Liberal, Local, or Hybrid Peacebuilding: Reflections From a War Zone

Liberal, Local, or Hybrid Peacebuilding: Reflections From a War Zone

4 March 2022, by Oudai Tozan

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

When working in or studying a degree that is relevant to peacebuilding, one cannot escape the debate about liberal, local or Indigenous, and hybrid peace models. Each of these models of peacebuilding claims to have the answer to how best to bring peace to conflict-affected regions. In this blog, I share my reflections on this debate and the problems with each of these three models of peace. I do so from my perspective, not only as a researcher, but also as a person who has experienced first-hand the complications of both war and peacebuilding.

Three models of peace

Liberal peace or the “western” peace is the current dominant form of peacebuilding favoured by leading states and multilateral institutions (1). It is based on a neoliberal ideology that peace can only be achieved through democratisation, the rule of law, human rights, free and globalised markets, and neo-liberal development (2). While the liberal peace paradigm might have a strong logic and even potential, it has nonetheless faced huge criticisms, especially after the failure of this model in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Its strong opponents believe that liberal peace is a hegemonic top-down model of peace that perceives itself as superior to other models. It conforms to a western and modernity-influenced way of seeing the world which excludes, marginalises, and illegitimatises local/indigenous customs and traditions and minimises the space for alternative visions of peace, development, security and governance (3). The strength of this model doesn’t stem from its efficiency, but rather from the political power of its promotors and the material resources that they bring to the war-torn countries. These material resources create a complex and powerful incentive structure that encourages locals (on the national, municipal, or individual level) to cooperate with the intervening forces as a route to gain power, legitimacy or even livelihood (4).

In addition to many other reasons, this has inspired a push towards other models of peacebuilding: the local peace model. Proponents of this model argue that peace can only be achieved by local people/governments. It might be influenced by a formal peace accord or national political dynamics, but should be designed and managed by local people. It could be understood as reconfiguration of the power dynamics between local actors and international actors to the favour of locals. The logic of this model is based on the premises that local people understand the local context, history, culture, and dynamics more than anyone, and that local people have their own rich conflict management traditions to apply to their own conflicts. Our role as an international community is to support the local peace process with all kinds of resources and respect the agency of local people.

However, the local traditions, structures, and institutions might have been severely eroded by the conflict, which undermines their ability to bring and maintain peace and to prevent further conflicts. More importantly, local practices and actors, like the international ones, could be full of partisan, discriminatory, exclusionary, corrupt, violent, and unequal power relations. Additionally, the term local is itself a contested term, both geographically and conceptually. When we say local people, are we including the diaspora who live all over the world? The displaced people in the neighbouring countries? Those who won the conflict on the ground, and also those who lost it? What about the competing and clashing interests between all of these local actors?

Such criticisms to the local and liberal peace models, together with other factors, have moved us away from the binary opposites (local, indigenous, traditional, non-western, irrational versus international, modern, liberal, western, legal-rational) and helped to understand peace as a hybrid process/model that is shaped by many actors. This fits more the reality of our complex globalised world where policies, economies and cultures are intertwined like never before. This inspired the rhetoric of “participation”, “local ownership”, “partnership”, “cooperation” between local people and international actors.

However, a lot of researchers and practitioners warn of the possible instrumentalization of this hybrid model. The local and international actors may clash over different and contradicting agendas. Further, this hybrid model “masks the power relations in which the conception, design, funding, timetable, execution and evaluation of programmes and projects are conducted according to Western agendas” (5). Western peace-making methods with its political and economic power and hegemonic nature limit the ability of genuine co-existence between both forms of peace-making, and therefore, are more likely to co-opt the indigenous and traditional approaches into its western agenda (6).

Where to go from here?

Where does this leave us and how do we move forward from here? The three models of peacebuilding all have serious problems. I don’t claim to have an answer, but below, I offer my reflections on these models and their problems.

I find the dichotomy between liberal (modern, western, legal-rational) and local (traditional, non-western, irrational, ritual) very problematic. I find in its folds a reductionist approach that promotes false judgement, stereotyping, superiority and other-ness. Local people in a lot of conflicts want democracy, human rights, rule of the law, and development even if they may interpret these differently from the western neoliberal way. Locals are not prisoners of their irrational thinking, hatred of human rights, or love of oppression. From my experience of living in a conflict, we as locals could be prisoners of corrupt local elites, dictators, religious leaders who create oppressive social, economic and political structures that keep us in ignorance and lead to conflicts. The western liberal peace believes liberalism is the ideology upon which life, culture, society, prosperity and politics are assumed to rest’ (7). We need to move away from this colonial hegemonic approach to peacebuilding that considers western liberalism and knowledge as a universal truth towards more pluralistic ways of understanding the world. A lot of communities and states all over the world do not agree with the neoliberal logic of democracy, human rights, free markets, and globalisation. They might have different governing systems, different notions of human rights, and different ways of managing markets and economies. Even if I disagree with such non-liberal models of development, I am convinced that the solution to conflict-affected countries is not to enforce our ideology on those communities who have a different epistemology (ways of knowing) and different ontology (ways of being and living). I take issue with calling and assuming our ideology hegemonic and superior to other ideologies. This is not called peacebuilding. Hegemony and superiority are conflict building.

When it comes to the local turn in peacebuilding, it also has its own problems. I am sceptical of the local’s ability to bring peace when the local context is dominated by corrupt local elites, dictators, religious leaders, and oppressive cultural structures. Therefore, I do believe that the hybrid model for peacebuilding gives us the highest chances of achieving peace. For various reasons, the locals need the international, and the internationals will always exist, in one form or another, in the peacebuilding field. The question is how can we build a genuine partnership/hybrid model of peace that is built on honest reflections of power dynamics, ethics of care, respect of local agency and appreciation of both international and local wisdoms and traditions? This is the million dollar question, and one which there is no definite answer to. In my second blog, I will explore this question and reflect on what I believe the biggest two dilemmas to achieving a hybrid model of peace between local and international actors: power and politics.


(1) (3) (4) Mac Ginty, R., 2010. Hybrid Peace: The Interaction Between Top-Down and Bottom-Up Peace. Security Dialogue 41, 391–412.

(2) Richmond, O.P., 2006. The problem of peace: understanding the “liberal peace.” Conflict, security & development 6, 291–314.

(5) Cooke, B., Kothari, U., 2004. Participation, the new tyranny? / edited by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari. Zed, Zed Books, London.

(6) Mac Ginty, R., 2008. Indigenous peace-making versus the liberal peace. Cooperation and Conflict 43, 139–163.

(7) Mac Ginty, R., Richmond, O., 2007. Myth or Reality: Opposing Views on the Liberal Peace and Post-war Reconstruction. Global society : journal of interdisciplinary international relations 21, 491–497.