Past experiences in peacebuilding for countries emerging out of conflict have been typically characterized by reform-oriented external donors and progressive forces internally (usually supported by development donors) pursuing human rights-based empowerment approaches to redress marginalization and disadvantage in efforts to address causes of conflict and lay the foundation for a more stable peace. Such rights-based or empowerment approaches, however, may exacerbate tensions at national and local levels in conflict-affected countries as newly mobilized groups confront deep-seated and often “illiberal” political, social, and economic orders that resist change.

The ‘Innovations in Peacebuilding’ research, dialogue, and policy projects represents a partnership between the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Bergen, Norway, the Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative (NPI), and the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the three-year project aims to explore innovative approaches to the rights-oriented empowerment dilemmas faced by international and local peacebuilders alike. The project evaluates the complex interactions between global human rights frameworks and the patterns and effects of social mobilization at national and sub-national levels. Specifically, it aims to investigate how international norms are adapted by local actors in conflict-affected countries to advance a rights-based, post-war social order at the local (sub-national) level, how local dynamics shape peacebuilding, and what actual or potential innovation exists for improving peacebuilding by international (and mostly Western) donors and local organizations. The project seeks to contribute to the policy debates by highlighting the nuances present in the nexus between international norms, national dynamics, and local-level conditions, and how these further effect and interact to shape peacebuilding interventions at the local level in conflict-affected countries.

The South African case study will give specific attention to dynamics in local governance, socioeconomic rights, transitional justice and gender, before mapping peacebuilding initiatives and varied approaches among institutions working in the local context, and exploring their respective effectiveness and identifying innovations to peacebuilding. In the South African context, the project will provide an in-depth gendered analysis of the extent and nature of structural inequalities, and socioeconomic patterns, and their relationship to conflict and violence.

The methodology includes new empirical research on Nepal and South Africa, two commonly sighted case studies, along with six secondary case studies located in South and South East Asia, East and Southern Africa, and the Americas. Together with this primary and secondary research, country-specific workshops on these cases and regional research-and- dialogue workshops designed to generate cross-national findings are set to contribute to international debates on norm diffusion and how these have been adopted, adapted and internalized at the global, national and local levels.

Key staff involved in the project include:
Hugo van der Merwe – Director of Research, Knowledge and Learning
Masana Ndinga – Senior Researcher
Nonhlanhla Sibanda – Gender Specialist