How can the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus work from the Bottom Up? A Discussion Paper on Implementation Challenges from a Decolonial Perspective. Insights from Iraq, Mali and South Sudan
The humanitarian-development-peace (HDP) nexus is designed to render humanitarian responses to
populations in need more sustainable by better linking the three fields of H, D and P activities and addressing
the root causes of conflicts. This “New Way of Working” decided at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit was
not only a response to protracted, multiple crises but also a response to a widespread popular discontent with
the existing system of humanitarian aid. Accordingly, calls to decolonise aid have emerged in the humanitarian,
development and peacebuilding fields, criticising power imbalances and structural racisms that condition
relations between aid actors from the global North and the global South. In this Discussion Paper, we use deco-
lonial critique to gain insights into how the HDP approach works in theory and in practice.
Based on a literature review and qualitative empirical research in Iraq, Mali and South Sudan, we argue
that the power imbalances addressed by the decolonial movement pose a particular challenge for the HDP
nexus, as the HDP approach intervenes in local conflicts and their inherent power dynamics by including
peace activities. The guiding question for this Paper is: How can the HDP approach work from the bottom
up? To answer this question, we examine the extent to which the HDP nexus has so far been implemented as
a bottom-up approach and what new ways forward a decolonial perspective offers.
While in this Discussion Paper, we draw on our research findings as examples, three separate Spotlight
Papers on the HDP nexus accompany this Paper to provide an in-depth analysis for each country.
Our three key findings are:
\ The HDP nexus approach has so far failed to deliver on the promise of a bottom-up approach. Instead,
our findings from the three country cases of Iraq, South Sudan and Mali show that it is largely being
implemented from the top down.
\ A localisation approach runs the risk of reproducing existing power imbalances rather than overcoming
them. For example, localisation as promoted by international aid agencies since the World Humanitari-
an Summit of 2016 still leaves little decision-making power and influence over project design with local
organisations and communities.
\ The main HDP nexus guidance documents suggest that peacebuilding activities should be apolitical.
However, the empirical research findings from the country cases show that peace activities can be con-
troversial, such as the stabilisation policies of international military missions in Mali, or too politically
sensitive to be implemented at all, as seen in Iraq.
We conclude that a bottom-up approach to the HDP nexus is fraught with difficulties within the current
humanitarian system and requires a change of mindset to succeed. This is not to say that the entire HDP nexus
does not work. Rather, our argument goes in the opposite direction: By adopting a decolonial lens that makes
power imbalances more visible, the HDP nexus offers a chance to uncover and reflect on the political position-
ing of international humanitarian actors in their respective contexts of intervention. Only when such power
imbalances are reflected in day-to-day aid operations can they be addressed and the influence of local actors
on project design be increased.