Accepted paper:

The unintended role of externally-driven 'local' peacebuilding in Timor-Leste: disruption, resistance and political order in comparative perspective


Claire Smith (University of York)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses an international organisation's efforts at grassroots government reforms, intended to improve peace. The intervention unintentionally created new sites of contestation and resistance in a fragile political environment, with both positive and negative effects on peacebuilding.

Paper long abstract:

Recent peacebuilding literature critiques the role of external peace building processes, and advocates instead for more space for grassroots mechanisms. It is argued that such mechanisms provide more ownership and agency to 'local' actors thereby producing a more resilient peace. But what happens when international actors try to influence peacebuilding efforts to be more 'local', by directly intervening in grassroots politics and governance?

This paper discusses a case study of how an international organisation funded a local government reform agenda, with the intention of building better "bottom-up" governance in post-war rural Timor Leste. By funding and training village leaders, and encouraging grassroots resistance to a top-down government, multiple tensions were unleashed: who was the 'local', what was a valid 'local' agenda, and for whom? This new local governance reform programme meant villages became a renewed site of contestation and resistance in an already fragile and fraught political environment, where a central government simultaneously attempted to establish political order.

The paper discusses how local peacebuilding programmes in post-war contexts - like Timor-Leste's - are not necessarily productive of more sustainable peacebuilding, but may instead generate more disruption. The paper argues that these disruptive effects of 'local peacebuilding' can have both positive and negative impacts on the quality of governance, democracy and political development in post-war states. This case of a local-level governance and societal intervention in Timor-Leste contains lessons and implications for the theory and practice of "locally" driven peacebuilding elsewhere.

panel J4
Peaceful accidents in the shadow of hegemony: the unintended outcomes of international peace interventions in Asia-Pacific (Cambodia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka and Timor Leste)