Transformative Peacebuilding Elsewhere

It is a striking comment on the persistence of the international norms represented in the strategy of peacebuilding through transitional governance that the Bush Administration, having invaded and occupied Iraq in March 2003 without the consent of the UN Security Council, nevertheless implemented a transitional governance sequence parallel to that the UN pursued in the three cases examined in this book. Following its military victory in Iraq, the Bush Administration in April 2003 installed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseen by Paul Bremer, vesting it with full executive, legislative, and judicial authority in Iraq and thereby making it the country’s transitional government. Just like the UN transitional authorities examined in this book, the CPA consulted and worked with a handpicked semi-sovereign domestic counterpart, the Iraq Interim Governing Council headed by Ayad Allawi, which was intended to represent Iraq’s various political, ethnic, and tribal groups. In June 2004, the CPA transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government, also led by Allawi. National Assembly elections were held in January 2005 and a few months later the Iraqi Transitional Government assumed the reins of power in the country, headed by Ibrahim al Jaafari. One of its main responsibilities - akin to those of the Afghan Transitional Administration - was to draft a permanent constitution for Iraq. After a constitutional referendum and new national elections, the first permanent government of Iraq, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, came to power in May 2006.

In Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan it is at least possible to point to some successes of the UN’s peacebuilding operations. In Iraq, however, the overall failure of the reconstruction strategy and the decade-long civil war that followed overshadow small victories such as the ratification of a constitution or the holding of elections. The failure of peacebuilding in Iraq was over-determined and a complex causal chain led to deteriorating security and civil war.[1] Nevertheless, the Iraq experience also illustrates how the state- and democracybuilding processes pursued simultaneously in peacebuilding acted at cross-purposes to each other and contributed to reinforcing a neopatrimonial political order. In post-invasion Iraq, too, the most powerful political elites - those at the head of the Shia parties - designed institutions that guaranteed the inclusion of their own support bases without acting to broaden political participation. The transitional governance arrangements meant, for example, that it was possible for Shia elites to avoid incorporating the Sunni voice meaningfully in the constitution-drafting process. Sunni negotiators walked out of the constitutional drafting committee and refused to be present at the signing ceremony of a document they viewed with deep suspicion; Sunni insurgents, in turn, used the noninclusive process as a pretext for ratcheting up their attacks against Shia civilians and the Shia-governed state.

In both the UN-led cases and in Iraq, furthermore, viewing elections as a primary sign of progress and a potential exit strategy led to a shortening of time horizons that further empowered those groups with pre-existing political organization, rather than focusing on broad political inclusion. The ex post power outcomes - conceived as “who governs?” - came, in each case, quite quickly to reflect the political and organizational power balance in place at the end of the conflict, instead of a deliberated and elected outcome. Like the CPP’s grab for the reins of government and political power in Cambodia, the political and administrative dominance of the de facto one-party FRETILIN government in East Timor, and the strength of regional power-brokers vis-a-vis the Karzai government in Kabul, organizationally powerful groups in Iraq - such as the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the two main Shia groups - managed quite easily to consolidate their hold on power through elections and subsequently to dominate the constitution-drafting process. The prior, much-criticized, Bush Administration policy of de-Ba’athification had previously stripped the Sunnis of representation in the state apparatus as a countervailing source of leverage as well as leeching the state of much of its institutional capacity.

Finally, as with the choice of the single non-transferable vote system in Afghanistan, a precipitous path toward elections in Iraq led to the choice of an electoral system with serious adverse consequences that were foreseeable. Many experts argued that the electoral system that likely made most sense for the January 2005 Transitional Assembly elections in Iraq was one of proportional representation (PR) in multimember districts. This would have given constituencies strong ties to the assembly, with meaningful local connections for governance; and it would have been a worthwhile attempt to transcend the substantial sectarian identity divisions in Iraq. Yet party elites were writing the electoral laws and, in order to hold onto their power bases, they wanted a closed-list PR election in a single nation-wide district instead. The United States and the United Nations, running election logistics, agreed to the plan, since it made it easier to hold elections quickly. The result was that the elections became a blatant identity referendum. In turn, this ensured that constitutional negotiations would proceed along sectarian lines and contributed to setting in motion the ethnic security dilemma dynamic that spiraled into civil war.[2] Moreover, during and after the civil war, political order such as there was in the country rested upon sectarian and regional patron-client networks. Replicating the pervasive neopatrimonial rent distribution of the Saddam Hussein era, a small group of post-conflict Iraqi elites ensured their continued political dominance through the narrow, particularist distribution of spoils - including the country’s oil wealth as well as foreign arms and money - to their supporters.[3]

Major UN peacebuilding interventions have been staged across the Great Lakes region of Africa - in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda - with the support of regional and international power-brokers. Devon Curtis’s analysis of the Burundian case illustrates that the liberal peacebuilding endeavor there interacted with domestic elite preferences in much the same manner as observed in Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan.[4] The Burundian experience - which shares the characteristic transitional design of the interventions examined here, albeit without international governance - is often promoted as a peacebuilding success story. There, a domestic power-sharing approach to liberal governance, underpinned by carefully designed institutional engineering by the international community, is believed by many to have achieved a good measure of the political stability and effective and legitimate governance sought through peace operations. Yet Curtis demonstrates convincingly how Burundian elites, over time, have reinterpreted liberal governance, reappropriating its symbols and resources to build a political order where coercion and neopatrimonialism remain central to the country’s stability. For those Burundian elites, “the practice of peacebuilding as control became dominant.”10 Traditional governance in the country functioned on the basis of clientelism and patronage, with elites seeking and distributing rents in order to ensure political support and to protect and advance their own economic interests.

The international community believed that Burundian elites, by agreeing to the power-sharing mechanisms negotiated in the Arusha peace process, would become socialized to the norms of liberal governance. But power-sharing was, in reality, a mechanism for these elites to pragmatically expand the spoils of neopatrimonial order among themselves, just enough to ensure stable governance. Mirroring how Cambodian elites also accepted power-sharing as a necessary way station on the path to asserting more hegemonic control, Burundian elites embraced the institutional designs advanced by the international community as a way to buy themselves time to adjust to the changing power

Attempt to Curtail Patronage.” Financial Times, April 14.

balance in the country. Thus, “Power-sharing governance was a tool of control, not a break from neo-patrimonial logic.”[5] The way in which government positions were divided and the state captured through the peace process was more akin to elite horse trading than a reflection of any meaningful compromise over the deeper social and political grievances that affected the population. Susanna Campbell notes that important attempts were made by peacebuilders to build meaningful local accountability into the process and these successes should not be diminished.[6] Nevertheless, as in the cases considered in this book, the overall impact of international intervention was to confer legitimacy on specific elites who had not earned that legitimacy in the eyes of the Burundian people. In so doing, it reinforced their grip on authority and perpetuated the neopatrimonial and hegemonic political order they preferred.[7]

  • [1] A great deal has written about what went wrong in Iraq. Chandrasekaran 2006 and Galbraith 2006 provide nuanced and persuasive accounts of the transitional government phase.
  • [2] Kaufmann 2007.
  • [3] Erika Solomon. 2016. “Iraq’s Parliament in Turmoil as MPs Battle Over
  • [4] Curtis 2013. 10 Ibid.: 74.
  • [5] Ibid.: 82.
  • [6] Susanna Campbell, 2015, “Global Governance and Local Peace: Accountability and Performance in International Peacebuilding,” Unpublishedbook manuscript.
  • [7] Curtis 2013: 85. Also International Crisis Group 2012.
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