Best practice conflict analysis I

Conflict analysis as the foundation for intervention - Part 1

Any peacebuilding intervention must be based on a sound understanding of the situation. We all know that, and sign up to the general idea. But amongst the very real constraints of establishing a peacebuilding programme, many will already appreciate that carrying out this work is not always easy.


Observations about the need for locally based conflict analysis

Developing a strong conflict analysis is time consuming, sometimes expensive and possibly dangerous. To be of value it must be based to a significant degree on the understanding of communities experiencing violence. Most likely it requires travelling in places that are insecure, spending considerable time there, and listening to people for many hours.  


Furthermore, one can find that the accounts emerging from multiple sources are contradictory, and it takes effort to piece together disparate views. What is achieved is rarely identical to the off-the-shelf analysis that often does the rounds in diplomatic circles. It will be much more nuanced, full of contradictions and caveats. In many ways it will be richer. Dedicated peace practitioners can find that these complexities make articulating a brief conflict summary a difficult task.


Perhaps in part as a result of these challenges not every intervention is so solidly based on a comprehensive understanding of the situation, and at worst there is the temptation to reduce expenditure on these foundations. Some may adopt the prevailing wisdom of external observers, their analysis, and their strategies for engagement. For a few, the first step in building a peace programme can be to simply compete with others for funds to implement from a general and widely shared understanding that ignores all the nuances, the contradictions and caveats.


When good intentions are just not enough

Many community peacebuilders and human rights activists observe what can happen when conflict interventions are insufficiently rooted in local context and understanding.  


For example, in the real world well-meaning reintegration programmes for former combatants can have unintended consequences. Resettlement packages distributed to former fighters can seem modest to outsiders - a bucket, a foam mattress, a hoe and some seeds. But to a community made destitute by war this can constitute enormous wealth. Those being reintegrated may have committed atrocities, and a perception that they are then being rewarded can powerfully fuel hatred, division and violence.


Elsewhere, when the role of local actors is not fully understood, international funds can flow to opportunistic profiteers or even those covertly allied to forces for violence, creating an incentive for the continuation of war. Even schemes that promote small business or youth employment may become part of the economics of war not peace, through hidden channels and economic or personal alliances not appreciated by distant analysts.


In a third instance, well-meaning international criminal justice interventions against perpetrators of terrible crimes may have unintended effects. It is even possible that they can promote a culture of retribution through violent enforcement, and lead to the legitimisation of military violence against communities, rather than its rejection.


A strong commitment to good conflict analysis practices

Many observers of peace programmes will have seen these or similar cases. Conflict interventions can on occasion lack strong locally rooted analysis. Without that, well-meaning interventions may inadvertently promote violence, sustain conflict, prolong wars and cost lives. This series of posts is intended to strengthen the commitment to good conflict analysis practices, present several conflict analysis tools available to peacebuilding practitioners, thus laying a strong foundation for their work.



In part two of this article, we will further explore the details of what it means to base all interventions on a sound, locally rooted conflict analysis. 


Post by Bryn Higgs from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.