Peacebuilding and Authoritarianism: The Unintentional Consequences of UN Engagement in Post-Conflict Settings

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    Project Manager :
    Adam Day

    This project examines how UN peacebuilding activities may unintentionally enable authoritarianism in a range of settings. By examining how both the material support—in the form of institution-building, capacity development and financial outlays—and political signaling play a role in the consolidation of power in a ruling elite, this project will shed light on one of the most difficult questions facing the UN today: Why have so few post-conflict settings over the past 20 years successfully transitioned into stable, democratic rule? It will also examine how the UN has worked to adapt to such settings, improving the ways in which its support is provided to mitigate the risks of capture and cooptation. Moreover, this project will draw cross-case comparisons to identify common pitfalls and trends, providing the UN with a set of lessons and recommendations that can help future peacebuilding interventions avoid recurrent unintended consequences.

    This project builds off a previous UNU-CPR report which developed an original dataset on authoritarian regimes worldwide over the past 30 years.[i] It will examine a range of peacebuilding interventions in settings with relatively high degrees of authoritarian rule (either present or in the recent past), from multidimensional peacekeeping missions, to special political missions, and interventions by the Peacebuilding Fund in non-mission settings. While the exact list of cases will be agreed with the donor with input from the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, a provisional list includes:

    Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Central African Republic
    South Sudan
    Guinea Bissau
    The Gambia

    In each case, UNU-CPR will examine the country setting, paying particular attention to indicators of authoritarian rule (Polity IV scores, Freedom House rankings, centralization of power in a small elite, lack of transparent electoral processes, repression of political parties, a given leaders’ time in power beyond normal constitutional periods, etc). It will then explore the ways in which peacebuilding interventions interact with these factors, including how capacity-building and institutional support could contribute to further consolidation of power or other relevant aspects of authoritarian rule. It will also interrogate how the UN’s principle of consent—which often requires a high degree of cooperation with governments to be maintained—may play a role in creating a permissive environment for leaders to pursue authoritarian agendas.

    The final report can be accessed here:

    • Adam Day Adam Day Director of Programmes
      Project Manager