Statebuilding in Difficult Environments research group

This Research Group brings together staff and research students from across IDD who share an interest in the theory and practice of state-building in difficult, often fragile and conflict-affected, states. Our members have conducted extensive field research in a range of states, including: Sierra Leone, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Mozambique, Haiti, Kosovo and East Timor.

Key areas of our research include:

Security challenges and Security Sector Reform in fragile states

In states that have experienced violent conflict, a return to some degree of security is seen as vital for development and reconstruction to take place. IDD staff have worked at the interface of security and development, on both a theoretical and a practical level, in a range of projects. The department has particular expertise in Security Sector Reform (SSR) and the reconstruction of the security sector after conflict. Given that police, soldiers and irregular forces are amongst the key sources of violence and insecurity facing citizens in some developing states, this is an area which citizens, development agencies and civil society are keen to address.

SSR refers to the instigation of civilian control of armed and security forces with the aim of creating a structure that protects human security rather than threatens it. The core of SSR is the reform of security services and how they relate to the governance structures of a given country and also to the people on the ground. It encompasses everything from police reform, military governance and intelligence as well as involvement in reconstructing governance structures in the wake of conflicts and the reintegration of combatants into society. 

IDD also has expertise in the related area of justice, in particular the role of traditional authorities in delivering justice, and the role of transitional justice- which takes place after conflict-in securing long term peace and the rebuilding of fragile social relations. Other aspects of security which group members have worked on include the role of warlords in post-conflict statebuilding and the use of youth employment programmes to reduce involvement in armed violence.

Current and recent projects undertaken by our members in this area includes the following:

  • Support for the ‘Special Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of the Maoist Combatants’ in Nepal. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, around 20,000 former Maoist fighters have been held in seven main cantonments waiting to be demobilised. Most of them see themselves as a victorious army (at least not a defeated one) and are therefore seeking parity with the Nepali Army that has itself just got over the trauma of the Royal massacre in Kathmandu. Professor Paul Jackson’s role is to provide support for the Special Committee by helping them address the issue of what to do with the combatants. In essence, he is assisting them to persuade the army, the Maoists and Nepal’s politicians that integration is possible, whilst drawing on international experience of what happens after wars and his own research in Sierra Leone in particular.
    See Professor Paul Jackson’s ‘Week in Nepal’ blog and 'Week in Nepal - six months on'
  • Youth Armed Violence and Job Creation. Dr Oliver Walton reviewed donor approaches to addressing armed violence through youth job creation programmes. It covered a range of programmes including reintegration programmes, early recovery and cash for work programmes; as well as integrated AVR programmes that involve youth job creation components. It found that though donors are learning and improving their programmes, there is a still a significant gap between donor rhetoric and practice in this area. Furthermore, both the theoretical and empirical cases for using youth employment programmes as a stand-alone tool for reducing violent conflict are weak.
    See the project findings.
  • Coexistence and Transitional Justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).Huma Haider’s research explores potential benefits of bringing the field of coexistence into transitional justice. It considers effects and limitations of transitional justice on reconciliation in divided societies in BiH and elsewhere. Coexistence comprises various activities, such as dialogue facilitation; intergroup projects and associations aimed at achieving shared goals; and media campaigns designed to reframe the ‘other’. This research examines how they contribute to processes of social repair and reconciliation and how they influence the ways that narratives emerging from transitional justice processes and mechanisms, such as court decisions or truth commissions, are received.
  • Security Sector Reform in Sierra Leone. Professor Paul Jackson has conducted extensive research into how SSR was conducted in Sierra Leone, exploring how these policies unfolded on the ground and the challenges that remain. This was the first, and arguably remains the only, in depth study of how SSR policy evolved which takes into account the perspectives of both the main donor responsible for the process, the UK, and national Sierra Leonean actors. This research was funded by the UK Government Conflict Prevention Pool.
  • Warlords, statebuilding and peacebuilding. Dr Danielle Beswick and Professor Paul Jackson have both published papers on the role of warlords and armed groups in statebuilding. Danielle’s work focused on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and assessed the role of warlords, particularly general Laurent Nkunda, in processes of statebuilding. Paul’s work focused on Northern Uganda and the Lords Resistance Army, questioning how international and national actors engage with such actors when they often seem to have multiple changing demands, but no discernible agreed agenda that can form the basis of a negotiated end to conflict.

Linkages between State Building, Security and Development

IDD researchers are working on a range of issues concerned with the challenges of statebuilding in fragile contexts. This is an area where the work of our two research groups overlap considerably, and other examples of relevant work can be found on the pages of the Governance and Development Management Group. Statebuilding involves technical issues such as building capacity of states to deliver basic service and manage their own budgets, and we have considerable expertise in both of these areas. IDD researchers associated with statebuilding research group have however directly researched the political aspects of these interventions, focusing in various ways on the politics of reconstruction, and the reconstruction of politics, in fragile and conflict affected states.

The international development community frequently becomes involved with recovering states in ways that directly affect their politics, for instance by promoting elections and seeking to reconstruct institutions which promote long term peace and stability, but are also responsive to their citizens and help to avoid future conflict. IDD researchers, working with the GSDRC, have also produced topic guides to help academics and policymakers alike navigate the complex field of statebuilding and development.

Current and recent projects undertaken by our members in this area includes the following:

  • Reconstructing identity after Conflict. In July 2011, Danielle Beswick was awarded £5090 under the British Academy Small Grant Scheme to study the ways that governments in Rwanda and Sri Lanka have tried to manage identity after conflict. It will involve interviewing government and civil society representatives to establish the ways these governments have addressed the two key challenges: addressing the grievances of identity groups which led to previous conflicts; and attempting to construct peaceful national identities that are ‘beyond ethnicity’.
  • Ownerhship and peace missions. In June 2011, Dr Nicolas Lemay-Hébert joined IDD on a Marie Curie Inter-European Fellowship. He is currently researching ‘Local Ownership and Peace Missions’, following on from his work in East Timor, Haiti and Kosovo, and has particularly explored the role of the UN in post-conflict reconstruction, exploring and problematising current international approaches to statebuilding and peacebuilding by examining their implications on the ground.
  • Statebuilding as a new development paradigm. In 2011 Danielle Beswick and Heather Marquette are co-editing a Special Issue of the journal Third World Quarterly on ‘Statebuilding, Security and Development’. It is based on a series of linked panels at the 2010 Political Studies Association Conference which examined the theory and practice of statebuilding through case studies including Zambia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan, and from a range of disciplinary perspectives including politics, political economy, development and peace studies.
  • Strategies and support for post-conflict security sector reform. Paul Jackson’s research on Sierra Leone , and his recent work in Nepal, directly addresses the question of where security fits into post conflict reconstruction, for both donors and national actors. In Sierra Leone, the UK has been instrumental in promoting Security Sector Reform which has had success on a technical level, but the political infrastructure to provide appropriate oversight of security forces remains under-developed. Nepal’s attempts to integrate Maoist ex-combatants into a new national army, and into society, are ongoing.
    See Paul’s blog entry on his role.
  • NGOs and peacebuilding. Oliver Walton’s PhD research, completed in 2010, entitled “Negotiating war and the liberal peace: national NGOs, legitimacy and the politics of peacebuilding in Sri Lanka 2006-7”, explored the processes of legitimation and de-legitimation that surrounded NGOs’ engagement in peacebuilding during a peace to war transition.
  • 'Donor Darlings’ and African strategies for securing agency in relations with donors. For his ESRC postdoctoral fellowship (2011-12), Jonathan Fisher is exploring Uganda’s relations with donors, focusing on the 2010 Presidential elections. Danielle Beswick has also conducted research funded by an ESRC studentship (2004-7) on how Rwanda’s government manages its relationships with donors to allow itself maximum space to define its own domestic policies, and has led to more recent work on the nature of statebuilding in a post-genocide context.


IDD has been involved for many years in research and knowledge transfer on corruption. This includes research on public management and accountability, anti-corruption policy-making, ethics in public service, attitudes towards corruption and critical analysis of the international anti-corruption community.

Current research is examining corruption within the context of state-building and aid policy, as well as integrity management and civic education to support anti-corruption.


Members of this group have conducted research with funding support from: the ESRC, British Academy, World Bank, UNDP, Danida, Saferworld, DFID, European Union, UNDP, OLAF, Transparency International, U4, NORAD, NOREF, SOAS, and CMI, among others.News highlights

Current projects