The Role of the External in Local Peacebuilding: Enabling Action--Managing Risk.

Author:Lilja, Jannie

THERE IS A COMPELLING CASE TO BE MADE FOR LOCAL PEACEBUILDING. The track record of the international community in consolidating peace is mixed, and the number of armed conflicts is increasing. Critics of the liberal peacebuilding framework have exposed the weaknesses of externally supported peacebuilding, and point to the many successful local peacebuilding efforts that tend to go unnoticed by the outside world. Yet there are situations where local institutions, structures, and actors are unable to constructively deal with issues of conflict alone. In the realm of international peacebuilding, there is a growing realization that external efforts need to be locally anchored if they are to promote peace: key policy and development actors stress the importance of local ownership, inclusivity, local capacity building, and community-driven initiatives. (1) Whereas efforts are evolving and the principles of local peacebuilding have been embraced by many peacebuilding actors, there still is a vast disconnect between small-scale local peacebuilding efforts and the large-scale external presence in conflict-prone states as well as a failure to articulate clear alternative strategies that can be taken to scale. (2) Given this, there is a need for further systematic study of how local peacebuilding can be externally supported: by what actors, the approaches used, and the strategies employed. To address this research gap, we use insights from contemporary peacebuilding practice and focus on how international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) engage and interact with local partners. In external efforts to support local peacebuilding, INGOs are highly relevant to explore since they serve as a key connector between the international policy and donor community on the one hand, and local peace initiatives on the other hand. More specifically, we map practices and approaches to deal with the dilemmas of local peacebuilding as employed by five well-established INGOs with significant track records: Interpeace, Life and Peace Institute (LPI), Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF), and an anonymous faith-based organization (FBO). By probing how these organizations address the challenges of external-local engagement, we are able to identify the functions INGOs may fill--and the mechanisms at play--in externally supported peacebuilding efforts. The analysis rests primarily on interviews with representatives of these organizations, and thus provides a limited, but important, step in understanding the dynamics of externally supported peacebuilding.

This article contributes to the growing research agenda on the local turn in peacebuilding, by advancing knowledge of how external actors seek to constructively address the challenges that mark external-local dynamics. (3) In doing so, we address both a theoretical and a policy gap. A large share of the research advocating local peacebuilding is critical in nature and attempts to identify problems associated with international peacebuilding such as impediments for local ownership and the lack of contextually adapted approaches. (4) Only a few studies have explored in detail how INGOs engage with local peacebuilding actors at the operational level, including issues of partner selection and control over decisions and resource allocations. (5) Our study adds to this literature by identifying key functions fulfilled by INGOs in supporting local peacebuilding during circumstances where local actors are not able to address conflict by themselves. Whereas previous research has identified and analyzed INGOs as important third parties that facilitate dialogue and negotiations between local actors to address the conflict divide, (6) this article highlights the functions of INGOs as a key connector between donors and local peacebuilders.

Our analysis reveals how INGOs can play two important functions in the support of local peacebuilding: as risk absorbers and as accompanying actors who can enable local agency in a more sustained fashion. Today's well-regulated aid flows, involving strong financial and managerial requirements placed on bilateral and multilateral donors, shift the risk taking to intermediaries--INGOs--that are able to engage with not yet so institutionalized and managerial local peacebuilding actors in relatively volatile settings. Moreover, in line with research on peacebuilding, aid effectiveness, and the determinants of nongovernmental organization (NGO) funding, this analysis highlights how incentive structures facing INGOs, including time frames for funding and constraints on partner selection, shape their interaction with local partners. In particular, through an accompaniment approach and by separating the financial relationship and partner relation, a longer-term, more sustained, engagement can be made possible. (7)

External Support to Local Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding can be defined as a wide range of activities aimed at social, political, and institutional transformation required to create a lasting and self-sustaining peace. (8) Key components are often described as reforms of the political, justice, and security sectors, coupled with socioeconomic development. Peacebuilding may also be viewed in terms of the impact of specific activities. (9)

There is a large literature on peacebuilding. A key debate has centered on the rift between liberal peacebuilding and more communitarian visions of peacebuilding. (10) The liberal peace is viewed as efforts to "bring war shattered societies into conformity with the international system's prevailing standards of domestic governance." (11) Often described as top down, the liberal perspective holds that global norms exist and should be allowed to influence. A critical theory critique of the vertical dimension underpinning many peacebuilding interventions rests on the logic that international notions of peace, and measurements of peace, risk becoming irrelevant to local communities in being too aggregated, too broad, too narrow, or in other ways deficient. (12) Peacebuilding should instead aim at being transformative. From this perspective peace can be achieved when communities begin to move beyond "negative imaginaries," engage in dialogue across social divides, and through everyday interaction shape the form of peace that may be either very much in tune, or out of tune with elite projections of peace. (13)

Lacking a common understanding of what the local consists of, research on local peacebuilding has moved toward a more disaggregated and nuanced meaning of the term. From such a perspective, the local consists of networks, relationships, and activities--as opposed to a unitary actor linked to a specific territory. (14) The local is also not the same as subnational, but may transcend the borders of nation states as in cases of diaspora activity. (15) It is clear that local actors tend to be more diverse and divided than unitary. They may range from central government to local government, to non-state armed groups, to women's civil society organizations, religious networks, and labor unions. (16)

The literature on local peacebuilding puts an increasing focus on the interaction between internationals and locals via concepts such as the hybridity of peacebuilding and friction between local and international actors. (17) Research in this realm questions the dichotomy that sets up the international as empowered actors "doing the peacebuilding and the disempowered local beneficiaries for whom the intervention is done." (18) Instead, important work seeks to conceptualize and adapt peacebuilding activities for local circumstances. (19) Moreover, research also uncovers how--when peacebuilding involves internationals--outcomes are coproduced in the interaction between local and international actors, sometimes for the benefit of peace, and sometimes with detrimental effects for longer-term peace, development, and democracy.

So, do external actors have a role to play at all in supporting peace? While the absence and inactivity of external actors may allow local actors to be key players in peacebuilding, our point of departure is that there are situations where local institutions, structures, and actors are either too weak or lack the legitimacy necessary to address conflict. Such situations may arise due to conflict dynamics, or may be the very reason why the conflict began in the first place. In short, there are sometimes limits to internal peacemaking. (20) Atypical situation for when external support may be needed is when security sector reform is required to move a peace process forward, but when civilian trust in existing security structures is limited as a result of conflict. In such cases, the local parties face commitment problems and the provision of third-party security guarantees is one way to overcome deep-seated mistrust. (21) Indeed, local leadership and ownership can be problematic when local actors are not committed to peace. Local indigenous practices may in fact contribute to reproducing social inequalities and injustices, rather than changing the status quo. (22)

The International Peacebuilding Chain: External-Local Dynamics

Peacebuilding can come about in multiple ways and, when externally supported, it can trickle down to the local level through different channels. External actors engaged in local peacebuilding are not a uniform crowd and include a wide range of more or less organized actors: multilateral and bilateral donors, peacekeepers, diplomats, regional actors, international civil society, international religious movements, international business, and academia. The worldviews, norms, and practices of external peacebuilders will influence the peacebuilding approach and who they choose to engage with. For this reason, the identity of the international peacebuilder matters. Severine Autesserre argues that there are critical...

To continue reading