Peacebuilding and Authoritarianism: The Unintended Consequences of UN Engagement in Post-Conflict Settings

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  • UN Photo/Iason Foounten

    Project Status:
    Completed
    UNU-CPR RESEARCHERS: Dr Adam Day
    EXTERNAL RESEARCHERS: Dr Sarah von Billerbeck, Dr Oisín Tansey, Ayham Al Maleh

    This project explores the ways in which peacebuilding may unintentionally enable authoritarian tendencies, despite its stated goal of more inclusive forms of governance. The authors build on scholarship that has analysed the impacts of democratization efforts in post-conflict settings, and the substantial literature describing how authoritarian systems may prove resilient to external efforts to transform them, including by instrumentalizing democratic institutions, controlling resources, and emplacing political structures that tend to centralize authority in a small elite. While helpful in understanding the politics of authoritarian rule, this literature seldom offers an analysis of the causal relationships between peacebuilding and authoritarianism, leaving policymakers and practitioners without a clear framework to understand the impact of their interventions. The fact that peacebuilding is one amongst many factors influencing authoritarianism means that its possible contribution to tendencies of centralization and political repression often go unnoticed.

    The analysis illustrates how these dynamics play out in a range of country settings where the UN has invested significantly in peacebuilding support. The analysis compares across in-depth country case studies on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Cambodia, and draws on an assessment of peacebuilding funding flows in eight other countries. One of the more striking findings from this research is that some settings with the most intensive peacebuilding support to core government functions have had little to no improvements in governance scores and have, in fact, worsened.

    The project aims to provide a usable framework and set of recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to avoid some of the common pitfalls and ensure that peacebuilding support is not distorted or co-opted.

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    This material has been funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office; however, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies.