2017 Peace, Security and Conflict Review

Local Peacebuilding – challenges and opportunities

Joakim Öjendal, Hanna Leonardsson, Martin Lundqvist

Peacebuilding has grown to become a prominent global practice and research theme. Peacebuilding projects have been set up in (post-)conflict societies across the globe with the aim of securing sustainable peace. Yet such positive developments appear elusive as the bulk of these societies continue to experience war-like conditions characterised by low socio-economic development, animosities, tensions, violence and in some cases full-scale civil wars have resumed.

Scholars and practitioners have come together in a forceful critique of conventional peacebuilding practices embedded in the ideational idea labelled ‘liberal peace’ in what has come to be known as ‘the local turn of peacebuilding’. The overarching aims of the report are to present a theoretical overview of the developments in peacebuilding literature pertaining to what is commonly known as ‘the local turn’ and to asses the impact of these theoretical developments on the actual practices of peacebuilding.

The report analyses four case studies in depth: Cambodia, Rwanda, Liberia, and Somaliland. The cases are analysed through a common analytical framework, highlighting the involvement of the local in different phases of the peace processes, as well as bringing up gender and civil society dimensions of the respective peace processes.

The report was presented during the seminar Local peacebuilding – challenges and opportunities.

The cases share common denominators which can be summarised as follows:

  • The cases suggest that most international agencies who claim to be involved in ‘local’ peacebuilding are in fact often restricted to nationallevel peacebuilding, which is missing the point of the local turn.
  • Successful local peacebuilding is rarely a consciously planned element of international peacebuilding projects, but rather something that tends to grow organically (and by necessity) from within different (post-)conflict contexts.
  • When localised peacebuilding actually happens, it often appears to be scattered, uncoordinated, and in relative isolation from other socio-political dynamics in the societies at hand, rendering it inefficient in the larger processes of consolidating peace.
  • While the empirical cases all exhibit the significant positive potential of localised peacebuilding initiatives, most of them also highlight the ‘messy’ and sometimes problematic consequences of such approaches.
  • The implementation of localised peacebuilding projects is often complicated due to a number of structural constraints, variably of a practical, financial, and/or normative nature.

Drawing on the above, a series of policy recommendations can be made:

  • International peacebuilding agencies should seek to move beyond the state level in their endeavours to ensure local ownership of the peacebuilding process.
  • Peacebuilding practitioners should go to great lengths to ensure that local aspects of peacebuilding are consciously planned and
    included in the policy roadmap towards peace.
  • It is imperative to move beyond the ‘business as usual’ logic that permeates much of current peacebuilding practice, and to seriously
    consider the benefits of more localised approaches to peacebuilding in spite of mismatches with administrative requirements
  • Devising peacebuilding policy should be thought of as a continuous learning process.
  • While there is a commendable trend of quality assurance in development cooperation, it has brought with it rigid approaches and an unfortunate fear of failure.
  • To engage in a local turn requires thorough knowledge and sound analysis.

Joakim Öjendal, Professor, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
Hanna Leonardsson, Doctoral student, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
Martin Lundqvist, Doctoral Student, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg