Many international agencies and donors that have implemented peacebuilding activities in a variety of countries and situations acknowledge, in theory, the importance of placing local communities at the center of peacebuilding activities. In practice, however, debate continues on how to operationalize community-centered approaches and whether they can be used successfully to promote peace.
This paper thus unpacks the voice of ‘the local’ to understand the mechanisms of peacebuilding together with development. By conducting focused group discussions (FGD) in three villages in Timor-Leste and utilizing a community-based rating system for ten key areas, we found that external efforts are perceived differently with respect to location and time.
The 2006 political turmoil in the capital had different impacts on local communities. External actors responded as ‘intervenors’ by dispatching an international force along with the provision of humanitarian assistance in urban areas. In rural districts, they maintained capacity-building activities, thus playing the role of ‘mentors’. Findings also show that local communities continue to suffer from poor quality water and lack of qualified teachers and are requesting further involvement from the national government.
At the same time, some Timorese nationals have attempted to tackle issues of unsettled land ownership and insecurity at the community level while the formal justice and police services remain underdeveloped. In response, external actors have taken on the role of ‘facilitator’ to assist with the functionalization of a traditional customary system for conflict resolution. Thus, they contribute to the generation of hybrid forms of peace, which evolved from the interactions of different groups. The analysis underscores the challenge of assessing the external actor’s role in regard to the needs of local communities by location, sector and timing.
Keywords: peacebuilding, local, development, Focused Group Discussions, Timor-Leste