Grinding Peacebuilding and Regionalisation - A reflection

Conflict and Peace • 25 September 2006

“Peace research, (…) will be intimately connected with conflict research and development research”

Johan Galtung, Journal of Peace Research

Our reactions and thoughts to the readings will be streamlined so that they follow a logic line of thought. Although we take into account all the literature, our main focus will be on Ramsbotham’s et al. (2005:215-230) article ‘Peacebuilding’ and Boas’ (2003:31-46) piece reconceptualising regionalisation.

Improving Peacebuilding

The first text strikes us as an up-to-date portfolio of peacebuilding’s ongoing methodological debates, showing how it still attempts to deal with what Galtung (1969:183) observed as the overlap between development and peacebuilding. While discussing illustrative graphics and tables from secondary sources, Ramsbotham, Woodhouse and Miall, take us through contemporary tensions in peacebuilding approaches such as: short-term vs. long-term; one-dimensional vs. comprehensive; and prescriptive vs. elicitive. They send across the point that, in order to achieve “positive peace” (Galtung, 1969:170), peacebuilding should focus on the long-term, be comprehensive and adopt elicitive methods relying on processes instead of outcomes. The prescriptive strength of the piece should be praised although some criticism can be held concerning its high levels of abstraction. Nevertheless, its concluding analysis on the most pressing challenges for local empowerment leaves readers with substantial new insight in the workings of peacebuilding. Structural global forces such as regional powerhouses, strong external groups suppressing the agency of local agents and dependence on the determinations of powerful donors (Ramsbotham et al., 2005:229) are listed as the main fragmenting forces of local groups. We find this as a valid point, an argument going hand-in-hand with calls for a review of the levels of policy-making in peacebuilding also present in texts such as Daley’s (2006) and Addison’s (2005). This collection of literature, of which Ramsbotham’s et al. article is a subscriber, frequently starts by distinguishing (explicitly or implicitly) the different levels of analysis in the peacebuilding context à la Singer (1961), moving from there to analyse power imbalances between actors within and across the levels, as well as issues of efficiency and sustainability.

Challenging regionalisation

In the same lines, Boas (2003:31-46) challenges the formal aspect of the current mainstream conceptualization of one of these levels: the regional one. His interesting challenge comes by making evident the relevance of the parallel informal regionalization in particular when it comes to Africa. By analysing the key phenomena of politics becoming business, Boas criticises and argues for an increasingly observable overlap between the political and economical spheres while trying to understand why and how leaders and borders become resilient in the process. Violence in this context has its origins in “political issues and questions” (Boas, 2003:43) that cemented themselves under the new conditions of modernity, namely the commoditisation of war and the post-Cold War move of armed factions away from geo-strategic, ideology-motivated funding towards a reliance on the commerce of valuable primary commodities such as alluvial diamonds, oil and coltan. In fact, without neglecting some valid points, Boas’ article directly criticises a good deal of “greed literature” (Collier, 2000) claiming that it forgets “unsolved local and national political questions” (Boas, 2003:40). Collier’s (2000:95) variables claim to be able to determine the likelihood of conflict in a given place just by looking at a prearranged set of figures (primary commodities; proportion of young men in society; endowment of education; and economic decline). We find this “greed” perspective as being justly criticized given that it discards the grievance side of violence, divorcing the complex and closely knit spheres of politics and economics. This in turn, can give leeway for depictions of most armed groups as absolute, violent, greedy ‘bandits’ instead of entities with historically-determined and potentially negotiable political agendas. This tension and debate is however very dynamic and interesting in the literature, since it is observable that a good number of violent groups submitted to the process of war have been pressed to take on disproportional market-oriented attitudes. These two distinct approaches will indeed determine different approaches by internal and external agents in exchanges with the different conflict parties, fostering particular actions towards specific groups (be it peace negotiations, peace-making, all-out hostility, aid or any other strategic options), this debate, subsequent to Boas’ article, is further explored in Ballentine and Nitzschke (2003:16). Another of the most engaging aspects of this notion is its clash with recent theories of “new wars” (Kaldor, 1999), and to what extent the conditions of modernity and the way conflicts are waged constitute an intrinsic new form or if they are simply updated modalities of old grievances and forms. One can also indirectly see the regionalization and expansion of some conflicts (for example in Congo) as partly caused by the practice of discursive and practical “real-politik” by international actors hindering regional-wide approaches. This orthodoxy is fostered by a ‘strict’ conceptualization of regionalization, seeing regions composed by resilient, pseudo-sovereign nation-states which do not necessarily need to be strong. This claim is supported by authors such as Eriksen (2005) and Moore (1998), who have craftily compared the narrative of state formation in Europe and Africa with all due structural implications but also by Boas, who complements these notions of multi-regionalism with a strong claim that, in fact, “state fragmentation is a challenge but not a disaster” (Boas, 2003:42) for regimes and actors taking part in informal networks within conflict-ridden areas. It is overall a clear, precise and informative piece, with useful examples (Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone) that improve the clarity of the argument. Boas demonstrates lateral thinking as an adept of a more fluid, “realistic” concept of regionalization.

Final Insights

In conclusion, after actively reading and “grinding” the texts, the overarching point coming across is that, in terms of peace and conflict, both problems and solutions still lie within the ‘place’. Meaning that, more important than de-singling one variable, one should try and de-single a place (such as a region, nation-state, city, village or neighbourhood) as an arena and a coherent unit with the need of being challenged and reconceptualised every now and then where complex multilayered variables, narratives and also other places intersect each other. In practical terms, this means that, for example, if one aims at mounting an effective plan of action for Darfur it must encompass not only the government of Sudan but also the important roles of actors in southern Sudan, refugees in Chad and the Central African Republic, the roles of other regional powers such as Ethiopia and Somalia as well as the informal integrated area cutting across the whole region. It is indeed important to start taking regions as problematic and violence-prone instead of individually agglomerating nation-states – recognizing the Great Lakes region and West-Africa both as formal and informal regions of interaction can allow for a clearer picture of the conflicts’ dynamics as well as a more efficient approach to their realities. In this sense, the “Peacebuilding” article (Ramsbotham et al., 2005) with its shout for the locality of peace efforts and Boas’ article (Boas, 2003) challenging regionalization achieve exactly this, a better recognition of the discipline’s contextual spaces of intervention and a set of tools that are an alternative to what have been, so far, the orthodox devices of analysis and peacebuilding.
In terms of a future master thesis, and considering our interest in adopting a Future Studies methodology, we can connect the arguments of these two texts and see regionalism (in terms of discourse and practice) as a key level of analysis in a foresight exercise. When it comes to Foresight processes, we aim at exploring the idea of the future as a space for dialogue (i.e. vision-building) with possible subsequent processes of backcasting enabling actions upon the present. In this sense, the identification, involvement, motivation and accountability of stakeholders is crucial and Boas’ article offered some tools that can help carry out these tasks. One last parallel can be established between the debate in peacebuilding of prescriptive vs. elicitive approaches and the question within foresight literature between focusing on long-term processes or on end-products. Ultimately, how the phenomena of regionalization will evolve and how it will be used by different actors can be considered as a key uncertainty in several spheres, not only in foreign policy, party politics and global business but also when it comes to peacebuilding.


Addison, T. 2005. “Post-Conflict Recovery - Does the Global Economy Work for Peace?” Discussion paper No. 2005/05 (prepared within the UNU-WIDER project on Reconstruction in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies) Helsinki: UNU-WIDER

Ballentine, K. & Nitzschke, H. 2003. “Beyond Greed and Grievance: Policy Lessons from Studies in the Political Economy of Armed Conflict” New York: International Peace Academy

Boas, M. 2003. “Weak states, strong regimes: towards a ‘real’ political economy of African regionalization” in Grant, J. & Soderbaum, F. (eds) The New Regionalism in Africa. Aldershot: Ashgate, (31-46)

Collier, P. 2000. “Doing well out of war: An economic perspective”, in Berdal, M. & Malone, D. (eds.) Greed and grievance: Economic agendas in civil wars. Boulder: Lynne Rienner (91-112)

Daley, P. 2006. “Challenges to Peace: conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region of Africa” in Third World Quarterly, 27(2): 303-319

Eriksen, S. 2005. “The Congo war and the prospects for state formation: Rwanda and Uganda compared” in Third World Quarterly 26(7): 1097-1113

Galtung, J. 1969. “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” in Journal of Peace Research, 6(3): 167-191

Kaldor, M. 1999. New and Old wars Organized Violence in a Global Era. London: Pinter

Moore, M. 1998. “Death Without Taxes: State Capacity and Aid in the Fourth World”, in Robinson, M. & White, G. (eds.) The Democratic Developmental State Oxford: Oxford University Press (84-124)

Ramsbotham, O.; Woodhouse, T & Miall, H. 2005 “Peacebuilding” in Ramsbotham, O.; Woodhouse, T & Miall, H. (eds.) Contemporary Conflict Resolution Cambridge: Polity Press (215-230)

Singer, D. 1961. “The International System: Theoretical Essays” in World Politics, 14(1): 77-92

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