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Bringing in the margins: Peacebuilding and transition in borderlands

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This report summarises discussions from a workshop to explore sub-state political settlements in conflict-affected borderlands and the possibilities for more effective and inclusive peacebuilding interventions. It looks at four key themes: concepts of borderlands, inclusion and political settlement; the particular types of violence, (in)security, governance and authority that emerge in borderlands; the challenges of working in borderlands, and innovative methods and tools to better engage with their dynamics; and peacebuilding responses and practice in borderland spaces.

Key workshop findings

  • Re-imagining state-centric approaches: Borderlands are often linked to national and transnational instability, insecurity and violence – prompting securitised responses, regulation of the border, and exceptional forms of governance. But these may exacerbate marginalisation and exclusion of borderland communities. Such responses develop because mainstream policy is often state- and capitalcentric, based on the assumption that peace and development built from the centre will automatically spread to peripheral areas.

  • Bringing in the margins: Analytical frameworks focused on borderlands, political settlements and inclusion can help better understanding of the margins and support more effective and inclusive peacebuilding policy and practice. By taking the margins as a starting point, these lenses bring into focus the multiple actors, informal and formal structures, and changing political and economic relations, at different levels – sub-national, between centre and periphery, and across borders – that impact transitions out of conflict.

  • Understanding borderland violence: Violence often looks different in border regions, with implications for peacebuilding approaches and priorities. Borderland violence is typically explained by generalised assumptions concerning weak institutions and underdevelopment. A detailed and precise typology of violence could strengthen evidence of why and how violence emerges and is sustained in borderlands, supporting the development of early warning systems and preventive options.

  • Governance, authority and borderland brokers: Borderlands are often areas of highly contested authority and hybrid governance structures. A key challenge for peacebuilding interventions is to identify who exercises authority and through which structures, as well as the levels of legitimacy that these have among communities. Borderland brokers can navigate these fluid environments and negotiate between communities, political leadership and conflict parties in borderlands. Greater understanding of the role of brokers to mediate between the periphery and centre, within borderlands and transnationally, can strengthen interaction between national and subnational peace and development interventions.

  • Challenges to access and data: There are acute challenges to accessing information in borderlands for researchers, policymakers and practitioners. Innovative methodologies such as comic strips, spatial technology and spatial mapping of data provide opportunities to explore hard to reach borderland areas, and to facilitate greater understanding of the complex dynamics and personal stories of borderland communities.

  • Inclusion versus stability: Balancing inclusion of borderland interests and communities with the stabilisation priorities of states is a core challenge for interventions. While tensions may be inevitable, experience from peacebuilding initiatives suggest that there are a number of different entry points to support better inclusion of borderlands. Further consideration of the consequences of stabilisation is also required to ensure tailored responses work with existing political and social institutions.