Leveraging Local Knowledge for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in Africa

Kibera, the largest of Nairobi's slums, and the second largest urban slum in Africa, with an estimated population of between 800,000 and 1.2 million inhabitants. Nairobi, Kenya, 2010. (Ollivier Girard)

The call for national and local ownership of peacebuilding and statebuilding design and practice has grown louder in recent years. The principles of leveraging local knowledge and attending to local context have gained increasing prominence and visibility in international policy. Yet translating these principles into practice—in terms of peacebuilding and statebuilding mechanisms, processes, and programs on the ground—is an enduring challenge for the United Nations and international actors.

This new report highlights examples of innovative peacebuilding and statebuilding in communities across Africa. Five case studies illustrate the innovative work of local actors, their interaction with national actors and policies, and their challenges and opportunities in linking local knowledge to international policy and practice. The case studies include women’s statebuilding initiatives in Egypt; youth-centered peacebuilding programs in Burundi; efforts to build local governance in the face of transnational organized crime in Mali; violence transformation training in Zimbabwe; and the use of online and mobile technologies to counter election violence in Kenya.

Lessons from these cases point to seven recommendations for those seeking to use local knowledge to advance peacebuilding and statebuilding:

  1. Define and redefine the “local, which needs to be negotiated and revisited in each individual context and community.
  2. View local knowledge as an existing capacity and an ongoing resource, by thoroughly mapping peace resources and networks in local communities.
  3.  Bridge the divide between local and national, by creating channels and opportunities for communication between local communities and national policymakers.
  4.  Do not presume legitimate representation. International actors often focus on elite groups in national capitals, which inhibits deeper buy-in for projects implemented in communities without consultation on priorities and program design.
  5.  Accept that peace takes time, and plan accordingly. The transformation needed to bring inclusive governance and sustainable peace to conflict-affected countries requires long-term commitments.
  6.  Measure the impact of local knowledge. More research is needed to show how incorporating local ideas and community priorities leads to success.
  7.  Operationalize local engagement and national ownership through specific strategies and tactics, and use planning mechanisms that formally take local knowledge into account.