Conflict analysis as the foundation for intervention - Part 2
Part one of this article made a strong case why any peacebuilding intervention must be based on a sound understanding of the situation. It stressed the need of any conflict analysis to be based to a significant degree on the understanding of communities experiencing violence and looked at what happens when the commitment to a meaningful conflict analysis is compromised.
Why we should test prevailing analysis?
This theme is not new to peacebuilders. We often observe that wars are justified by half-truths on two or more sides. Fears for the future or grievances in the past, maybe as a result of physical or hidden violence, drive communities towards war. Stakeholders are influenced by their position, and few will be able to supply a complete and dispassionate perspective.
Because objective accounts are in short supply, conflict analysis from a distance is difficult. One must understand how the speaker is placed if one is to assess their account. Information flowing from a conflict is rarely free from bias, and we understand that the forces in every conflict seek to manipulate opinion in their favour. If we believe we have an unbiased account, we must explain how it is free from the distortion that prevails elsewhere.
Beyond opposing objectives in conflict, and distorted information, there are other hidden interests. Contrary to the notion that nobody benefits from violence, every war has beneficiaries. Peacebuilding strategies must be informed by such insights, particularly when those beneficiaries are powerful. Without this perspective interveners are blind to essential aspects of the context - ones that determine whether their work is a force to reduce or sustain violence. Only locally rooted analysis can supply this understanding.
What sort of analysis?
Peacebuilders seeking to ‘do no harm’ will already be familiar with these concerns, and wanting to base their work upon a sound locally-informed understanding. ‘Just doing something’ in response to violence can make things worse, and appreciating the importance of local context in planning their work, many strongly resist the temptation to implement off-the-shelf solutions. We would like to put forward some suggestions about the qualities of a conflict analysis, and the questions that peacebuilding practitioners could consider.
- Analysis begins before intervention. If an intervention takes place before analysis, other drivers may underpin the work. The later in the process that analysis commences, the weaker will be its influence on programme design.
- Analysis continues throughout. The work itself will yield understanding, and situations will change. Peacebuilders will need to respond to these changes and accommodate new analysis in their programme design as their understanding deepens.
- Analysis is locally rooted. The more accounts and understanding is mediated through interlocutors the further it departs from experience and understanding of those directly affected. There is no substitute for accounts based on direct experience in gaining a strong nuanced understanding of a situation. External perspectives are also informative, but need to be understood in the context of direct accounts.
- Analysis needs to be tested. Contradictory accounts need to be assimilated into a good understanding. That understanding should be tested on the ground, and adapted in the light of feedback. A strong analysis will contain disparate interpretations of events alongside one another, and appreciate something of why they diverge.
- Conflict Dynamics - What in overview are the presenting conflict dynamics? What are the relevant dynamics locally, regionally and nationally or internationally? What are the dynamics as experienced by people on the ground?
- Stakeholders - Who are the collective and individual stakeholders? What are the presenting issues for each of them? Who are the beneficiaries of the violence and who are the victims (do these groups overlap)?
- History - What is the relevant history of the conflict? How do different stakeholders perceive that history? And how does it influence them?
- Issues and drivers - Now, what are the presenting and underlying issues and drivers for violence? How is the violence sustained? What are the presenting and underlying drivers for peace and how can then be strengthened? - need to check for violence/conflict
- Power - Where does power lie, for violence and for non-violence, and how can this knowledge inform our strategy? (Power will be discussed more in detail in future posts on The Peacebuilding Practitioner.)
- Strategy and paths to resolution - What intervention points are there? What paths are there to a resolution? And what strategies can be devised for peace? (Again peacebuilding strategy development will be discussed more in detail in future posts on The Peacebuilding Practitioner.)
All practical peacebuilding takes place within constraints. These notes are intended to encourage strong programming, and not to present a list of impossible or impractical demands. They are not intended to be prescriptive, but could be used by practitioners to review their approach, consider its foundation in analysis, and identify where it might be strengthened.
Post by Bryn Higgs from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.