International Research Network

Cultures of Intervention

Peacebuilding Liberia

Peacebuilding Liberia

Peacebuilding as seen from the local perspective
Research project / 2010 / Liberia
Contact: Hannah Neumann

International Peacebuilding Interventions strongly rely on the ideas of liberal peace – democracy (in terms of liberal democracy), human rights, free markets, the integration of societies into globalization, self determination and the idea of the state – assuming that those were universal values and pursuing those would be the road towards sustainable peace. But the history of such interventions shows a clear discrepancy between aspiration and reality. Often the obvious is ignored: Interventions – may they be humanitarian, military or integrated – have an impact on the intervened states, which goes beyond the mere distribution of relief goods or prevention of immediate physical violence. Aside of political structures and institutions, they profoundly change the socio-economic landscape and culture of the intervened society, especially in case of long-term missions; leading to a quite complicated fusion of traditional (local) and liberal (promoted by UN and INGO) structures.

This research project examines this fusion along the case of a Liberian community in two fields central to peace building operations: democracy promotion and the establishment of rule of law. It retraces, how the political and juridical processes and institutions, decision-makers and everyday life of citizens in rural communities are affected by the United Nations Mission in Liberia and the various INGO activities accompanying it. Along these examples, it retraces how the strong promotion of liberal values, in an otherwise instable post-war context led to a hybridisation of public and private life, in which the individuals struggle to make sense of their existence and identity. Democracy promotion, as it is pursued in the Liberian case, endangers the informal power-sharing mechanisms many communities have agreed on and opens a new conflict line between the generations. The strong promotion of a formal judicial system, concurring with the prevailing concepts of customary law, led to an overall decrease in justice and a further weakening of social structure. Therefore this case study provides explanations for striking statistical findings, which point to controversial developments current peace building interventions are facing, such as a growing rejection of formal law, ineffective national and local governments and the evolution of alternative (and more relevant) decision making processes and actors.

The data for this case study was gathered in two consecutive field studies in Liberia in 2010 (funded by the Germans Foundation for Peace Research and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation). It combines a number of ethnographic techniques (participatory observation, in-depth interviews) with group discussions, an evaluation of NGO and GO documents and a thorough literature review.

A final report has been published here

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