As a concept, local ownership has become a mantra of post-conflict reform and is often cited as a specific criterion of success in international interventions. However, internationally assisted police reforms are however by default top-down. Police leaders in host countries can easily become overly oriented towards ensuring upward accountability, i.e. responding to the needs and requirements of the supporting international agency at the expense of downward accountability towards local communities. This again leads to the exclusion of locally realized problems and solutions, thus undermining local ownership of reform
While local ownership is used in police reform documents as though its meaning is understood and agreed upon, it is in fact a highly ambiguous concept. Too often, local ownership is reduced to ensuring local buy-in of the reform. Instead, ownership should imply the participation of a variety of governmental and non-governmental actors (from different power bases and across society). These actors should take the lead in both strategic deliberation and defining daily activities – ensuring their responsibility for the COP process from the very beginning. This means that the concept of “handing over” so common in project-thinking becomes meaningless and obsolete. For this to happen, we need to provide room for piecemeal, bottom-up approaches and move away from prescribed blueprint models and the “one fits all” paradigm. This Digital Story elaborates on the issue.
In an article discussing local ownership of COP in Afghanistan, ICT4COP researchers pose the following provocative questions: “Is evidence of exclusion or lack of participation a sign of a lack of adherence to international democratic standards and of ‘failure’? Or can adjustments to local contexts be a sign of increased local ownership and ‘success’, despite their democratic shortcomings? When local actors control how COP should evolve at local level, it also has – and should have – consequences for its content. You may read more about it here.
Promoting local ownership is in itself a projection of power, as it comes with an intention to empower local or national actors and institutions to articulate and defined their agendas. Read more here. We must therefore undertake a critical analysis of the local interests that can be empowered by the ownership, and likewise, who may lose power and control. As post-conflict societies are characterised by systematic power imbalances and the exclusion of weaker societal groups, police reforms must be based on an understanding of these dynamics. If not, the reforms risk consolidating the domination of certain groups or strengthening ties between police and local political elites, which may then lead to new sources of violence, state repression and crime towards minorities and marginalized groups.