9. August 2018 | EDP Wire | Sonja Grimm, Brigitte Weiffen

Domestic elites and external actors in post-conflict democratisation

Following the end of the Cold War, post-conflict democratisation has rarely occurred without significant international involvement. As a consequence, when trying to explain the outcomes of post-conflict democratisation, scholars have mostly examined the role of external actors and their capabilities and deficiencies. In turn, a special issue for the journal Conflict, Security and Development edited by Sonja Grimm and Brigitte Weiffen sheds light on the domestic side of post-conflict democratization.

The contributions included in this special issue focus on the domestic elites, their preferences and motivations, as well as their perceptions of and their reactions to external interference.  Empirical evidence is taken from the universe of cases of international peace-building missions (Zürcher) and case studies from different world regions, namely Guatemala (Zimmermann), Mozambique (Bunk), and Kosovo (Groß).

The special issue’s analytical framework for the study of domestic elites and external actors addresses the question of how to identify relevant domestic elites in externally induced or monitored state-building and democratisation processes, explores the dynamics of external-domestic interactions, and identifies the impact of those interactions on the outcomes of post-conflict democratisation. The analyses find that the patterns of external-internal interactions have an impact on the trajectory of state-building and democracy promotion efforts.

Identification of relevant domestic elites: Domestic elites play an important role in post-conflict state-building and democracy promotion. The majority of studies in these fields have focused on external contributions, investigating the mandates and internal functioning of democracy-promoting organisations and their field missions, but rarely systematically included the domestic side of post-conflict democratisation in target countries. The special issue deepens the elite-theoretical component of inquiry from the perspective of post-conflict studies by showing how to identify relevant domestic elites while avoiding too simple dichotomies like ‘elites versus masses’ that pervade democratisation research.

Dynamics of external-domestic interactions: Domestic elites interact with external actors in post-conflict democratisation. External-domestic interactions go beyond the dichotomous conceptualisation of local ownership by domestic elites and monitoring by external actors. Instead, post-conflict democratisation is a dynamic process of bargaining between external and domestic actors over the shape of democracy and the prioritisation of democratic institution-building in relation to other objectives. During this process, ideas for post-conflict democratisation are exchanged, norms are discussed, interests are revealed, institutions are created and reform proposals are drafted. External actors may adjust their demands in the course of the interaction process with domestic elites. On the domestic side, one can observe local appropriation, conditional endorsement and reservation about or rejection of democratic norms and institutions, as well as domestic elites’ efforts to either co-operate with or exploit external actors for their political purposes.

Impact of external-domestic interactions: Another principal research challenge is to identify how and to what extent external-domestic interactions influence the outcomes of post-conflict democratisation. Both external and domestic actors influence post-conflict democratisation, although their preferences on what should be achieved do not necessarily coincide. As a consequence of negotiations between external actors and domestic elites, reform proposals are changed and adapted to local contexts. Whether externally demanded democratic norms and institutions are appropriated, conditionally endorsed, challenged or rejected by domestic elites has an impact on democratisation trajectories. All contributions suggest that interaction dynamics might compromise state-building and democratisation. As a result, international peace-building missions rarely lead to prosperous democracy. Even worse, external actors might (albeit unintendedly) increase peace-building complexities at the local level, or contribute to the consolidation of neo-patrimonial behaviour on the part of domestic actors at the state and sub-state levels. In turn, when external actors take domestic actors’ preferences and concerns seriously, they are more effective in promoting democracy and the rule of law.

Together, the theoretical considerations and empirical studies included in this special issue point to the dynamics of external-domestic interactions as a new explanation for the outcomes of post-conflict state-building and democratisation. They suggest studying more intensively the politically relevant domestic elites in individual cases of post-conflict democratisation, the interaction of domestic elites and external actors, and the factors constraining external-domestic interactions. The contributors are convinced that this will help scholars to develop a deeper understanding of post-conflict state-building and democratisation processes, explain more comprehensively the trajectory of post-conflict democratisation, and make more appropriate context-sensitive policy recommendations, improving the record of international state-building and democracy promotion efforts in post-conflict societies.


For more information please see

Special Issue “Domestic elites and external actors in post-conflict democratisation”, In: Conflict, Security und Development” (18: 4,  July 2018), edited by Sonja Grimm and Brigitte Weiffen

including the following contributions:

Sonja Grimm & Brigitte Weiffen: Domestic elites and external actors in post-conflict democratisation: mapping interactions and their impact

Christoph Zürcher: A theory of democratisation through peace-building

Lisa Groß: Lean models, complex realities: elite interactions in post-conflict democratisation at the local level

Bettina Bunk: The dynamics of donor and domestic elite interaction in Mozambique: formal decentralisation and informal power structures

Lisbeth Zimmermann: On our terms! How domestic elites localised the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

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