Interview with Dahlia Collado Simangan, AC4 Visiting Scholar

Dahlia Collado Simangan is an AC4 visiting scholar, coming from the Australian National University. She is a doctoral candidate studying multiple aspects of peace processes including economics, governance, memory and reconciliation. She conducted fieldwork in 3 countries with UN transitional authorities, including Kosovo and East Timor, and was recently awarded a very prestigious UN award for dissertation research.


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What led you into the intersection of economics and peacebuilding? 

Economic Development is one of the four crucial areas in rebuilding post-conflict societies and it is one of the areas I’m looking at in my research in addition to security, justice and reconciliation, and good governance. Post-conflict economic development is the encouragement of a sustainable economic growth that equally benefits the whole of population by rehabilitating economic institutions through economic reform policies that promote long-lasting peace and reconciliation.

Development is one of the areas the rebuilding pillar of the 2001 Responsibility to Protect (R2P) document recommends. When I was writing my master’s thesis on humanitarian intervention under the R2P, I realized that the responsibility to rebuild is often overlooked in the literature and rhetoric of the UN. The R2P is not just about intervention or the responsibility to react, it is also about the responsibilities to prevent conflict and rebuild societies after the intervention. But in 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted the World Summit Outcome in which the responsibilities to prevent and react were included but not the responsibility to rebuild. Given the uneasy stability in some parts of the world, it is important and timely to reconsider the recommendations of the R2P on rebuilding post-conflict societies.

Can you give an example of successful post-conflict economic development? 

I can say that the rebuilding of Germany after WWII and South Korea after the armistice with North Korea are successful cases. However, the focus of my research is on how UN transitional administrations rebuild post-conflict societies. So far, there is no perfect peacebuilding mission and no absolute formula for a successful one. The presence of a UN transitional administration has both positive and negative effects. While they improved the capacity of post-conflict societies to enter into bilateral and regional agreements, their presence also resulted in aid dependency, wage gap, and high inflation rates.

How were you conducting research when you were working with the UN transitional authorities?

I’ve conducted my fieldwork in Cambodia, Kosovo, and East Timor last year. I spent a month in each country interviewing government officials, NGOs, and UN staff who were involved during the transition, that is when UN deployed transitional administrations after the conflict resolution. Since I’m looking at the top-down and bottom-up approaches of post-conflict peacebuilding, it was important for me to talk to both the decision-makers and members of civil society. I’m using these interview data to assess the implementation of the UN transitional administrations’ mandates and, more importantly, how they incorporated local perspectives.

Can you tell me about the focus of your work as a visiting scholar at AC4?

It’s exciting to be a part of AC4. Post-conflict peacebuilding is a complex agenda and runs a wide gamut of tasks and AC4 provides an enriching venue to write my research about post-conflict economic development. The focus of my work at AC4 is on how UN transitional administrations implemented their mandates on economic development. There are three factors I’m considering: economic growth, human development, and sustainable development. I will be using available indices related to these factors and complement them with the narratives I obtained from my fieldwork in Cambodia, Kosovo, and East Timor.

While writing, I am also attending conferences to present on my dissertation. Earlier this month I attended a conference at The Hague. It was the Annual Meeting of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) where I presented a part of my dissertation. ACUNS is a global association of academics, practitioners, civil society, and students dedicated to the work and study of the United Nations, multilateral relations, global governance, and international cooperation. For this year, I am the recipient of the ACUNS 2015 Dissertation Fellowship Award. The Award recognizes emerging students of extraordinary potential who have reached the stage of writing an advanced graduate-level dissertation on a topic of direct and demonstrable relevance to the United Nations and/or the UN system.

What is one question you think everyone should be asking about this work, but no one is?

The nexus between economic development and peace/conflict has been widely investigated in depth by scholars and transformed into policies by policymakers. I believe that most, if not all, relevant questions have been already asked. However, there is a need to shift the questions on how locals can be substantially involved in the process of post-conflict economic development. It is true that while UN transitional administrations and other international organizations implement top-down approaches such as the provision of aid and integration to global or regional economies, they also encourage bottom-up approaches such as initiating small to medium scale enterprises projects. But bottom-up approaches should be treated of equal importance as with institutional economic programs.

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