Creating Spaces for Peace? Civil Society, Political space, and Peacebuilding in Post-War Burundi

TitleCreating Spaces for Peace? Civil Society, Political space, and Peacebuilding in Post-War Burundi
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsPopplewell, Rowan
Academic DepartmentGeography and the Environment
Number of Pages301
UniversityJesus College, University of Cambridge
CityCambridge, UK

This thesis examines civil society, political space, and peacebuilding in post-war Burundi by critically engaging with international discourses and considering the extent to which they reflect the experiences and perspectives of activists on the ground. It is based on qualitative research with civil society groups and the individuals that work for them in Burundi. Fieldwork took place over five months between July 2014 and April 2015. This was a period of crisis in which civil society faced mounting restrictions, from the introduction of legislation that banned public gatherings, to the harassment and intimidation of prominent activists. The thesis analyses the extent to which civil society groups were able to navigate these constraints to create and maintain spaces for peace that transform dominant social norms which produce violence and repression. It also considers the factors that frustrated these efforts, from the sustained influence of past violence and trauma, to the climate of fear and uncertainty that emerged following the 2015 elections, and the divisive elite politics that continues to disrupt everyday peace in Burundi. It finds that emerging policy discourses on political space fail to engage with the historical, political, and discursive nature of government restrictions in Burundi, and the temporal and relational dimensions of violence, especially the ways in which it shapes the everyday lives of activists and their ability to challenge the institutions and structures within which violence is reproduced. The research situates these experiences in historical context – a process that enables it to consider broader questions about the evolution of civil society and the extent to which it becomes embedded in post-conflict contexts once international funding and attention decreases and external peacebuilding activities conclude. Civil society groups in Burundi received significant support from the international community in the post-war years, yet increasing restrictions suggest that the Burundian government has not accepted the presence of certain organisations which it views as a threat to its political authority and legitimacy. This leads the thesis to argue that curbs on civil society should be seen as part of a broader pattern of resistance to international peacebuilding in Burundi.

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