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  • The Challenge of Building Resilience in Post-Conflict African States: What Role for Local Institutions?
  • Cyril Obi (bio) and Abosede Omowumi Babatunde (bio)


Since the 2000s, the concept of resilience has featured prominently in peacebuilding scholarship, policy, and practice. The reasons for this lie partly in the shortcomings associated with liberal peacebuilding and international intervention models to address the roots of conflict or prevent regression to violence in post-conflict settings. This failure of “universalist and externally imposed liberal peace strategies” (Juncos 2018: 560) fueled moves to shift from international peacebuilding models to focus greater attention on the capacity of local communities to manage crises, shocks, and uncertainties by strengthening local institutions, norms, knowledge, and mechanisms. International peace-builder’s acknowledgement of the limitations of models developed on the basis of experiences and imposed from outside specific conflict-affected settings made them pay closer attention to internal sources of resilience in post-conflict countries and regions, with the aim of identifying and supporting such locally rooted processes and institutions.

Thus, scholarship in the field of peacebuilding has increasingly focused on the shift from international interventions aimed at “promoting statebuilding, free and fair elections, and free markets in most conflict-affected societies, towards locally-rooted adaptive capacities to respond, cope with or transform societies emerging from conflicts” [End Page 1] (Juncos 2018: 559–60). The notion of building resilience has been variously associated with “a local turn” in peacebuilding, or peacebuilding as “risk management” based on discourses that “emphasize internal capabilities to deal with these challenges” (Juncos 2018: 560–62). Although the debate on the ideological dimensions of the paradigmatic shift is yet to fully emerge, there is a sense in which it suggests an attempt at “de-politicizing” peacebuilding, or at least distancing it from the failure of liberal peacebuilding to halt the regression of post-conflict states into violence, and sustain peace in many regions of the Global South.

In spite of the shift toward local ownership of resilience-building in relation to peacebuilding, several questions persist as to the nature of international peacebuilding and its relationship with conflict-affected locales. At the heart of these questions is the issue of the agency of “the local” and its engagements with international peacebuilding actors. In a recent study, de Coning places emphasis on investing “in the resilience of local social institutions to prevent, cope with and recover from conflict, i.e., to sustain peace,” while noting that “international actors can help, but if they interfere too much they will undermine the self-organizing processes to sustain resilient social institutions” (2016: 167). In seeking to advance the resilience of local institutions, he notes that a “complexity-informed approach to sustaining peace would safeguard, stimulate, facilitate and create the space for local societies to develop resilient capacities for self-organization” (2016: 167).

His main argument is that “complexity provides us with a theoretical framework for understanding some of the complex social dynamics that the international system attempts to influence through peace interventions.” In this regard, he reiterates the point made by other scholars on the link between “facilitating the capacity of societies to self-organize, so they can increase their ability to absorb and adapt to stress, to the degree necessary to sustain peace” (2016: 173).

He moves the discourse away from international interventionism, which focuses largely on mainstream peacekeeping, peace support operations, and peacebuilding programs, toward international support for building the capabilities of conflict-affected societies to “self-organize” endogenous peacebuilding institutions, initiatives, and projects. Beyond providing good insights into how to strike the right balance between international support and local agency for driving the internal dynamics of resilience-building, this perspective cautions international peace-builders based on a complexity-based approach to sustaining peace. It also raises some further issues pertaining to the “depoliticization” of peacebuilding and the coopting of local institutions/processes to serve dominant interests in the field of peacebuilding. [End Page 2]

Three issues emerge from the foregoing, first is to analyze the politics of building resilient institutions in conflict-affected African states and societies, examine the role of local actors and institutions in the context of dominant “post-conflict” social relations...


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