Author Archives: Tadakazu Kanno

Can Civil Society Prevent Election Violence?: Burundi IT Election Warning Project

By Tadakazu Kanno (PhD candidate, the Department of War Studies, King’s College London) 

Patrick has already written about the impending violence regarding the coming elections in Sudan in this blog (“Sudan: An Early Warning of Impending Conflict”).  I also came across a similar article posted on Alert Net, which is titled “West silent over Darfur crisis despite risk of spiraling violence”. In fact, this is not the first time I came across early warnings of election violence. The BBC’s article “Kenyans rearming for 2012 poll” (dated 07/October/2009) warns that “rival ethnic groups in Kenya who fought after the 2007 election are rearming in readiness for violence at the 2012 poll.” The International Crisis Group’s report (dated 01/October/2009) “African Peace-building Agenda: “Nigeria Needs to Prevent another Electoral Debaclesays that “Nigeria and its international friends need to act urgently and concertedly to prevent another electoral disaster in 2011.”  The significance of the prevention of election violence is obvious if we look at the 2007 Kenyan post-election violence, which claimed over 1,000 lives and 300,000 people were displaced.

The source of the photo: the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8293745.stm)

Actually I wasn’t looking for these early warnings, I happened to find them. So it is possible to infer that there are plenty of early warnings regarding potential collective violence. In the field of early warning and early response, it is commonly accepted that there are plenty of warnings but the problem is that warnings are not followed by preventive actions (so called “warning-response gap”). About 15 years ago, Michael Lund was arguing in his book “Preventing Violent Conflicts” that:

 “early warning occurred in several instances but did not precipitate any action. Strong expectations of potential conflict or even the outbreak of violence were not in themselves sufficient to generate preventive action. For example, fighting and grievous human rights violations in northern Somalia were widely reported by human rights organizations as early as 1988 yet provoked no response; International Alert disseminated a fact-finding report and recommendations regarding the Russia-Chechen disputes to the United Nations and other bodies in 1992, but no action followed; in the Danube River dispute between Hunagry and Slovakia, the disputants issued several requests for mediation assistance long before any third party stepped forward (p.81).”

 David Nyheim’s report published in 2009, however, argues that :

 “the field has evolved significantly since its initial conceptualization, and early warning has been integrated into the policies of many organizations. Today it cannot be said, however, that the international community is in a position to prevent another Rwandan genocide. Conflict early warning faces challenges similar to those it faced 15 years ago…(p.13)”

 Are we going to repeat the same mistakes in those elections? There is good news from Burundi, where elections will also be held this year and people fear that violence regarding the upcoming elections may occur. The African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams set up a community-based early warning and response project to prevent election violence (Burundi IT Election Warning Project). In the project, a wide network of monitors reports the symptoms of the tension between ethnic groups and violent incidents regularly by using mobile phones and they also plan to avert the tension on the ground through interventions. I’m happy that a civil society organisation started to take an initiative in election violence prevention.

 But, we must understand that civil society is not an all-around player. Generally speaking, it may be difficult for civil society to prevent post-election violence by using an early warning and early response mechanism due to the following two reasons. (Although we must think about violence during election campaigns, I would like to focus on post-election violence).

  1. What civil society can utilize for their interventions is dialogue.
  2. The results of elections are not negotiable.

 As you can imagine, “dialogue for something unnegotiable” is not easy. Most of the disputes between conflict parties are negotiable (it is the case especially at a community-level like the use of land), but the results of elections cannot be changed unless there was violation in election campaigns. If it is difficult for civil society to prevent post-election violence, it may be a good idea to work with law enforcement agencies who possess coersive power to stop violence. However, it is questionable that law-enforcement agencies function rapidly and impartially even if early warnings are wired to them. What is even worse is that they are actively involved in violence in some occasions. The International Crisis Group reports that in the 2007 Kenyan election violence, police officers have taken sides and used terror tactics.   

 Then, how can we enhance the capacity of civil society in early warning and especially in early response (interventions) to prevent election violence? In this regard, the vision of Burundi IT Election Warning Project is to the point:  

 An alternative strategy is to address violence on the level at which it is carried out, building trust and relationships at the grassroots level that would weather possible calls for violence coming from political elites. Such relationships have prevented violence in communities in the past, as is evident from the regional variation in levels of violence as well as from the stories of the prevention of violence by local leaders and citizens who refuse to take part and encourage others to do similarly. 

Such interventions are only possible, however, where people have been able to reconcile “ethnic” differences and healed the trauma in their hearts that is the basis of Hutu-Tutsi animosities. Otherwise, the “ethnic” division stirred up for political gain in an election falls on receptive ears and ready hands, motivated by frustration and anger or fear.”

 What is significant, therefore, is to create an environment where calls for non-violence are heard and accepted by people even when politicians call for violence. This can be a platform for successful community-based early warning and early response (CBEWER) systems like Burundi IT Election Warning Project. It is a long term approach to create the environment by connecting people from different ethnic groups and enhancing inter-ethnic activities. Although it sounds natural, the greater people’s will for peace is, the greater the chance of success in conflict prevention is. CBEWER systems would function more effectively if they are established  on the foundation of long term confidence-building approaches.

 Burundi IT Election Warning Project is now collecting mobile phones. The collected mobile phones are going to be used by the field monitors in order to report violent incidents on the ground. By donating mobile phones, you can contribute to the prevention of election violence in Burundi. As I just introduced part of the project, if you like to get the whole picture of the project, please visit their website.

 

 

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Deadly Ethnic Riots in Nigeria: Need for a Good Micro-level Early Warning and Early Response Mechanism

By Tadakazu Kanno (PhD candidate, the department of war studies, King’s College London)

A deadly ethnic riot took place in Nigeria again. According to the BBC , the riot took place near the city of Jos in Nigeria early in the morning on the 7th of March and claimed over 500 people’s lives. Many of the dead in the villages of Zot and Dogo-Nahawa, largely inhabited by Christian members of the Berom community, are reported to be women and children. It is reported that the attacks were reprisal killings for violence in January, when an inter-communal clash between the Hausa Fulani settlers (Muslim nomadic herders) had claimed at least 326 people’s lives and the most of the victims were Hausa-speaking Muslims.

The IRIN report on the 1st of February actually gave an early warning by saying that “if the Nigerian authorities fail to punish those responsible for the latest intercommunal violence, they are only paving the way for further bloodshed”.  According to the BBC, there was a proximate warning as well. The governor of Nigeria’s Plateau State had warned the army about reports of suspicious people with weapons hours before they attacked, but they failed to take action.

I’m not an expert of Nigeria and the information I have about the situation of the inter-communal clashes is quite limited (the BBC and IRIN only). So, I may not be qualified to talk about the ethnic riots in Nigeria and my analysis may not be really accurate. But, I guess that one of the reasons for the failure of taking rapid actions to prevent the violence was that “who does what” under an emergent situation was unclear. Without preparation and plan, it is difficult to take the right action immediately. Early warning demonstrates its highest ability when it is systematized and well-connected to responders. I was wondering if the latest riot could have been prevented and many of the lives could have been saved if they have had a good early warning and early response system.

David Nyheim’s report on early warning and early response, which was prepared for OECD, shows that now there is consensus of a “good” early warning system, which is one that: (1) is based “close to the ground” or has strong field-based networks of monitors; (2) uses multiple sources of information and both qualitative/quantitative analytical methods; (3) capitalizes on appropriate communication and information technology; (4) provides regular reports and updates on conflict dynamics to key national and international stakeholders and; (5) has a strong link to responders or response mechanisms.

Suppose they have had a good early warning system which meets the criteria. A wide network of monitoring could have caught some symptoms of the attacks much earlier than the governor came to know them. Then, the right information could have been passed to the right person at the right time to take rapid action for averting the tension. Before the eruption of violence, the tension could have been averted through multi-stakeholder dialogue and the plan to attack might have been shattered. If these things failed, as Casey Barrs states, people may need to flee to protect themselves. As a result of a couple of safety nets, the 500 lives – at least some people’s lives – could have been saved.

Micro-level early warning and early response mechanisms, often called “citizen-based early warning” or “third generation early warning”, are a new wave in the field of conflict early warning. One of their characteristics is that they meet all the criteria of a good early warning and early response system (perhaps, the most notable system was the Foundation for Co-Existence’s early warning and early response system in Sri Lanka which operated from 2003 to 2009). They cover specific areas within a country and attempt to prevent riot-type violence.

As the number of civil wars has been decreasing dramatically since the early 90’s (I don’t mean by this that the traditional macro-level early warning systems are less important. They have their own niche.), more attentions need to be paid to the micro-level early warning and early response mechanism as a tool to prevent riot-type violence. Although I don’t have any good statistics regarding the number of deadly riots (If someone has it, please let me know), we have already witnessed the riot in the Moluccas (Indonesia) which claimed 4000 lives in 1999, that of Gujarat (India) in 2002 which claimed 850 lives, that of Kenya which took place from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2008 and claimed over 1000 lives and the sporadic ethnic riots in Nigeria.

Although a good early warning and early response system is not a panacea for the prevention of ethnic riots (of course, long-term approaches are needed to address root causes along with early warning and early response), this kind of micro-level early warning and early response mechanism will certainly enhance the capacity to prevent ethnic violence in Nigeria.