Chapter 4 - Recovering from violent conflict

Chapter 4 - Recovering from violent conflict


Peacebuilding: non-state actors and peacebuilding

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Non-state actors and peacebuilding

Civil Society

There is a vast amount of research that discusses the strong potential of civil society to contribute to peacebuilding processes. Civil society actors can play various roles at different stages of conflict, spanning a large range of activities. These activities include: monitoring and early warning analysis; conflict analysis; advocacy and education; protection; two-track mediation and facilitation; alternative media, war and peace reporting; service delivery and livelihood generation; youth work; initiatives to foster social cohesion and social capital; psycho-social support; documentation and initiatives for dealing with the past.

The effectiveness of civil society in promoting peacebuilding varies from function to function at varying phases. Its effectiveness depends also on the nature and severity of the conflict itself and the role of political actors.   Recent research has found that the role of civil society is supportive and that the central impetus for peacebuilding comes primarily from political actors and conflict parties. Civil society thus cannot be seen as a substitute for state-building. The attitude of government and local politicians to civil society is also relevant. Donors and peacebuilding agencies could provide incentives for the government to cooperate with civil society actors.

Other research warns that funding the NGO sector does not automatically result in the development of a strong civil society. This is especially the case when funding is uncoordinated, resulting in a proliferation of projects and duplication. In order to foster a strong civil society, members of society need to see themselves as citizens and to get involved in local community organisations and associations. This may take time in the aftermath of conflict. 

Much research on civil society engagement emphasises the need to consider the composition of civil society. Donors should adopt an inclusive approach and seek to fund a broad array of civil society organisations. This can allow for broader perspectives and needs assessments and promote participation of marginalised groups. It is also important to recognise that civil society actors may not necessarily be dedicated to peace and peacebuilding. Civil society groups may be linked with political groups, and there have been cases where academics, media, diaspora groups and religious leaders have contributed instead to violent conflict.

Paffenholz, T., 2009, ‘Civil Society and Peacebuilding’, Working Paper, no. 4, The Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
How can civil society most effectively work for peacebuilding? This paper presents the findings of a comparative research project which analysed the performance of civil society in regards to protection, monitoring, advocacy, socialisation, social cohesion, facilitation, and service delivery in situations of war and armed conflict. It concludes civil society can play an important supportive role, but the effectiveness of its activities varied substantially. Contextual factors may limit or strengthen its ability to contribute to peacebuilding.

See also Paffenholz, T. (ed.), 2010 ‘Civil Society and Peacebuilding: A Critical Assessment’, Lynne Rienner

Fischer, M., 2006, ‘Civil Society in Conflict Transformation: Ambivalence, Potentials and Challenges’, Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin
What are the comparative advantages, and limitations, of civil society in contributing to peace-building? This paper discusses definitions of civil society (CS); outlines examples of CS peace-building activities; and discusses the positive contribution and potential limitations of CS involvement, with particular reference to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Civil society can play a key role in peacebuilding, but cannot compensate for state-building deficits: the strengthening of the state, economy and society must proceed simultaneously.

Colvin, C., 2007, 'Civil Society and Reconciliation in Southern Africa', Development in Practice, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 322-337
How has the concept of reconciliation been understood in Southern Africa? How have government policy and civil society initiatives supported reconciliation? This article presents findings from the Southern African Reconciliation Project (SARP). This collaborative investigation into reconciliation activities involved five NGOs in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Sustainable and effective reconciliation initiatives require the strengths of both formal and informal processes.

Pouligny, B., 2005, 'Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Ambiguities of International Programmes Aimed at Building 'New' Societies', Security Dialogue, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 495-510
How should international agencies work with local civil society during peacebuilding operations? This article analyses the relationship between aid agencies and local NGOs and communities to identify problems in the way the international community has traditionally undertaken peace operations. It argues that international bodies need to reform their understanding of local civil society in order to foster better local ownership of peacebuilding projects.

Barnes, C., 2006, ‘Agents for Change: Civil Society Roles in Preventing War and Building Peace’, Issue Paper, no. 2, European Centre for Conflict Prevention, Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, The Hague
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Van Tongeren, P. and Van Empel, C. eds., 2007, ‘Joint Action for Prevention: Civil Society and Government Cooperation on Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding’, Issue Paper, no. 4, European Centre for Conflict Prevention, Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, The Hague
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Hofmann, C. and Schneckener, U., 2011, ‘NGOs and Nonstate Armed Actors: Improving Compliance with International Norms’, United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC
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Community-led development and reconciliation

Community-led development is an approach that empowers local community groups and institutions by giving the community direct control over investment decisions, project planning, execution and monitoring through a process that emphasises participatory planning and accountability. The basic premise for demand-led approaches is that local communities are better placed to identify their needs and the actions necessary to meet them. Studies find that community-led projects have generally been effective in establishing or expanding essential social services and physical infrastructure at the local level. 

The community approach has been adopted in conflict-affected societies. It is considered to be additionally useful in such environments to build social cohesion and social capital. Since public institutions are often weak in conflict and post-conflict settings, community-led development can be used to connect the state with its citizens. Community-led processes, for example reliance on local community councils, can also be used to build social capital in divided societies by providing safe forums for interaction, communication and joint decision-making. Such processes can help to overcome mistrust and set a precedent for peaceful and constructive management of local disputes.

Community-led projects must pay careful attention to issues of inclusion and representation, as a goal in itself, but also to ensure in conflict-affected societies that the lack of inclusion does not exacerbate divisions and result in missed opportunities to build social capital. Studies have found, however, that poor and socially excluded groups may find it difficult to respond to the opportunities created by such projects.

World Bank, 2006, 'Community-Driven Development (CDD) in the Context of Conflict-Affected Countries: Challenges and Opportunities’, Social Development Department, Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Network, World Bank, Washington, DC
What are the challenges and opportunities of community-driven development (CDD) in conflict-affected countries? This paper reviews 13 case studies of countries affected by current or recent conflict that have specifically incorporated CDD in their development efforts. The authors find that CDD is effective in facilitating rapid implementation and cost-effective project delivery, promoting participatory models of governance, and rebuilding social capital.

Pottebaum, D. and Lee, C., 2007, 'In Control of Their Future: Community-Led Reconciliation and Recovery', Paper presented at the World Bank Workshop, 'Moving out of Poverty in Conflict Affected Areas', 16 April, World bank, Washington, DC
How can community-led reconciliation and recovery (CRR) programmes foster peace among conflict-affected populations? What challenges confront such initiatives? This paper builds on lessons learnt in a CRR programme in Aceh, Indonesia to establish general principles for effective CRR strategies. Strengthening leadership capacity, reforming the mindset of war-torn communities and encouraging co-operation between communities in conflict are central to the success of CRR programmes.

Haider, H., 2009, ‘Community-based Approaches to Peacebuilding in Conflict-affected and Fragile Contexts’, GSDRC Issues Paper, Governance and Social Development Resource Centre (GSDRC), Birmingham UK
The ‘community’ has often been resilient in conflict-affected and fragile contexts, providing survival and coping mechanisms for violence, insecurity and fragility. Growing attention has thus been paid to the adoption of community-based approaches to help address the extensive needs in these contexts. This paper explores the principal aims of community-based approaches and key challenges and considerations in designing and implementing such approaches, particularly in environments of conflict and fragility.

Religious Actors

Religious actors can play an important role in peacemaking (see ‘religious peacemaking’ in peacemaking – dialogue in direct prevention mechanisms) and peacebuilding. Their contributions range from mediation and inter-faith dialogue to advocacy and education to the provision of emotional and spiritual support and reconciliation activities. NGOs, donors and academics have increasingly begun to engage with religious communities and institutions as partners in creating peace. Religious peacebuilding organisations have begun to professionalise their work.

Faith-based peacebuilding actors do not confine their activities to conflicts with religious elements, but also engage in secular conflicts. They may also work alongside secular peacebuilding actors. Their assistance often extends to beneficiaries of different religions and to secular communities.  Studies have found that where faith-based actors seek to assist only their followers, this can alienate non-followers and deepen divisions in society, as occurred in the DRC.

The potential strengths of religious actors in carrying out peacebuilding activities include: strong faith-based motivation, moral and spiritual authority, ability to mobilise others for peace, long-term commitment and long-term presence on the ground.  In some cases, as in Afghanistan, religious actors may be more deeply engrained in society than NGOs.  Weaknesses of religious actors in carrying out peacebuilding include: risk of proselytization, lack of focus on results and a possible lack of professionalism (Tsjeard, Kadayifci-Orellana, and Abu-Nimer 2005).

Tsjeard, B., Kadayifci-Orellana, S. A., Abu-Nimer, M., 2005, ‘Faith Based Peace Building: Mapping and Analysis of Christian, Muslim and Multi-Faith Actors’, Clingendael - Netherlands Institute of International Relations, The Hague
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Hayward, S., 2012, ‘Religion and Peacebuilding: Reflections on Current Challenges and Future Prospects’, USIP
What are the current challenges and future prospects of religious peacebuilding? This report looks at the history and context of religious peacebuilding, with a focus on the United States, and identifies the particular challenges it faces in the future. NGOs, donors and academics have increasingly begun to engage with religious communities and institutions as partners in creating peace. Religious peacebuilding organisations have begun to professionalise their work. Challenges include integrating further with secular peacebuilding efforts, engaging women and youth and addressing their priorities, working more effectively with non-Abrahamic religious traditions, and improving monitoring and evaluation of religious peacebuilding.
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Wardak, M., Zaman, I., and Nawabi, K., 2007, 'The Role and Functions of Religious Civil Society in Afghanistan: Case Studies from Sayedabad and Kunduz', Co-operation for Peace and Unity, Kabul
To what extent have Afghan religious leaders been involved in the post-2001efforts to build a new state and foster development? What are their perspectives on the unfolding process, and on the various actors that are driving it? This paper explores the possibilities for engaging Afghan religious leaders more thoroughly in the work for stability and development. Most religious leaders have a positive view of development. Thus, both the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should make greater efforts to forge links with them.

Whetho, A., and Uzodike, U. O., ‘Religious Networks in Post-Conflict Democratic Republic of the Congo: A Prognosis’, African Journal on Conflict Resolution, vol. 8, no. 3, pp.57-84
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For discussion and resources on the role of religion and religious actors in conflict and mobilisation, see the section on identity politics, and ‘ethno-religious mobilisation’ in the mobilisation section.


Diaspora groups form an important part of civil society. Development agencies, NGOs and academics have increasingly recognised the potential positive contributions diaspora communities can make to economic development in their homeland countries, for example through remittances and investment. There have been minimal attempts however to understand and recognise the contribution that such groups can also make to peacebuilding. Most existing research focuses instead on the negative role that diaspora groups can play in fuelling violent conflict in their homelands, particularly in financing armed groups and engaging in oppositional politics (see transnational politics and role of diaspora).

Diaspora groups, however, can also be actively involved in peace processes and peacebuilding. They can be effective agents of change and have sought to mitigate tensions and divisions within their homelands. While often neglected, there is evidence that diaspora groups have, for example, provided financial assistance to promote non-violence, through cross-community cooperation, development and reconciliation projects. Nonetheless, it is important not to idealise the role of diasporas in this respect as many diaspora members are not engaged in these forms of activity.

Diaspora groups can also promote transnational ties, act as bridges and mediators between home and host societies at various levels of society. They may have the capacity to draw on talents, skills, education, imagination and resources of different networks and target outputs to address specific needs of their conflict-affected homeland. As this is still a relatively new area of study, further research is necessary to examine in more depth diaspora contributions and how they can be beneficial partners in reconstruction and peacebuilding.

Cochrane, F., 2007, ‘Civil Society beyond the State: The Impact of Diaspora Communities on Peace Building’, Global Media Journal: Mediterranean Edition, vol. 2, no. 2
Diaspora communities are key aspects of civil society, but what are their potential positive contributions to peacebuilding? This article identifies diaspora as a neglected aspect of existing literature on the role and impact of civil society in divided societies. As seen in the case of the Irish diaspora in the Northern Ireland conflict and peace process, diaspora communities have the potential to impact both positively and negatively on peacebuilding efforts.

Kent, G., 2006, 'Organised Diaspora Networks and Homeland Peacebuilding: The Bosnian World Diaspora Network as a Potential Development Actor', Conflict, Security and Development, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 449-469
How connected with the homeland are existing diaspora networks? What factors limit and promote strong relationships? How effective have diaspora networks been in assisting the transformations required for peacebuilding? This article assesses the potential of diasporas to contribute to post conflict reconstruction in the homeland, looking at the case of the Bosnian World Diaspora Network (BiH Network). It suggests that many factors are necessary for diaspora contributions to take place, and that ‘victim’ diasporas (who fled war in the homeland) may not be able to prioritise peacebuilding and reconstruction without host land support.

Oussama, S., 2007, ‘Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation in the Arab World: The Work of Civil Society Organisations in Lebanon and Morocco’, Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin
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Berndt, H., 2006, 'People Building Peace - Transforming Violent Conflict in South Asia', Church Development Service (EED), Bonn
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Waldman, 2008, ‘Community Peacebuilding in Afghanistan – The Case for a National Strategy’ Oxfam International Research Report, Oxfam International
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For discussion and resources on women and peacebuilding, see GSDRC’s gender topic guide; for the role of private sector the media in peacebuilding, see the section on the private sector and the media.