Lesson 02: Visibility and legitimacy


Capacity building activities targeting marginalised groups can enhance the visibility and legitimacy of the ‘local’ in peacebuilding.

One of the problems with the concept of ‘local ownership’ is that this will often privilege particular, more powerful groups such as men, ethnic majorities, heterosexuals, able-bodied people and/or wealthier people. As Ana Juncos and Filip Ejdus note, ‘[just] because solutions are local, traditional or indigenous, this does not mean that they are necessarily just or sustainable’. As a result, ‘local’ solutions may reinforce existing power structures, and marginalise groups that are already marginalised. There are a number of reasons for retaining the concept of ‘the local’, however: local people are best placed to understand the challenges they face and the context in which solutions must be implemented; having buy-in from local people makes peace efforts, short- and longer-term, more likely to succeed as everyone works towards a common goal; and the spirit of the concept can aid in avoiding the overtones of neo-colonialism that sometimes come with post-conflict reconstruction.

In practice, there is a lack of local involvement in peacebuilding activities, from the identification of problems, to the development of solutions and their evaluation, which has led to ‘thin’ legitimacy among conflict-affected communities (see EU-CIVCAP DL 6.1). This, Ole Sending asserts, is because peacebuilders believe that ‘the internationally established legitimacy of the liberal principles that they advance will automatically translate into domestic legitimacy of the state as viewed by the local population’ (emphasis in original), but this is not the case. The concept of ‘the local’ must therefore be embraced beyond the surface-level if we are to have a ‘thick’ legitimacy.

In order to achieve thick legitimacy within peacebuilding processes it is essential to include marginalised local groups horizontally, in as many initiatives as possible. When added together, marginalised groups such as women, young people, and ethnic minorities become the majority, and therefore their inclusion (along with traditionally powerful groups) in peace and capacity building endeavours means that there will be buy-in from the largest possible number of people, enhancing legitimacy. Legitimacy is further enhanced by including these groups vertically, within the problem-identification, project development, implementation and evaluation stages, because a range of different perspectives and needs are permitted to shape peacebuilding activities.

Sustainability is also important within discussions of legitimacy. An initiative in which an outside organisation runs a poster campaign about a problem they have identified, with no discussion, will not be viewed in the same way as an initiative in which outside stakeholders engage with local groups to build long-term capacity, whose lessons might be shared with the wider community. Sustainable capacity building activities targeted at marginalised groups are therefore a vital means of enhancing legitimacy.


Greater consideration must be given to definitions of ‘the local’ within peacebuilding and capacity building activities. These local groups must be invited to participate in every stage of peacebuilding and capacity building exercises and not simply after a stakeholder has identified a problem to be solved. Furthermore, capacity building activities have a special role to play in delivering quality peace due to their ability to enhance legitimacy through sustainability.