Key Concepts of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding

On August 30th the new CSO-network aimed at building organizational capacity within this area held its first event in the fall. At the seminar on "Key Concepts and Approaches ...

By Anne Kristine Raunkjær-Jensen, RIKO, on behalf of the Network for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding

How do we understand the concepts of conflict prevention and peacebuilding?

On August 30th the new CSO-network aimed at building organizational capacity within this area held its first event in the fall. At the seminar on "Key Concepts and Approaches in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding", network members presented its understanding of the concepts and shared existing approaches, while all participants jointly reflected on how these are related and applied to the work of their own organisations.

Organisations and government agencies are increasingly looking to incorporate prevention and peacebuilding measures into their development and humanitarian practices. Doing so necessitates a clear comprehension of the concept of ‘peacebuilding’ as well as ‘conflict prevention’. Conflict prevention relates to efforts aimed at avoiding violent escalation of disputes between groups of people. While conflict in itself should not always be prevented, as it is a condition of human relations and a driver of change in societies, the prevention of violent conflict should be pursued.

Several studies show that societal transitions driven by non-violent resistance measures creates better and more sustainable outcomes than those fuelled by violence measures. In many instances conflict is a prerequisite for countering and transforming unjust structures. CSOs hold a precarious position as our work often highlights injustice, potentially escalating tensions with a risk of becoming violent. We must therefore be acutely attentive to how our programming activities feed into existing and changing conflict dynamics.

Beyond the prevention of conflicts, peacebuilding is a long-term process to achieve sustainable peace in a society by addressing the root causes of conflict and strengthening a society’s capacity to manage conflict in non-violent ways. Peacebuilding involves different measures and approaches at different stages of conflicts and must continuously be tailored to the changing contextual dynamics of the particular conflict setting.

Criticism of internationally driven peacebuilding efforts point to a lack of sensitivity to the local context. When approaches and policies are supply-driven they tend to replicate liberal Western concepts and structures to local contexts running the risk of reinforcing local cleavages and inequalities. A narrow focus on institution-building, without addressing the cleavages that undermine them, can aggravate underlying grievances.

In our effort to ‘try to do good’ how do we avoid ‘doing harm’ in settings ridden with conflict and fragility?

The evolution of the understanding of peacebuilding has changed since the United Nations with the 1992 report “An Agenda for Peace” defined the concept. The sustaining peace agenda, adopted by the UN in 2016 and the recently published 2018 joint World Bank and United Nations report “Pathways for Peace” marks a paradigmatic shift, towards a holistic peacebuilding agenda geared to prevent conflict and sustain peace. It is an agenda that understands peacebuilding as going across sectors such as human rights and development, so-called stages of conflict and put emphasis upon national ownership and inclusivity.

This shift is evident in policy and rhetoric and must now be accompanied with changes to programming and practice. To further the peacebuilding agenda and incorporate conflict sensitivity in our programming activities, CSOs must establish what level of ambition, we want to strive for in our interventions. Is our ambition solely to live up to the minimum standard as required by OECD DAC Fragile States Principles to ‘do no harm’? Do we directly contribute to peace and stability? Or do we directly and deliberately address drivers of conflict as the aspirations outlined in the SDG 16 and the New Deal.

Setting a level of ambition for one programme does not exclude other programmes from taking different levels of ambition. The challenge is to ensure consistent application of conflict sensitivity and coherence across multiple programmatic engagements. This takes us back to the importance of continuous attentiveness to the power hierarchies and conflict dynamics of a specific context. Regardless of the level of ambition we set out for in our interventions, every engagement must be based on meticulous and comprehensive conflict analysis, which lays the ground for us to assess our comparative advantage as an organisation in the big wheel of peacebuilding.

When designing interventions in conflict-affected and fragile settings it is important to consider: are our interventions demand driven by needs and problems in conflict-affected areas or supply driven by what we, as organisations, have to offer?

Join us for the next network meeting where we will have a workshop on conflict analysis. This meeting takes place November 16th. Also consider applying for capacity training support to work more on conflict sensitivity and conflict analysis in your organisation.