Conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding: from theory to practice

By Wiebke Anna Stimmung

In March, the Human Security Committee organized a practical workshop on “Conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding: from theory to practice” in cooperation with Dan Church Aid (DCA). Luckily the workshop could still take place, just before the Corona lock-down.

DCA is a Danish organization that works in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. They aim to build strong communities, provide humanitarian assistance and development work while having a minimal to zero negative impact. Because of their real-life experience in how an outside NGO can amplify inequalities and ultimately cause conflict, the workshop was designed in a task-based, interactive way.

We started with a roleplay, in which all participants were assigned roles in a hypothetical context of the ethnically divided country ‘Tiko’, with inequalities in terms of resources, access to public services and general level of developed infrastructure. While some of the participants were local workers, others were members of local and national governments or even leaders of the secessionist rebel group. A small group also was assigned the role of foreign donor representatives, who entered the country and now tried to set up a humanitarian aid program. The experience was very rapid and dynamic because of time pressure and the number of people and interests. Because we all had very limited information it was very chaotic and ultimately the outcome was problematic and the solution looked like it would cause many problems in the near future, one of them conflict. Yet, the exercise showcased the very real challenges and difficulties that are connected to any humanitarian intervention. Plus, it was a lot of fun.

In the next part of the workshop, we discussed some theoretical aspects as well as possible strategies that should be applied by the donors. The key take-away is that even with the best intentions, humanitarian aid can do more harm than good, as the interaction between the aid operation and context is dynamic and bidirectional. In the last section, we were able to apply the new insights to a more detailed analysis of the situation, possibilities, and needs.

Because of the interactive nature of the workshop, theory and practice were directly related and we could design a possible donor initiative that was driven by the local context, centered on the needs of the population and which remained flexible to everchanging trends.

While the workshop was very intense (normally it’s three days, now it was three hours), it was very insightful and interesting also in relation to the course we are having at the moment on Conflict Dynamics and Management, where we discuss many theories on peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention. With this seminar, we moved away from an academic or policy perspective and instead looked from a NGO position.

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