Impact of external assistance on local-level peace settlements in the Middle East and North Africa


Identify evidence about the impact of external programmatic support on local-level peace settlements (e.g. the effects of programme support for local governance and basic service provision on conflict reduction, legitimacy or sub-national political settlements). Look at fragile and conflict-affected states – ideally with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). If possible, identify the specific approaches that the literature recommends or warns against.


Armed conflicts have inflicted massive suffering and material losses on the populations of several MENA countries since 2011 (or earlier). At the same time, local peace settlements in delimited geographic areas have been reached in several of these contexts. This rapid review of the literature presents evidence on positive and negative impact in MENA. Available knowledge shows that external assistance has had a mixed impact on local peace settlements and on factors that directly affect them.

This rapid review found limited academic and grey literature specifically about the impact of external support on local peace settlements. Nevertheless the literature emphasises the high risk, with many local agreements widely reported to be vulnerable to adverse political developments.

Recommended approaches include:

  • Taking into account formal and informal power through detailed analysis of context and work with formal and informal power-holders.
  • Changing aid practices, for example by valuing process and longer timeframes, leading by example on equity, and using conflict sensitivity for peace.
  • Adapting governance work to restrictive conditions (e.g. by framing projects in collaborative ways that don’t threaten local powers).
  • Enabling civil society through capacity-building, inclusiveness and linkages.
  • Supporting gender equality as a goal and a means towards peacebuilding.
  • Defusing tensions and competition around aid, in particular between refugees and host communities (e.g. in Lebanon with Syrian refugees).

Typical problems, challenges and risks have included:

  • Facing the challenges of working politically in difficult contexts, such predatory politics and aid that is politicised by local and outside actors.
  • Dealing with donors’ technocratic and political limitations (e.g. donors using blueprints, limiting choice of local partners or ignoring pre-existing local initiatives).
  • Lacking gender sensitivity in work for peacebuilding.
  • Working with ambiguous boundaries between ‘the local’ and ‘the external’ in local processes.

Suggested citation

Combaz, E. (2015). Impact of external support on local-level peace settlements in the Middle East and North Africa (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1203). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.