In a Post-Conflict State, Should One Look to Local or International Communities for Solutions to the Obstacle of Reconstruction?

Conflicts within countries have arisen frequently and persistently throughout the history of organized statehood.  The birth of state communities was soon followed by the birth of an international community, which has remained inextricably linked to individual states’ issues since it first came into existence.  In international politics, there exists a constant disagreement over the whether or not to intervene in another country’s conflict, and then on top of that, a disagreement over whether or not to help countries in their post-conflict reconstruction.  In this paper, I will be asking the question: is it more effective for local, intrastate communities or the international community to provide solutions to post-conflict reconstruction?  In answering this question, I will be examining the case of Sierra Leone, a country that was ravaged by civil war for over a decade and then faced the process of complete societal reconstruction when the war ended.  While Sierra Leone was the recipient of foreign aid and international intervention, it also had many local, intrastate mechanisms that it utilized for rebuilding.  

I intend to show the reader the argument for international solutions to issues in post-conflict states, which contends that the international community has more resources, an unbiased view of the conflict, and a higher moral ground in comparison to the localities of the state in which the conflict took place.  I will then present the opposing argument, which is that intrastate communities should be allowed to find solutions on their own because the issues are more appropriately resolved by those who have foreknowledge of the local culture and political structures in place already.  I argue, because of the evidence presented in this paper through political science literature as well as examination of the case study of Sierra Leone, that it is indeed more effective for local, intrastate communities to provide solutions for post-conflict reconstruction.  Proof of this argument is critical in this day and age in that it disproves the common misconception that developing countries constantly need support from more rich, powerful countries in order to avoid state failure.  This argument also serves to underscore the importance of a state’s cultural sovereignty and hopefully, move the international interventionist conversation more in the direction of supporting the functioning aspects of a state’s society rather than implementing new ones.   

 

H1: The international community should handle situations of state rebuilding in post conflict situations rather than the state itself because it has a moral right and an obligation to do so.  

There is no doubt that the international community has a vested interest in preserving the peace in individual states.  Time and time again, conflict in a country stimulates an international response, which often results in the incorrect assumption that it has a “right” to intervene.  In their article “Ties That Bind? Domestic and International Conflict Behavior in Zaire”, Will Moore and David Davis develop and analyze models of linkages between domestic and international conflict behavior.  Their “general linkage model” explains how the international community sees an inherent reciprocal link between domestic and international conflicts, suggesting that other countries are acutely aware that conflict in one country’s domestic sphere has the strong possibility of spreading or causing undesirable changes among other international networks.  It could be argued that this view encourages international action because the international community feels that issues in an individual state’s domestic sphere could easily infect the broader global sphere through this mentality of the general linkage model.  A branch of this mindset is the idea of humanitarian intervention, in that a country must intervene in situations of human rights violations in order condemn the activity and prevent its spread to across the world.  In their article “Humanitarian Intervention in World Politics”, Alex Bellamy and Nicholas Wheeler discuss this perspective of humanitarianism, giving the cases for and against humanitarian intervention, as well as how the concept of human intervention has changed since the 1990’s “golden age” of intervention through post- 9/11.  They present both the legal and moral grounds from which one would draw support for the interventionist argument.  Legally, political scientists argue that the principle of the “responsibility to protect”, a concept adopted by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit, give legal grounds for international intervention in a post-conflict country (Bellamy & Wheeler, 2008).  This idea argues that a country loses sovereignty when it can no longer protect its people, as “sovereignty” itself is based on the ability of a state to protect its citizens.  As a result, it becomes the “right” of the international community to intervene and reconstruct a society where the people of that country are safe again.  

In a similar argument that which says the international community has a right to intervene, political scientists who are proponents of internationally-produced solutions to post-conflict reconstruction also argue that the international intervention is a “duty” (Bellamy et al., 2008).  Bruce Baker discusses the ways that Uganda and Sierra Leone were affected by their civil wars, as well as how those effects in turn changed policing methods, in his article “How Civil War Altered Policing in Sierra Leone and Uganda”.  He demonstrates how in both states, resources, elite management, and accountability were depleted, leading to “security vacuums” that exists in the place of a missing governing force that had previously existed before it was overthrown or otherwise removed, usually through conflict.  It is into those “security vacuums” that international communities have the opportunity to step and act to prevent corrupt power structures from reimplementing themselves after a conflict.  This idea of unethical law enforcement personnel coming back into power after the war is also expounded in “Former Military Networks and the Micro-Politics of Violence and Statebuilding in Liberia”, an article by Anders Themnér in which it is stated that a mainstream political science view is that it is crucial that the structures of military that had existed during and before the conflict be “disarm[ed], demobiliz[ed], and reintegrat[ed]” in order for the country to achieve peace.  This complete dismantling of any previous structure is typically done by outside countries, says Themnér, and is often seen as a necessary element to a country’s road to peace after conflict (Themnér, 2015).  

These arguments of international intervention on the basis of a “right” to intervene for moral reasons or a “duty” to prevent reestablishment of previous corrupt systems are not only problematic, but also incorrect for a number of reasons.  These internationally- created solutions are often short-term, only succeeding when the outside community remains physically present to implement and enforce them.  They not only undermine the legitimacy of a state’s own ability to lead itself through reconstruction, but they also allow for a slippery slope regarding the international community’s obligation to provide evidence for doing what it does.  If the only main argument for intervention are that it is “morally right” according to a theory, the international community could technically take any action under the explanation that it feels it is “morally right” to do so?  Moreover, this perspective hinges on two ideas that cannot be validated: that the international community shares the exact same concept of what is “morally right” and that they would work only for the post-conflict country’s best interest, not their own. Since both of these points are more idealistic than realistic, these arguments for international solutions are not very effective in real life implementation.  For these reasons, as well as the evidence I will present to you, I argue that the local communities are more effective in solving post-conflict issues than the international community.  

 

H2: The community of the state should be looked to to provide solutions to rebuilding because it is an issue that is more appropriate to be solved by those who have knowledge of the culture and local structures in place already.  

First, we can address why international intervention does not work well.  As Bellamy and Wheeler point out in their article, there are hidden downsides to humanitarian intervention, as shown by the existence of “restrictionists” and “realists”.  Restrictionists argue that there is, in fact, no specific basis for humanitarian intervention in international law, while realists say that states never intervene for purely humanitarian reasons (Bellamy et al. 2008).  The latter of these two perspectives means that countries will always put their own priorities above another country’s, choosing to be selective about their response to a conflict and only to intervening and rebuilding when it is advantageous to them.  As a result, internationalist reconstruction may not be done to actually aid the post-conflict country, but instead to personally benefit the country that is intervening.  Moreover, as previously stated, “security vacuums” are often created in post-conflict countries.  Yet there is more than one way a vacuum can be created, and a major way is through the complete disbandment of any pre-war political or military structures, which is what international communities often think is best to do when intervening (Baker, 2007).  In fact, the dissolution of the entirety of the pre-war structures in a state by international efforts can lead to more problems than had originally existed and would work against the growth of local culture.

Because the international community may not know anything about the intricacies of a country’s culture and formal mechanisms of government, they are not able to create the appropriate solutions to issues that arise after a conflict.  However, the local communities are exceptionally good at doing so.  In James Fearon, MaCartan Humphreys, and Jeremy Weinstein’s “How Does Development Assistance Affect Collective Action Capacity? Results from a Field Experiment in Post-Conflict Liberia”, the effectiveness of external donors who are supporting local communities rather than intervening personally in post-conflict settings is analyzed.  The researchers found that propping up the pre-established culture and structures of a state– Liberia, in this case– led to much more collaborative communities and, ultimately, more successful rebuilding processes.  This idea that maintenance of the local culture is a critical ingredient to successful rebuilding is seen again in Christopher Blattman’s article “From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda”, in which he describes how members of Ugandan society who had seen or taken part in the violence of the civil war were more likely to become politically participative in post-conflict communities.  And in becoming more politically aware, these citizens tended to actively work towards the creation of a more peaceful society as a result of the trauma of the violence that they had witnessed previously in their country (Blattman, 2009).  In these ways, it is argued that the community is healing itself from the inside out, through channels of shared culture and long-existing social structures.  This kind of long-term success cannot be achieved in the same way by international community intervention, when completely new structures that do not “fit” with the state’s culture are established during attempts to rebuild.  

 

Case Study:

Sierra Leone’s civil war tore the country apart.  After years of poor governance, rampant corruption, and consistent state denial of basic human rights, an over-a-decade-long civil war broke out as various groups fought for power and committed a myriad of atrocities, leaving over 50,000 civilians dead by the close of the war.  Rebel groups– most prominently, the Revolutionary United Front backed by former Liberian politician Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia– battled members of Joseph Momoh’s government.  Human rights atrocities were committed by factions on both sides of the war, leaving the country socially and culturally destitute when fighting finally came to an end (Fyfe, 2017).  Rape, mutilation, mass killings, torture, and child soldiering were widespread for years during the war and as a result, the local and statewide social structures were gravely damaged.  Full reconstruction of Sierra Leone society was necessary.  While the rebuilding of Sierra Leone was helped by both the international and local communities, I will point to evidence that shows that the solutions implemented by the local communities are more appropriate and effective for the long-term sustainability of peace in the region.  

When looking at the successes of the local reconstruction, the most constant theme is the inclusion of civilians in the new setup of governmental and social structures.  The first area for civilian involvement is policing, which is the main topic of Bruce Baker’s “How Civil War Altered Policing in Sierra Leone and Uganda”.  He states that Sierra Leone’s choice not to completely abolish the pre-war police force– which would have been both costly and dangerous in how easily a vacuum of power could have been created– allowed postwar society to instead focus on restructuring the existing system and retrain new management (Baker, 2007).  This mindset to reconfigure and fix rather than entirely replace shifted the onus of peacekeeping to the civilian population as a whole.  In a country where the civil war began as a result of elitist abuse of power, among other things, this redistribution of power back to the people is an important step towards long-term peace.  

In post-conflict Sierra Leone, this was part of a larger push to mobilize civilians to play a larger role in the anti-crime agenda.  The surviving government insisted on the idea of “unarmed civilian policing” (Baker & May, 2004), which encouraged local communities to deter crime themselves, but to do so in a way that didn’t require arms, thus avoiding the chance of remilitarization.  “Partnership boards” (Baker et al., 2004) introduced by the state police force included chaired civilians who were brought together to discuss local and police interests.  Similarly, “peace monitors” (Baker et al., 2004) were established to be committees drawing from local communities who work to solve local issues like property, drug, or interpersonal conflict within local communities.  Both of these groups were led by normal civilians whose decisions worked their way up into larger policies and changes on the state level.  

Other issues were resolved through the society’s collective choice to not return power to systems of customary policing– specifically village chiefs– which were regularly corrupt and unreliable in their tendency to settle for bribes or discriminate against women (Baker et al., 2004).  The movement away from this form of governance showed that local communities recognized the corrupt nature of the system and instead chose to place their support in systems that they built and then bought into, like partnership boards and peace monitors.  

A final major issue that was solved through local communities in Sierra Leone was the alienation of youth that had pushed many to take up arms in the war.  As argued by Baker and May (2004), “there has to be a locally negotiated reconciliation process where the victims, the perpetrators and the community at large negotiate what is the degree of guilt, the appropriate recompense and the indicators of change required”.  This negotiation serves as catharsis for those affected by the war and heals local communities’ trust within one another.  Acceptance, like that which Baker and May discuss, must stem from local systems and cannot be forced by any outside community.  And yet it remains a crucial aspect of intrastate healing in a post-conflict environment.  The idea of “youth security” was created for youth who are struggling to fit into society after the war, encouraging them to find a role as “guardians” in their local communities when state police or other attempts at governance fail to respond effectively (Baker et al. 2004).  All of these solutions were created by and for local communities, essentially helping to rebuild society from the bottom-up rather than the top-down (as international methods tend to do).  Unfortunately, the case of Sierra Leone is not merely a success story of local community solutions; it is also a cautionary case against international intervention when reconstructing.  

Whenever an extremely wealthy, strong country acts upon a weak, depleted, post-conflict country in the name of “intervention” or “reconstruction”, the power discrepancy between the two has the potential to harm.  Aforementioned security vacuums are born in situations like this, after the international community decides it has done all it can and leaves the country to its own devices.  These security vacuums, without the proper local self-reliance, are often filled quickly with members of past regimes, negating any benefit done by the intervention of the international community.  Baker, citing the argument of political scientist Wilfried Scharf, states “this law-enforcement vacuum […] is likely to be filled by non-state policing agencies that will only disappear when the state develops the capacity to cope with the problems” (Baker, 2007).  In essence, he is saying that such vacuums created in post-conflict states cannot be solved by the international community; they must be solved by the state itself.  This theory goes back to what Baker and May called the “dependency culture”, wherein a post-conflict state becomes so dependent on foreign aid that it cannot function effectively on its own.  This culture by definition is born through international intervention, and thus is an issue that can only be resolved through a much less pronounced influence of the international community on local, intrastate reconstruction after a conflict.  

 

Conclusion:

The debate over whether the international community should be providing solutions to local, post-conflict communities is one that remains controversial to this day.  However, I believe that through the case of Sierra Leone and other empirical studies of both the benefits and drawbacks of local and international community solutions, there is a stronger argument that the locally- based solutions are overall more effective than those of the international community.  Local communities are able to more easily work with existing structures in society as well as have a better grasp on the culture, thus being the more organic option from which a peaceful society can grow.  International communities, on the other hand, are more likely to try to carry out top-down solutions that are ill-fitting for the state’s culture in which they are implemented.  Although Sierra Leone has much growth left to do, it has had more sustainable and culturally suitable success with solutions from the local level.  While international communities are useful and necessary in certain situations, I believe this paper shows that the world should more often recognize the practical potential of localized peace and rebuilding efforts and should change the way “international intervention” is viewed.  Opting for international efforts whose main focus is supporting a post-conflict state’s self-reconstruction and bottom-up healing may, in the end, lead to more success stories.  In such a highly interconnected world, it is necessary for the international community to be able to draw the line between help and harm.

 

References

Baker, B.  (2007).  How Civil War Altered Policing in Sierra Leone and Uganda. Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 45 (3), 367-387.

Baker, B. & Roy May.  (2004).  Reconstructing Sierra Leone.  Commonwealth & Comparative Politics,  42 (1), 35-60.

Bellamy, A. J., & Nicholas J. Wheeler.  (2008).  Humanitarian Intervention in World Politics.   The Globalization of World Politics, 522-538.

Blattman, C.  (2009).  From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda.   American Political Science Review, 103 (1), 231-247.

Fearon, J. D., Macartan Humphreys, & Jeremy M. Weinstein.  (2015).  How Does Development Assistance Affect Collective Action Capacity? Results from a Field Experiment in Post-Conflict Liberia.  American Political Science Review, 109 (3).

Full Text: Tony Blair’s Speech (part one).  (2001).  Labour Conference.  Retrieved from The Guardian  https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/oct/02/labourconference.labour6.

Fyfe, C.,  Nicol, D., & Sesay, S. M. (2017).  Sierra Leone.  Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.

Grant, A.  (2013).  Commonwealth Cousins Combating Conflict Diamonds: An Examination of South African and Canadian Contributions to the Kimberley Process.  Commonwealth & Comparative Politics,  51 (2),  210-233.

Moore, W. H., & David R. Davis.  (1998).  Ties That Bind? Domestic and International Conflict Behavior in Zaire.  Comparative Political Studies, 45-71.

Royall, E.  (2011).  All Reconstruction is Local: Using Local Governance to Bring Peace to Postconflict Countries.  Foreign Policy Journal, 1-14.  

Themnér, A.  (2015).  Former Military Networks and the Micro-Politics of Violence and Statebuilding in Liberia. Comparative Politics, 47 (3), 334-353.

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