As for the role of the national government and the international community, the national government will draw up a constitution protecting basic human rights (e.g. nondiscrimination, freedom of speech and religion) and national laws that lower-level governments will have to work within.  Any gross violation will result in dissolution of the council/leader and/or intervention.  However, this model is much less external-resource intensive.  The onus of governance and funding is on the indigenous population.  The international community may be needed at the onset to do basic training and help organize the local governments, but the local government is designed to imitate basic tribal institutions already in place and establish the minimal laws of the land.  Some advisors will be necessary to supervise towns and districts for misconduct and provide additional guidance as necessary.  As villages and councils develop a positive track record, the number of international supervisors will be reduced.  Grant money may be made available on a case-by-case basis (particularly in the first years), but the international community will not be committed to funding basic services indefinitely.  Furthermore, the model will address the common problem that countries are unable to build local and human capital and as such, development is not sustainable.

No one should expect an easy or simple transition to a new system of governance, particularly in postconflict countries.  Most new democracies go through a period of confusion, crime, and corruption before recovering, and this will likely occur with the mediated state and local governance model.  However, this model puts its emphasis on the inherent merit and capacities of people, not a set formula of institutions.  As such, it attempts to use informal institutions already in place in many postconflict countries.  The institutions are there to foster values, practices, and experience that will hopefully lead to a more consolidated democracy that is in line with the culture of the country.  Success does not require fully mature or established institutions, only that their seeds are planted and their development encouraged.  “The essence of state building,” write Pierre Englebert and Denis M. Tull, is to “foster state formation, that is, interaction and bargaining processes between government and society. Doing so would be a key element in the promotion of local ownership and the construction of a viable political order in postconflict countries.”[58]  However, the disquieting truth is that successful reconstruction and democracy is not in the international community’s hands—it will depend on the indigenous people.  As such, external actors’ humility and faith is needed in postconflict reconstruction.

Such a model is designed to support—rather than undercut—the cultural and religious underpinnings of rule of law and governance.  “Where tacit beliefs align with the formal constitution and rules of society, most individuals will already be following the rules,” writes Christopher Coyne, “and the need for coercion to sustain the political, economic, and social orders will be minimal.”[59]  Likewise, history suggests that small, more limited governance and rule of law set precedents that will have greater effects as the society develops the capacity to expand them, even if they are based on customary or informal rules and institutions.[60]  Such informal social mechanisms work best in cohesive societies, but small communities can create a cohesive group within a larger, fragmented country and reap the benefits of cooperation, trust, reciprocity, civic engagement, and collective well-being.[61]  An example is Mozambique, which after a long civil war both sides agreed to a democratic power-sharing agreement with wide-spread popularity because both parties realized that sharing power was the only way to end the war.[62]  Likewise, opposing groups in postconflict states across the world can forge a new path just as long they see a cooperative future and governance system.

Postconflict reconstruction can prove more successful by better tying new governments to local conditions to develop legitimacy, improve competency, encourage investment and the rule of law to build a sustainable indigenous democratic process.  It cannot—and should not—be imposed from outside.  Local skills and supplies should be used as exclusively as possible, which will make them more sustainable, accepted, and appropriate.  Gains, while initially small, will build on each other; in contrast to externally-imposed orders that tend to lose steam over time.  “The hard truth is that outsiders are not necessarily more proficient than locals at building political institutions, no matter how many experts and resources they may send into a failed state,” conclude Englebert and Tull.  “External reconstruction assistance, including development aid, is not always ill spent, but there are limits to what it can achieve.”[63]  The emphasis should be on small communities, in all their beautiful and confusing complexity, providing accountability and training in the political process, building trust and consensus, and a more solid foundation for democracy and reconstruction.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Intervene in postconflict countries sparingly, carefully, and with a modest agenda. Postconflict countries can rarely create successful democracy in the West’s likeness.  When the international community does intervene, it should engage indigenous leaders (at all levels) to develop productive political strategies and responsive, adaptive governance systems with a special focus on local governance and programs.
  • Start small and get local indigenous elites on board. Moving slowly does not mean putting off difficult and important changes, but rather introducing reforms in a way that does not threaten communities yet creates a process of self-sustaining change that makes democracy and peace beneficial to indigenous leaders so that they have a stake in the future.
  • Expand economic and political opportunities across the population.  Efforts to improve the economy should work to benefit all levels of society.  The economy’s success should be judged on the well-being of the weakest citizens, pursuing several policies to spread political and economic power while improving the lives of all citizens and preventing spoilers.
  • Demonstrate consistency. Rather than withdrawing as soon as is feasible, the international community should do less for longer—remaining involved as mediators and advisors to be called upon when necessary.  They should provide a security guarantee to protect against neighbors threatening the indigenous country and to discourage the indigenous country from spending money on external defense.
  • Involve citizens in monitoring corruption from the beginning. Community-monitoring programs should be utilized alongside external observers’ analysis of likely problems to stem corruption.  Preventative measures will be far more effective than trying to root out corruption once it has begun.
  • Let the indigenous country lead and utilize existing modes of governance and cultural endowments.  Indigenous communities should be relied upon to lead and inspire reconstruction efforts and to hold their own government accountable.

All of this is a very delicate balancing act, as is all of postconflict reconstruction.

Even if the proposed model and all of the policy recommendations are followed to the letter, postconflict reconstruction efforts will often fail and efforts at democracy will languish or return to autocracy.  Yet the guidelines of encouraging small-scale, local governance and indigenous ingenuity will likely lead to more successes than any well-meaning institutional design devised and enforced by foreigners.  The realization that all politics (and governance) is local has largely been absent from literature dealing with postwar or developing countries.  With flexibility, faith, and trust in indigenous communities, governance and reconstruction will evolve and adapt to whatever curveballs the future holds.


[1] Postconflict or postwar (used interchangeably in this paper) reconstruction is used to describe reconstruction efforts in countries after the peak of civil or international war.  A level of violence or conflict may still be present, but the thrust of the effort is on winning the peace rather than winning the war.  While “postconflict” or “postwar” is a bit of a misnomer, it is meant to eliminate reconstruction efforts following natural disasters or those done simply for humanitarian reasons.

[2] “Peacekeeping Fact Sheet,” ­United Nations Peacekeeping, May 31, 2011, Accessed July 20, 2011.

[3] Amy Belasco, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” Congressional Research Service March 29, 2011 (Accessed July 17, 2011), p. 17

[4] Paul Collier, War, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), 75; Severine Autesserre, “Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention,” International Organization, 2009: 249-280, 250.

[5] Collier, War, Guns, and Votes, 75.

[6] Christoph Zurcher, “Building Democracy While Building Peace,” Journal of Democracy, 2011: 81-93, 81.

[7] U.S. Department of State. “Post-Conflict Reconstruction Essential Tasks.” Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. April 2005. Accessed July 22, 2011 at

[8] Pierre Englebert and Denis M. Tull, “Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa: Flawed Ideas About Failed States,” International Security, 2008: 106-125, 118.

[9] Autesserre, “Hobbes and the Congo,” 260.

[10] Department of the Army, Stability Operations FM 3-07, (Washington, D.C.: Army Field Manual, 2008), 1-18.

[11] Eric Patterson, Ending Wars Well: Order, Justice, and Conciliation in Contemporary Post-Conflict, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, forthcoming), 24.

[12] Francis Fukuyama, “Transitions to the Rule of Law,” Journal of Democracy, 2010: 33-44, 37.

[13] Fredrik Galtung and Martin Tisne, “A New Approach to Postwar Reconstruction,” Journal of Democracy 2009: 93-107, 96-97.

[14] Galtung and Tisne, “A New Approach to Postwar Reconstruction,” 96.

[15] Ibid., 98.

[16]Dombisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), xix.

[17] Moyo, Dead Aid, 103.

[18] Englebert and Tull, “Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa,” 128.

[19] Kaplan, Fixing Fragile States, 55.

[20] Brian Levy, “The Case for Principled Agnosticism,” Journal of Democracy 2010: 27-35, 32.

[21] Levy, “The Case for Principled Agnosticism,” 34.

[22] U.S. Agency for Development, Democratic Decentralization Programming Handbook, Government Handbook. (Washington, D.C.: USAID, 2009), 25.

[23] USAID, Democratic Decentralization Programming Handbook, 21.

[24] Gina M.S. Lambright, Decentralization in Uganda: Explaining Successes and Failures in Local Governance, (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010), 67.

[25] Englebert and Tull, “Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa,” 135

[26] Levy, “The Case for Principled Agnosticism,” 32.

[27] Galtung and Tisne, “A New Approach to Postwar Reconstruction,” 104.

[28] USAID, Democratic Decentralization Programming Handbook, 27.

[29] Ibid., 28.

[30] Kaplan, Fixing Fragile States, 52.

[31] USAID, Democratic Decentralization Programming Handbook, 26.

[32] Kaplan, Fixing Fragile States, 50.

[33] Kaplan, Fixing Fragile States, 143.

[34] Ken Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia: Spoilers, State Building and the Politics of Coping,” International Security Winter 2006/7, 74.

[35] Michael Walls, “The Emergence of a Somali State: Building Peace from Civil War in Somaliland,” African Affairs, 2009: 371-89, 379.

[36] Walls, “The Emergence of a Somali State,” 382.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Coyne, After War, 142.

[39] Ibid., 75.

[40] Kaplan, “The Remarkable Story of Somaliland,”  150

[41] Ibid., 151.

[42] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia,” 85.

[43] Ibid., 88.

[44] Kaplan, “The Remarkable Story of Somaliland,” 149-50.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.,147.

[47] Ibid., 144.

[48] Walls, “The Emergence of a Somali State,” 389.

[49] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia,” 91.

[50] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia,” 106.

[51] USAID,  Democratic Decentralization Programming Handbook, 23.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Collier, Wars, Guns, and Votes, 59.

[54] Galtung and Tisne, “A New Approach to Postwar Reconstruction,” 103.

[55] Ibid., 103-4.

[56] Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide, (New York: Random House, 2010), 212.

[57] David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 143.

[58] Englebert and Tull, “Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa,” 138.

[59] Coyne, After War, 58.

[60] Fukuyama, “Transitions to the Rule of Law,” 41.

[61] Kaplan, Fixing Fragile States, 40.

[62] Zurcher, “Building Democracy While Building Peace,” 90.

[63] Englebert and Tull, “Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa,” 137.