Many international peacebuilding actors operate according to “unsupported, untested, and potentially flawed assumptions about peace, peacebuilding, and the role of outsiders and insiders” that fundamentally shape their interventions and can lead to less successful and even counterproductive local peacebuilding outcomes.
Local peacebuilding risks being co-opted by national-level elites who may benefit from a depoliticized focus on the local level—“interpersonal harmony and everyday interaction”—as it takes pressure off the need to address difficult national-level issues.
A Western ideal of “the local” can be a site of exclusion where local actors have different levels of power, enabling some locals to govern the conduct and participation of other, less powerful locals.
We are pleased to present our special issue on the relationship between local, national, and international peacebuilding in partnership with Peace Direct. The recent reorientation towards local peacebuilding represents a radical shift in whose voices are centered in the work of creating a more peaceful and just world. The grievances that lead to war are rarely, if ever, addressed through violence. Instead, after war these grievances persist, joined by the immeasurable loss of human life and the all-encompassing trauma, fear, polarization, and neglect that violence begets. When countries emerge from war, the very act of peacebuilding constitutes a rethinking of the social and political problems that gave rise to these grievances. It matters, therefore, that decision-making power in peacebuilding rest with those directly affected by these problems and their potential solutions.
The top-down approach to peacebuilding has largely failed at creating sustainable peace in places such as Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and South Sudan. Yet, a small Congolese island in Lake Kivu has kept the peace despite holding known prerequisites for violent conflict. Their success is largely due to an emphasis on the local's role in conflict transformation.