Capacity building, local ownership, and sustainability—loosely captured in the almost cliché term of “empowerment”—have long been core tenets for engaging local actors in traditional development programming. These concepts have received prominence in the discussion of interventions to prevent or resolve conflict and to rebuild societies emerging from conflict. Across the spectrum of organizations involved in such peace operations, from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to civilian government agencies to the military, it is virtually impossible to find anyone who does not claim that these concepts are central to the design and implementation—and success—of interventions. But for all the attention paid to the concepts of empowerment, the record of successfully integrating them into interventions in conflict zones is distressingly poor.
In many cases, that failure is due to the unique characteristics of conflict operations: conflict environments are not conducive to traditional empowerment approaches; agencies leading conflict operations often lack experience with empowerment principles; and the intense scrutiny of highly politicized operations creates intense pressure for immediate results that undermines empowerment strategies.