Peacebuilding and statebuilding: 2008 Interpeace Partners Forum examined the nexus between them
November 28, 2008
35 people from different sectors of the international community came together with peacebuilders from the field for a one day forum to reflect on the questions and challenges related to the nexus between peacebuilding and statebuilding.
The 2008 Interpeace Partners Forum: Peacebuilding and Statebuilding is part of a series of annual events where practitioners from the field join the international community to address current peacebuilding issues or trends. During the 2008 event participants tackled the following questions:
- Historically the formation of states has been a conflictual and often violent process; is externally supported state building automatically a more peaceful process? How can it be supported in ways that contribute to social cohesion and peace?
- What are the appropriate responsibilities and roles for internal and external actors in peacebuilding and statebuilding? How in practice can members of a society be involved so that the processes and outcomes have strong legitimacy and ownership beyond sections of a national government?
- What are the constraints and challenges facing internal and external actors in their peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts?
- How can the international community engage in a fragile society when there is no effective state or the state is not trusted (or part of the problem)?
Key Conclusions from the Forum
The process of ‘state formation’ has nearly always been a violent one. Statebuilding itself is largely a top-down process – ‘democratization’ tends to come slowly. In statebuilding, power relationships are re-shaped, which typically implies that there are “winners” and “losers”. The resulting political culture is often – at least for an initial period – one of ‘winner takes all’. Having the outward appearances of a ‘democratic political system’ does not necessarily alter that.
Rebuilding a country after conflict goes far beyond repairing damaged buildings and re-establishing public institutions. It is about rebuilding relationships at all levels, restoring the people’s trust and confidence in governance systems and the rule of law, and providing the population with greater hope for the future. A state, after all, is not only institutions and legal frameworks, but the relationship that is established between these and society.
Both the re-establishment of institutions and legal frameworks, and the development of legitimacy and trust around them, are critical to the consolidation of peace and security in fragile post-conflict situations. When either is neglected, the threat of conflict re-emerging is very real. Statebuilding and peacebuilding are potentially contradictory processes – the former requiring the consolidation of governmental authority (with unavoidable “winners” and “losers”), the latter involving its moderation through compromise and consensus.
The challenge is not just to build or rebuild a functioning state. The key questions are: what sort of state and above all, whose state.
Statebuilding and peacebuilding are not separate but complementary fields. Unless there is no objection to the development of states that rely on coercion for governance, statebuilding needs to be undertaken through a peacebuilding lens. And unless we want to risk the disappearance of peacebuilding achievements overtime, it needs institutionalization. The challenge for both national and international peacemakers is to situate reconciliation firmly within the context of state-building, while employing state-building as a platform for the development of mutual trust and lasting reconciliation.
That means that statebuilders constantly have to ask key questions:
- Who wins and who loses in different options?
- How to proceed so that action builds rather than erodes trust?
- Who needs to be involved to make the process legitimate and create broad enough social and political support?
- Who is best placed to facilitate what process: what role for which internal and which external actor; what role for which state and which non-state actor?
- Is there strong and growing local ownership of the process and its outcomes?
- Can a certain option actually be sowing the seeds of future resentment and possible conflict?
- Are solutions offered and pursued based on compromise or even consensus?
Starting from statebuilding to get to peacebuilding is not the same as starting from peacebuilding to get to state building. At the same time it can be argued that statebuilding and peacebuilding are separate pathways. They have different objectives, will follow different trajectories and will certainly operate at different speeds. The issue of speed is important: there is typically urgency, certainly among external and internal actors, to see a functioning state in place. But genuine peacebuilding takes time – it is a social process that needs to be translated into how a society structures and governs itself. That doesn’t happen quickly. More accelerated ‘statebuilding’ may bring ‘stabilisation’ which is definitely valuable in itself, but probably not a ‘sufficient’ condition to achieve durable peace.
While external actors may be able to drive ‘accelerated statebuilding’, they cannot drive ‘accelerated peacebuilding’. External actors for example cannot force ordinary Liberians to feel ‘Liberian’ first or force citizens of a particular country to trust their military-political leaders. The differences in speed may result in statebuilding processes that reinforce existing fault lines and divisions and/or create new ones. That is a risk to be very consciously guarded against.