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Local ownership and peace missions

Final Report Summary - PEACE (Local ownership and peace missions)

State-building has significant limits when unrelated to the needs and perceptions of the local population. In that regard, the goal of any state-building intervention is to prevent the establishment of what David Chandler dubbed “phantom states”, whose governing institutions may have extensive external resourcing but lack social or political legitimacy. In the last decade, it has become clear that the idea of “neotrusteeship” or interim administration of war-torn territories, at least in their contemporary form in Kosovo, East Timor or Iraq, seems incompatible with local ownership and participatory intervention as currently configured. The asymmetry between the means of the intervention and the local setting can generate a “clash of paradigms” between the local and the international setting, where the intervener slowly becomes irrelevant to the local population, or worse, contributes to worsening the problems it first sought to remedy. Many organizations or scholars have noted the importance of including “local ownership” programmes into state-building activities. While the debate surrounding the use of the “local ownership” concept is fairly recent in the field of peace missions, being directly related to the difficulties the international administrations of Kosovo and Timor-Leste faced at the turn of the century, the debate surrounding the use of the concept has been quite vibrant since the 1980s in the field of development studies and security sector reform-related issues. The main objective of this research project was to understand the "local ownership" turn in the literature, and assess it through extensive fieldwork.

The project as originally envisioned was split into five main tasks: A. To analyze the concept of local ownership, drawing from the literature on development studies and security sector reform and applying these insights to the field of peace missions; B. To revise the definition of the concept, distinguishing actual state-building practices on the ground from discursive practices and providing clear definitions of “local” and “ownership” in the context of a peace mission; C. To identify the current practices involving the use of the local ownership concept in specific state-building activities in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia and Sierra Leone and how it influences the legitimacy of international actors involved in state-building practices; D. To apply the findings of the research by further conceptualizing the impact of international practices on local societies (international-local nexus) and the importance of legitimacy in state-building practices; E. To participate in the international debate on how best to conduct state building operations in the countries selected, by producing policy briefs and scientific articles on the use of the “local ownership” concept.

Research Task A was quickly identified as an initial priority by the fellow and the research team. The fellow presented his initial thoughts on the subject in the New Perspectives on Conflict and Security First Annual Conference, Birmingham (UK), 12 July 2011 (under the title: “International Peacebuilding as Cause of Tension: The Potential and Limits of the Local Ownership Paradigm”). The fellow presented subsequent findings at the Quebec Political Science Society Annual Convention, Ottawa, 23 May 2012, the British International Studies Association Annual Convention, Edinburgh, 20 June 2012, and the International Studies Association Annual Conference, San Francisco, April 2013 (see list of presentations in international conferences, section 2A). This theoretical groundwork enabled the fellow to make a significant contribution to the literature, fulfilling Research Task B. The fellow focused on the discursive aspects of local ownership in peace missions and made a significant contribution to the literature in publishing a Routledge edited book ("The Semantics of Statebuilding"). The book is the result of a conference in Belgrade in May 2011, and the fellow has been invited to join a distinguished group of scholars as a member of the editorial team. Regarding Research Task C, and after discussions between supervisors and the fellow, the research group decided to modify the list of case studies to focus on two instead of four case studies: post-earthquake Haiti and Kosovo. The first assessments of post-earthquake Haiti identified the case study as crucial for local ownership debates. This modification also reflected the existing expertise of the fellow (Kosovo), while enabling the fellow to develop and extend his research interests to a new case study (Haiti). The fellow was also included in a second research project (Precarious Neighbourhoods and Sustainable Urban Development in Haiti” ($CAN 2.5 M) – Director Paul-Martel Roy (UQAM), Canadian International Development Agency (University Partnerships in Cooperation and Development Program), 2007-2013), which provided the fellow with a great opportunity to conduct more fieldwork (combining resources to multiply visits) and develop an expertise that was sorely lacking at the departmental level (see section on professional development, below). Overall, and after this modification, Research Task C, D and E were successfully fulfilled, leading to multiple scientific publications (see list of publications, section 2).

One of the overarching aims of the research was to "constitute a stepping-stone for new and innovative research projects on related topics, as well as for an independent research career in Europe" (B.5.2) with the "aim to retain a very successful researcher in the European Research Area and to allow Prof. Lemay-Hébert to accomplish himself professionally inside the European Research Area (B.5.3). The International Development Department opened up a senior lecturer position in April 2013, and after applying and being interviewed, the fellow was offered the position. Hence, the project has been successful in retaining a successful researcher in the European Research Area.

The fellow was also instrumental in the setting up of the University of Birmingham Marie Curie Association, becoming the first elected chair of the association in 2013.