Peacebuilding is essentially local

Most international peacebuilding interventions, large and small, make the mistake of interfering so much that they ended-up undermining the ability of the local system to self-organise. For peace consolidation to be self-sustainable it has to be the result of a home-grown, bottom-up and context-specific process.

Complexity theory has shed light on how complex systems self-organize. Self-organization in the peacebuilding context refers to the various processes and mechanisms a society uses to manage its own peace consolidation process. If a society is fragile, it means that the social institutions that govern its politics, security, justice and economy lack resilience. Resilience refers here to the ability of these social institutions to absorb and adapt to the internal and external shocks and setbacks they are likely to face. If a society is fragile it means that there is a risk that it may not be able to manage its own tensions, pressures, disputes, crisis and shocks without relapsing into violent conflict. This risk is gradually reduced as the institutions develop the resilience necessary to cope with the type of threats they are exposed too.

If the resilience of the self-organizing capacity of a society determines the extent to which it can withstand pressures and shocks that risk a (re)lapse into violent conflict, then peacebuilding should be about safeguarding, stimulating, facilitating and creating the space for societies to develop resilient capacities for self-organization.

Seen in this context, peacebuilding can be a very delicate and self-contradictory process fraught with built-in tensions. There is an inherent tension in the act of promoting a process of self-organisation from the outside. Too much external interference will undermine self-organisation. From a complexity theory perspective one can say that every external intervention removes feedback from the system that would otherwise have contributed to self-organization. The intervention removes the need for the local social institution to react. If there was no external intervention then the problem will have triggered some local response.  Every external intervention thus deprives the local system from an opportunity to learn how to deal with such problems itself. Social institutions learn from trial and error. They adapt to changes in their environment based on the positive and negative feedback they are exposed too. Too much filtering and cushioning will slow down this process, and encourage dependency. Linear logic suggest that if a little bit of aid has a good effect, more aid will have an even greater effect. However, the non-linear logic of complexity warns us that there is a threshold beyond which more peacebuilding starts contributing to the very fragility it is meant to prevent.

Most international peacebuilding interventions, large and small, make the mistake of interfering so much that they ended-up undermining the ability of the local system to self-organise…

For the full blog post, see: The Broker,



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