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Practices of Human Security, Peacebuilding and Liberal Insecurity in Sierra Leone
What happens to the liberal democratic ideals of human security and peacebuilding when they travel to the radically different post-conflict setting of Sierra Leone?
Through its peacebuilding strategy the UN has been able to establish new grounds for exercising power. By aiming to secure the peace, rather than just maintaining it, the claim of neutrality has been replaced with a claim of how to build a state.
Based on fieldwork in the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, I argue that when human security travels to the field, it gets reinvented in ways that essentially undermine its liberal pretences. This is revealed in everyday practices of peacebuilding, where the concepts of accountability and ownership are reworked and given new meanings. In this process of re-signification, “accountability” becomes accountability towards the donors, and “ownership” a guise for overwhelming international power over the state. Rather than guided by liberal imperatives, peacebuilding here seems to be driven by humanitarian incitements and the need for bureaucratic control.
This embodiment of human security, I argue, illustrates the processes by which Westerners are trying to make moral sense of their engagement with people from less wealthy and less secure countries. It reflects an interesting new kind of transnational humanitarian subjectivity of which we ourselves are part.