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Overcoming the state/non-state divide: an end user approach to security and justice reform


Written by Lisa Denney


​Despite the widely accepted recognition that fragile and conflict-affected countries are characterized by plural security and justice orders, donor-led security and justice programmes continue to engage overwhelmingly with state actors on the basis of liberal peacebuilding models that internalize Weberian understandings of the state. In addition, policies pushing reformers towards engagement with ‘informal’, ‘non-state’, or customary systems often do so in a way that suggests a neat separation between the ‘state’ and ‘non-state’. This does not reflect how security and justice operate in practice. This paper uses the case of Sierra Leone to demonstrate the panoply of actors that constitute the plural security and justice context there, and how these actors interact in practice. This reveals the highly interactive nature of the multiple security and justice chains commonly used in Sierra Leone. It is argued that in order to meaningfully engage with the multitudinous ways in which people access security and justice, external reformers need to develop a comprehensive understanding of this complexity. Such an understanding will assist reformers in transcending the increasingly unhelpful state/non-state distinction and in engaging with security and justice from the perspective of the end users, rather than from the perspective of externally derived models.
Lisa Denney