorporated through injects that triggered actions throughout the exercise.

Finally, as future Viking and similar exercises are being planned, the advocacy campaign for  a locally led approach to peacebuilding, peacekeeping and sustainable development efforts needs to be emphasized. The Local First approach to development is one of the many ways in which promoting this campaign  of  Local ownership could be advanced globally.