Peacekeeping Economies

This project develops the concept of the peacekeeping economy as a means to examine the multifarious political-economic and gendered impacts of peacekeeping operations. The project seeks to shed light on how peacekeeping operations -- and individual peacekeepers -- relate to, affect, and are affected by local communities.

The research is conducted by a multi-disciplinary team based in Norway (Fafo, NUPI, and PRIO), Ghana (the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre), and the UK (LSE), and is based on extensive fieldworks in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.

Peacekeepers and other international interveners live in the same place as the local residents of mission areas, but they don't live in the same world. The peacekeeping world is air-conditioned, clean, and well equipped and well guarded; it consists of decent housing, generous pay, access to vehicles, house-help, and, usually, a robust (if limited) social life that revolves around patronizing expensive restaurants, hotels, bars, and clubs. This forms the basis of what we call the "peacekeeping economy".

The peacekeeping economy refers to economic activity that either would not occur, or would occur at a much lower scale and pay-rate, without the international peacekeeping (or peacebuilding) presence. Specifically, it encompasses: the jobs available to local staff in UN offices or NGOs that accompany the UN presence (occasionally professional but usually administrative or unskilled, as well as subcontracted work such as maintenance and security); unskilled and mainly informal work that locals do for individual internationals (e.g. cleaning, guarding, gardening, other housework); jobs in the establishments that cater primarily to internationals; and participation in the sex industry.

Because peacekeeping economies refer to a totality of economic activity, it is necessary to include those whose livelihoods depend on the presence of a large cadre of international personnel, but are not directly employed or (sub-) contracted by any organization. Within the host society, therefore, peacekeeping economies include skilled and unskilled workers; local and foreign (expatriate) businesspeople; political, economic, and military elites; landlords; professionals and tradespeople; and people working in both the formal and informal economies.

The peacekeeping economy concept thus emphasizes the predominantly informal, and sometimes illicit, economic activity that allows peacekeeping missions (and peacekeepers) to function. It privileges sources not normally found in most work on peacekeeping, such as sex workers, domestic workers, security guards, drivers, service workers, others in the informal sector, subcontracted workers, and UN national staff, in addition to international personnel and local elites.Finally, peacekeeping economies are highly gendered in their division of labor. This does not mean that they are necessarily harmful to the local women and men involved, but rather to acknowledge that the peacekeeping economy seems to encompass and affect women and men in significantly different ways.

Among the questions posed by the project include:

  • How do peacekeeping operations affect local livelihoods and political economies?
  • How do they seem to affect local social (including gendered) relations?
  • What is the relationship between the tangible (and occasionally sordid) reality of peacekeeping economies and the aims of 'official' peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities?
  • And what happens to peacekeeping economies, and the people implicated in and dependent upon them, when peacekeeping operations wind down and eventually leave?

The project has as its case studies Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. These cases have been chosen because they encapsulate different phases in the mission life, different points on the war-to-peace spectrum, and different economic and demographic/ geographic contexts. At the same time, there are sufficient commonalities between the cases to enable valid comparisons.We hope to identify some significant common threads (as well as important differences) between the cases, in terms of how peacekeeping economies affect – and are affected by – "the local".

The project aims to generate knowledge and findings that will: help UN, donor country, and host country policymakers identify and leverage the benefits of peacekeeping economies and harness them to "official" aid, so that peacekeeping economies can complement concurrent attempts to alleviate poverty; generate ideas for how the benefits of peacekeeping economies can be more widely spread; and examine the downsides of peacekeeping economies, in order to assist future attempts to prevent and/or mitigate them. It also seeks to contribute to the academic literatures relating to peacekeeping and peacebuilding, gender, and livelihoods in conflict and post-conflict environments.

The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council (grant no. 207757) and will have as outputs a co-authored book, a special journal issue, several additional academic publications, and a PhD. It runs from spring 2011 until summer 2015.