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A Prologue to Development: Establishing the legitimacy of the rule of law in post-conflict Solomon Islands

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posted on 2021-11-14, 07:04 authored by Kiddle, Finbar Benedict

The rule of law forms the bedrock for societal and institutional organisation in the Western world. International actors see its establishment in developing countries as a means to facilitate wider development work and an end in and of itself. However, development of the legitimacy of the rule of law is not well understood, especially in post-conflict environments where it is most lacking. Despite the best efforts of international interventions, the rule of law is often not in the paramount position it requires: it lacks legitimacy amongst the people. To understand why this is the case there is a need for a better understanding of how interventions develop legitimacy in the rule of law. This research develops that understanding and asks the question ‘how does the contemporary peacebuilding agenda develop the legitimacy of the rule of law in post-conflict states?’ To do this the research undertakes a case study investigation of a particular intervention: the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. Discourse and content analyses, carried out on interview transcripts and a wealth of documentation, reveal the different forces exerted by the intervention to develop legitimacy in the rule of law. These are interpreted through a particular lens: a modified version of Luke’s three faces of power that also draws on concepts of governmentality. A four-dimensional definition of legitimacy also allows for greater analytical depth. The research shows that the contemporary peacebuilding agenda can do some things very well. It is especially effective at the initial response to crisis. It is after the establishment of this basic security/performance dimension of the rule of law that interventions begin to develop their institutional/process dimension through capacity building. Capacity building divides into three levels: the individual, the organisation, and the state. It integrates the rule of law across the state edifice and establishes it as a foundational element of the system. However, the most important aspect of building legitimacy is the development of shared beliefs, as it is these that establish what is ‘true’ amongst a society. Contemporary peacebuilding interventions portray the rule of law as intrinsically legitimate and the correct, rational way of organising society. This idea permeates through their structures, discourses, and methods. However, the rule of law is not intrinsically legitimate. It is a culturally constructed concept that in many countries is in opposition with alternative ways of organising society and resolving conflict. Developing legitimacy in the rule of law is then a struggle between competing organisational systems. Such conflict jeopardises gains made by interventions, as the rule of law is fighting an uphill battle against other internalised, and often more locally reverent, norms. If it is to establish in post-conflict environments, the rule of law and competing systems need to interact to produce a locally relevant, hybrid, conception of the rule of law. One that is recognisable to all sides, but unique to the context. This leads to peace.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Overton, John