In the balance? Civil society and the peace process 2002-2008

Thursday 21 December 2023

Walton, Oliver and Saravanamuttu, Paikiasothy. In Conflict and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka, edited by Jonathan Goodhand, Benedikt Korf, Jonathan Spencer, 183-200. Oxon:Routledge, 2011.

This book chapter, written by Oliver Walton with Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, is part of the collection titled ‘Conflict and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka; A peace trap?’ which examines the liberal peacebuilding model in Sri Lanka and the unexpected paradoxical and ‘illiberal’ consequences of such an approach in Sri Lanka. Liberal peacebuilding refers to a framework for policy exercised through pursuing alliances between international actors and domestic actors, to pursue conflict management, liberal democracy and market sovereignty (Pugh and Cooper 2004) through economic and political means (Howard 2008). Walton and Saravanamuttu’s chapter explores the impact of the liberal peacebuilding process on the culture of civil society actors, and how the process perhaps hindered organic, grassroots peacebuilding. They examine the interaction between liberal peacebuilders and Sri Lanka’s civil society actors, in particular the difference between the engagement with cosmopolitan elite-oriented NGOs of the capital and lack of engagement with other types of civil society organisations. In an environment where peacebuilding was increasingly associated with intrusive foreign agendas, NGOs had to use various strategies to continue their peacebuilding while avoiding damaging comparisons to international liberal peacebuilders. The authors also argue how the liberal peacebuilding model led to the depoliticisation of historical political civil society actors and to the backlash against peace processes. Lastly, the authors draws some tentative lessons for future engagement and possible alternatives to liberal peacebuilding in Sri Lanka, highlighting a more flexible and adaptive approach toward peacebuilding.

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