Interview with Carolyn McAskie*, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.
New York, 7 June 2007
Question: Ms. McAskie, the Peacebuilding Commission1 (PBC) was established in December 2005 …
McAskie: The resolution2 was passed in December 2005, but there was a six-month period while the membership was established. The Commission itself was launched and the first meeting of its Organizational Committee took place on June 23rd, 2006.
Q: So, the Commission is now one year old?
McAskie: Yes, we will celebrate one year’s anniversary at the end of this month, June 2007.
Q: What are the main accomplishments so far?
McAskie: The Commission was set up to look at specific peacebuilding situations based on country experiences. At its first meeting it received a referral from the UN Security Council for advice on Burundi and Sierra Leone. Over the year it has engaged with these two countries along the lines of the mandate in the resolution  which says, its main purpose is to propose an integrated approach to peacebuilding. So, it is engaged with Burundi and Sierra Leone on the basis of an exercise to produce an agreed strategy for peacebuilding in these two countries.
Q: Has it already adopted such a strategy?
McAskie: It will complete its strategy for Burundi in June.3 That will be one of the outcomes of its deliberations. But it won’t complete on Sierra Leone—not because it has not done the work, but because Sierra Leone is going through an election in August 2007. It, therefore, has decided deliberately to postpone the completion of the strategy until after the elections.
Q: Why these countries?
McAskie: Because they had asked for it. The country has to wish to come. You cannot drag someone on. That is the easy answer. In my mind these countries were very good examples for a first run at a peacebuilding strategy.
McAskie: First of all, they were both coming out of peacekeeping missions. Although I don’t believe we should think of peacebuilding as something that just comes after peacekeeping. Peacebuilding can start much earlier. But the fact is, they had come out of peacekeeping missions and they were both facing a very uncertain future, particularly in economic terms. The idea of the Commission is to ensure that the international community sustains its attention on these countries to enable them to stay on track. Both, Burundi and Sierra Leone, were countries that at some point, before or during the conflicts, were very much forgotten crises.
Q: In what sense forgotten?
McAskie: In the sense that neither of them are countries that dispose very much support from the aid community. They are aid orphans. Both of them are facing enormous challenges in meeting the expectations of their populations in a post-war situation. And both of them had certain fault lines within society which could lead to their countries falling back into a crisis. So, being exercises for the PBC they represented countries where you can actually identify the players and therefore the problems more readily than you could in countries like the Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo where the crisis is multi-layered.
Q: Both countries do represent easier tasks for the Commission?
McAskie: No, not exactly. I am not saying that the situation in both Burundi and Sierra Leone is simple—obviously, if it were, it would not have gone on for so long. But it is manageable in a sense that you have a unit there that you can engage with. So these two countries presented hopefully manageable challenges to the PBC. My very strong view, and that of most of the members of the Commission, is that it should not engage in crises that have already a high degree of international attention.
Q: Why not?
McAskie: Well, what can the Commission really add in Iraq and Afghanistan or in the Middle East? If all of the incredibly concentrated international attention that is lavished on these crises has not led to a final solution, the PBC is not going to help much more. So, the PBC’s is very valuable for the smaller countries that otherwise fall off the international agenda.
Q: In which way are the donor countries and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), like the World Bank and the IMF, engaged?
McAskie: They are members of the Commission. The whole point of the PBC is that it brings together the relevant actors. Either the donors of the IFIs are already members of the Commission or, if they are not—because not all the donors are on the Commission at the same time—they may join the country-specific committee. A very good example is Belgium. Belgium was a member of the Commission when it started, but its term expired. But the Commission agreed that Belgium should remain a member of the country-specific committee on Burundi.
Q: What were the reasons for that?
McAskie: Well, you cannot talk about Burundi without Belgium. It is the senior partner. The same applied to Tanzania. Tanzania’s period on the Commission ended in December 2006, because they had come on the Commission as a member of the Security Council and its term on the Council expired. But Tanzania has been the key and persistent player in the Burundi Peace Process. So, they stay on the committee.
Q: You are also the head of the Peacebuilding Support Office. What exactly does it do compared to the Commission?
McAskie: The Support Office has designed the basic strategic approach the Commission is working on. But it is the Commission that decided to go that road. We then designed the process and we work together with colleagues on the ground to produce the strategic documents for consideration by the PBC.
The members of the Commission who chair the committees are very engaged. Whether it is the Netherlands or Norway for Burundi and Sierra Leone or whether it is Angola, who is the chair of the Commission, or El Salvador, who is the vice-chair of the Commission—those four countries are extremely engaged in the daily work. The other members are more engaged through their representatives on the ground. For example, the process of designing the strategy for Burundi and Sierra Leone is realized through a joint steering committee, co-chaired by the UN and the government but with representatives of donors, the civil society and the IFIs on the ground.
Q: How many people are working in the Support Office?
McAskie: The Support Office is very small, because we are a strategic office that provides the secretarial support. We have to generate the reports, but we do not necessarily write them all. We prepare the meetings and we are providing the logistics. The Support Office is also responsible for the interdepartmental negotiations to ensure that the UN system has a coherent understanding on what the PBC’s decisions are going to be. It is a very small office, between 15 and 20 people, once it will be fully established.
Q: How about the funding? The Peacebuilding Fund will encompass 250 million US-Dollars. Is that money already there?
McAskie: One has to be careful how we describe the fund. The Peacebuilding Fund comes under the authority of the Secretary-General. He will use it initially for countries the Commission is dealing with. But he will also use it for other countries in a post-conflict situation. As far as the 250 million target is concerned: we have pledges of 220 million US-Dollars. We already started spending on Burundi and Sierra Leone and we are looking at other countries that are not PBC countries.
But the point I always want to emphasize is that funding for peacebuilding goes way beyond what is in this fund. 250 million sounds like a lot of money, but it is not in comparison. It is catalytic money, start-up money, to help the partners on the ground to get going on some things. But the real money will have to come from other parts of the system, the donors. If we do not have an increase in resources, we won’t achieve anything.
Q: Ms. McAskie, thank you for the interview.
McAskie: Thank you, too.
Anja Papenfuss, Editor-in-Chief of VEREINTE NATIONEN—German Review on the United Nations, interviewed Carolyn McAskie in New York on June 7, 2007.
Hier das Interview auf Deutsch lesen
* Carolyn McAskie was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support in May 2006. In June 2004 Ms. McAskie was appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operation in Burundi (ONUB). She served as a member of the Facilitation Team of the Burundi Peace Process in Arusha in 1999 under the late Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania, and as Humanitarian Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the humanitarian crisis in Côte d'Ivoire in 2003.
From 1999 to 2004, she was the UN’s Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, serving on a temporary basis as Emergency Relief Coordinator from 1999 to January 2001.
Prior to joining the UN, Ms. McAskie had a 30-year career with the Federal Government of Canada in the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), holding senior positions with responsibility for Africa and the Middle East, among a number of other appointments.
1 For further information see the PBC’s website: www.un.org/peace/peacebuilding/
3 The „Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding in Burundi“ was endorsed by the PBC on June 20, 2007. See Press Release PBC/15: www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/pbc15.doc.htm