IN THE past weeks, a group of consultants and experts have been visiting my office to draft a proposal for a multi-million dollar project for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm).
These groups bring with them their own theories, methodologies, and so-called “best practices” in peacebuilding, which they want to apply to the region.
I get a strange feeling every time I hear someone use the phrase “best practices”, because it is usually done in a manner where they appear to know it all. In a way, it is as if they have all the solutions to the many problems we have in Mindanao.
For me, anything that is labeled as “best practices” in peacebuilding and nation-building comes with its own downside. The idea that we apply “best practices” in this field is a problematic proposition because it homogenizes people, problems, issues, and the context of the communities.
What do we mean by ‘best practices’? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘best practices’ as “a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.”
Wikipedia, on the other hand, defines it as, “a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means, or because it has become a standard way of doing things.” These definitions have been around for several decades and people in the academe loves to use these terms.
As a peace advocate, and now a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), I have obliged myself and the rest of my team to “think outside of the box”. We should not put all of our stakes on the best practices of other areas, because our context and stakeholders are different. We cannot maintain the idea of using the solution for one issue to our own context as the “status quo”, because this doesn’t lead us forward. What will lead us forward is what successful companies such as Apple and Google have always done - creation and innovation.
In working for the BARMM, I realized that the government of the day, headed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are putting an effort into our own indigenous way of running the regional government. Some of us may look at it as moving slow, and some may find it hard to define as it is, but we know that what we have is a context that includes peace-building (decommissioning and process of normalization) and nation-building all roll into one.
Its context includes several non-state actors, some international and regional organizations for assistance, several local and national non-governmental organizations, and other different sectors; all of which are contributing significant influence in the Barmm based on their substantial capacities and competencies.
To be clear, I’m not saying that we disregard existing principles and methodologies. Rather, we have to be critical in looking at these solutions. Whether or not what works in Aceh, in Ireland, and other post-conflict communities, may or may not work in the Barmm.
My experience taught me that labeling something as “best practices” puts us inside a box that sets aside our ability to discern; to apply wisdom; to apply common sense; to be able to partner with local interlocutors and subject matter experts; and, to be creative and innovative.
Our challenge is to contextualize these solutions and apply what we know of our present government and status quo to create our own tailor-made brand of peacebuilding. Then, and only then, can we find the perfect fit for our situation.