Global solutions

Better conflict and peace building? Look to technology and local empowerment

21 June Jun 2016 0930 21 June 2016

With the scale and complexity of conflicts increasing worldwide, conflict prevention is now higher on the UN agenda than ever before. Meeting in Brussels last week, experts discussed past, present, and future peace building and conflict prevention. The future? Technology and local empowerment.

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With the scale and complexity of conflicts increasing worldwide, conflict prevention is now higher on the UN agenda than ever before. Meeting in Brussels last week, experts discussed past, present, and future peace building and conflict prevention. The future? Technology and local empowerment.

"Conflicts continue to be more complex and their consequences increasingly globalised. In this context, the case for effective early warning, combined with appropriate early action, becomes ever more compelling."

Meeting in Brussels, some of Europe and indeed the world's top experts and policymakers on development, conflict, and peacebuilding and came together for the International Crisis Group and European Peacebuilding Liason Office (EPLO) joint conclusion event "Strengthening Early Warning, Mobilising Early Action", to draw on the lessons learnt from the 3 year EU Conflict Early Warning System project.

Conflict prevention and peacebuilding is increasingly challenging, as well as early warning and action. The risk? "We need to be careful about raising the alarm too many times. Not all situations escalate into conflict" said Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and CEO of Interational Crisis Group

However, with violent conflict increasing worldwide, the importance of early warning and early action is clear. "Conflict prevention has never been higher on the UN agenda. The complexity and scale of conflicts is increasing," said panelist Joelle Jenny, Director for Security Policy and Conflict Prevention at the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Key points raised during the ICG and EPLO event included the role of technology, the importance of locals in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and the need to protect peacebuilding and conflict prevention work in a shrinking civil society space.

Globalised world, increasing conflict

"How resilient is the current system to face the huge challenges that go to the heart of domestic politics, like migration and extremism?" asked Paul Murphy, executive director of Saferworld at the event.

Some hard truths were told with regards to the current global political trends, and their impact on the shrinking civil society spaces.

Ïdentifying conflict threats has to be about more than systems and tools; it needs to be underpinned by relationships of trust that enable people directly affected by violence to raise their voice and to act."

Jonathan Cohen, Acting Executive Director, Conciliation Resources.

"We can see what's happening: fear is driving rhetoric, which tends to shrink horizons, compromise long-term investments in peacebuilding, and national concerns overtake global security concerns," said the Saferworld director and long-time peacebuilder specialised in the Horn of Africa and Sudan.

"The peacebuilding agenda is replaced by the security approach, and this slows down the work we have done so far. It's becoming palpable," continued Murphy.

Forget the UN, the key to conflict prevention are locals

"It is those living in closest proximity to insecurity who are the first to detect and respond to threats and manifestations of violence, not international or national security forces," says the Conciliation Resources and Saferworld publication on effective local action.

The importance of strengthening capacity to respond to early warning on a local level was made clear.

Systems operating in isolation from peacebuilding efforts led by those living with instability or conflict and with the relationships and agency to prevent or resolve conflict are unlikely to have their desired effect.

Effective local action: From early warning to peace building - Conciliation Resources & Saferworld

"Ïn the Democratic Republic of Congo, we set up local protection committees, and a system between villages that warned about LRA rebel groups passing through. It was successful: we avoided a great deal of loss of life," said Dr.Teresa Dumasy, Head of Policy and Learning at Conciliation Resources on their Capacties for Peace project."We need to get away from thinking of local actors as just a source of information," she continued. "Putting local actors and local military representatives together at the table led to difficult conversations, but also broke down a lot of the mistrust between them."

With locals also having the greatest long-term stake in the peaceful resolution of conflict, they are also key to ensuring a more sustainable peace. Brought to the fore was the importance of institutions at the national and international level supporting grassroots conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

"If we're not including people and maintaining a people-focused approach, we have no hope of peacemaking. Especially with limited resources and a restricted political environment," said Saferworld's Paul Murphy.

Social media as a peacebuilding opportunity

This leads to the key question of what can technology and social media do for peacebuilding and conflict prevention?

An interesting point raised was that we still have not well understood the emotional drivers of conflict. "Conflict is about power and who wields the resources of people's minds, beliefs, sense of identity, and fear," stated Joelle Jenney of EEAS. "We think in terms of root causes, but we still haven't understood sufficiently the emotional drivers that are being used and abused to drive conflict."

With media like Facebook and Twitter gathering more information about people's emotions, reactions and increasing dialogue and communication like never before, perhaps the question of what social media can do for peacebuilding and conflict prevention has already partly been answered?

Cover photo: AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images)

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