Category Archives: Lessons

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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.


Sudan: An Early Warning of Impending Conflict

Many of us in the field of conflict prevention and early warning have argued that there seldom is a lack of warnings on conflict escalation. The problem, we argue, is often response, not lack of early warning. Cue today’s main news story on BBC:

Ten international aid groups say a 2005 peace deal in Sudan is on the verge of collapse and that the world must act now to prevent conflict.

  • Agencies blamed a “lethal cocktail” of rising violence, chronic poverty and political tensions.
  • Agencies cite disputes over Sudan’s oil resources, national elections in April and the independence referendum as potential flashpoints.
  • The BBC’s James Copnall in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, says the country is clearly at the start of a highly charged and risky 12 months.
  • Sudan’s ambassador to London, Omar Muhammad Siddiq, acknowledged that the situation in South Sudan was “deteriorating”.

I’ll be following the lead up to the April elections and the January 2011 referendum. If violent conflict does erupt, the international community will yet again have failed in the prevention of armed conflict despite clear early warning signals. And will yet again have failed to train local communities about how to get out of harm’s way.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Gender and Early Warning Systems

My colleague Linda Öhman at the OSCE just published an excellent report on Gender and Early Warning Systems.

As Öhman notes, “conflict analysis, including early warning, has traditionally not included a women’s  rights or gender perspective.” The consequences? “When women are not included in EWS, their opportunities to fully participate in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction are limited and, thus, EWS risk failing to adequately predict or prevent conflict.” Moreover, gender-based indicators can “provide a more complete understanding of the causes of conflict and, as a result, help develop more appropriate responses to mitigating or preventing it.”

Some key excerpts:

  • By bringing to light such patterns of structural discrimination, integrating a gender perspective can improve the effectiveness of early warning systems by gathering more specific information and allowing for more detailed and precise analysis. In turn, this can ensure better preparedness and, when necessary, more accurate and measurable responses — as well as preventive mechanisms — that can more directly address some of the underlying causes of a conflict.
  • To integrate gender into EWS, both men and women must have the opportunity to report on their security situation. Likewise, the different threats and concerns that impact men and women as a result of any conflict must be taken into account and duly analyzed.
  • Existing inequalities and different roles during conflict can lead men and women to perceive threats and vulnerabilities in different ways. The same signs and occurrences will not necessarily elicit the same reaction in both men and women. A UNIFEM EWS programme in the Solomon Islands clearly identified some of the disparities. Men, for example, rated inter-ethnic relations as a high source of tension, while women rated them only as a medium source of tension. This could confirm the suggestion that women were better able to maintain inter-ethnic alliances, even during tense times, while men generated stronger in-group identification.
  • Recent developments in the area of EWS are focused on working more with the local community and ensuring its preparedness and resilience, rather than elaborating external actors’ actions. Negotiations are not limited to states but can‚ — and should — be performed by a multiplicity of actors. Ideally, all actors should work together in order to strengthen their collective impact.
  • Ushahidi is software allowing organizations to establish EWS using basic information technology. The software allows anyone to report incidents via SMS or the Internet and to receive information by the same means. It offers a wide variety of ways to integrate gender, including by ensuring that both women and men are aware of the systems launched using Ushahidi and know how to use them.
  • Women as informants: Conflict-response mechanisms still have a distance to go in developing and applying a broadened understanding of security that does not limit it to military matters or ignore human rights and women’s rights. Such thinking has also defined what constitutes security information and who provides it. This has often restricted women from reporting such information, especially women who live in remote areas. Yet the perspectives of women are invaluable — not only because without them monitors will not capture the entire picture of the situation, but also because women are often socialized differently than men, and thus may experience conflict very differently. As a consequence, women tend to ask different questions and focus on different aspects of the conflict cycle and, therefore, can provide different and enriching perspectives to early warning and conflict prevention. Men’s and women’s contributions complement each other.
  • Men and women experience security differently and their needs for feeling safe are different. Location is one key factor; women experience insecurity in different places than men. Knowing and understanding these differences and patterns of discrimination is important when elaborating a response to EWS data in order to be sure that the response does not inadvertently reinforce existing inequalities and that it reaches all rights-holders equally.
  • Because threats that are regarded not as public but as private matters (including sexual violence and domestic violence) are often perceived and treated as non-political matters, there is a risk that EWS reporting disproportionally highlights security threats that affect men. Gender analysis in EWS, however, can raise factors related to the violations of women’s rights that cause conflict or are direct results thereof. The lower status that most women generally hold relative to most men may cause them to be among the first to experience the weakening of security levels. Thus, their experiences can potentially serve as foreshadowing of more widespread armed conflict.
  • When states move to limit the equal rights of men and women to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, exacerbating the discrimination women might already be facing, this can serve as an important factor to indicate increased instability. It is therefore essential that a broad range of indicators, which also cover ESC rights, are developed as a part of the EWS. In addition, a more balanced team has a greater chance of ensuring that a more diverse set of indicators is developed to monitor and address rights violations.

The OSCE will follow up with a second EWS brief that will address in greater detail how to formulate indicators that incorporate gender. I very much look forward to reading that brief as well. Both address as aspect of conflict early warning that is systematically ignored.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Ushahidi: Crowdsourcing for Peace Mapping

Cross-posted on iRevolution.

Lynda Gratton at the London Business School gave one of the best Keynote speeches that I’ve heard all year. Her talk was a tour de force on how to catalyze innovation and one of her core recommendations really hit home for me: “If you really want to be at the cutting edge of innovation, then you better make sure that 20% of your team is under the age of 27.” Lynda upholds this principle in all her business ventures.

I find this absolutely brilliant, which explains why I prefer teaching undergraduate seminars and why I always try to keep in touch with former students. Without fail, they continue to be an invaluable source of inspiration and innovative thinking.

A former student of mine, Adam White, recently introduced me to another undergraduate student at Tufts University, Rachel Brown. Rachel is a perfect example of why I value interacting with bright young minds. She wants to return to Kenya next year to identify and connect local peace initiatives in Nairobi in preparation for the 2012 elections.

Rachel was inspired by the story of Solo 7, a Kenyan graffiti artist in Kibera who drew messages of peace throughout the slum as a way to prevent violence from escalating shortly after the elections. “Imagine,” she said, “if we could identify all the Solo 7’s of Nairobi, all the individuals and local communities engaged in promoting peace.”


I understood at once why Adam recommended I meet with Rachel: Ushahidi.

I immediately told Rachel about Ushahidi, a free and open source platform that uses crowdsourcing to map crisis information. I suggested she consider using the platform to crowdsource and map local peace initiatives across Kenya, not just Nairobi. I’ve been so focused on crisis mapping that I’ve completely ignored my previous work in the field of conflict early warning. An integral part of this field is to monitor indicators of conflict and cooperation.

There are always pockets of cooperation no matter how dire a conflict is. Even in Nazi Germany and the Rwandan genocide we find numerous stories of people risking their lives to save others. The fact is that most people, most of the time in most places choose cooperation over conflict. If that weren’t the case, we’d be living in state of total war as described by Clausewitz.

If we only monitor indicators of war and violence, then that’s all we’ll see. Our crisis maps only depict a small part of reality. It is incredibly important that we also map indicators of peace and cooperation. By identifying the positive initiatives that exist before and during a crisis, we automatically identify multiple entry points for intervention and a host of options for conflict prevention. If we only map conflict, then we may well identify where most of the conflict is taking place, but we won’t necessarily know who in the area might be best placed to intervene.

Documenting peace and cooperation also has positive psychological effects. How often do we lament the fact that the only kind of news available in the media is bad news? We turn on CNN or BBC and there’s bad news—sometimes breaking news of bad news. It’s easy to get depressed and to assume that only bad things happen. But violence is actually very rare statistically speaking. The problem is that we don’t systematically document peace, which means that our perceptions are completely skewed.

Take the following anecdote, which occurred to me several years ago when I taught my first undergraduate course on conflict early warning systems. I was trying to describe the important psychological effects of documenting peace and cooperation by using the example of the London underground (subway).

If you’ve been to London, you’ve probably experienced the frequent problems and delays with the underground system. And like most other subway systems, announcements are made to inform passengers of annoying delays and whatnot. But unlike other subway systems I’ve used, the London underground also makes announcements to let passengers know that all lines are currently running on time.

Now lets take this principle and apply it to Rachel’s project proposal combined with Ushahidi. Imagine if she were to promote the crowdsourcing of local peace initiatives all across Kenya. She could work with national and local media to get the word out. Individuals could send text messages to report what kinds of peace activities they are involved in.

This would allow Rachel and others to follow up on select text messages to learn more about each activity. In fact, she could use Ushahidi’s customizable reporting forms to ask individuals texting in information to elaborate on their initiatives. Rachel wants to commit no less than a year to this project, which should give her and colleagues plenty of time to map hundreds of local peace initiatives across Kenya.

Just imagine a map covered with hundreds of doves or peace dots representing local peace initiatives? What a powerful image. The Peace Map would be public, so that anyone with Internet access could learn about the hundreds of different peace initiatives in Kenya. Kenyan peace activists themselves could make use of this map to learn about creative approaches to conflict prevention and conflict management. They could use Ushashidi’s subscription feature to receive automatic updates when a new peace project is reported in their neighborhood, town or province.

When peace activists (and anyone else, for that matter) find peace projects they like on Ushahidi’s Peace Map, they can “befriend” that project, much like the friend feature in Facebook. That way they can receive updates from a particular project via email, SMS or even Twitter. These updates could include information on how to get involved. When two projects (or two individuals) are connected this way, Ushahidi could depict the link on the map with a line connecting the two nodes.

Imagine if this Peace Map were then shown on national television in the lead up to the elections. Not only would there be hundreds of peace dots representing individual peace efforts, but many of these would be linked, depicting a densely connected peace network.

The map could also be printed in Kenya’s national and local newspapers. I think a Peace Map of Kenya would send a powerful message that Kenyans want peace and won’t stand for a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence. When the elections do happen, this Peace Map could be used operationally to quickly respond to any signs of escalating tensions.

Rachel could use the Peace Map to crowdsource reports of any election violence that might take place. Local peace activists could use Ushahidi’s subscription feature to receive alerts of violent events taking place in their immediate vicinity. They would receive these via email and/or SMS in near real-time.

This could allow peace activists to mobilize and quickly respond to escalating signs of violence, especially if preparedness measures and contingency plans already in place. This is what I call fourth generation conflict early warning and early response (4G). See this blog post for more on 4G systems. This is where The Third Side framework for conflict resolution meets the power of new technology platforms like Ushahidi.

It is when I meet inspiring students like Rachel that I wish I were rich so I could just write checks to turn innovative ideas into reality. The next best thing I can do is to work with Rachel and her undergraduate friends to write up a strong proposal. So if you want to get involved or you know a donor, foundation or a philanthropist who might be interested in funding Rachel’s project, please do email me so I can put you directly in touch with her: Patrick@iRevolution.net.

In the meantime, if you’re about to start a project, remember Lynda’s rule of thumb: make sure 20% of your team is under 27. You won’t regret it.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Micro-dynamics of Reciprocity in an Asymmetric Conflict (Updated)

Thomas Zeitzoff is a PhD candidate at New York University. I came across his research thanks to the Ushahidi network, and am really glad I did. He wrote a really neat paper earlier this year on “The Micro-dynamics of Reciprocity in an Asymmetric Conflict: Hamas, Israel, and the 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict,” which he is revising and submitting to peer-review.

Updated: Thomas kindly sent me the most recent version of his paper which you can download here (PDF).

I’ve done some work on conflict event-data and reciprocity analysis (see this study of Afghanistan), but Thomas is really breaking new ground here with the hourly temporal resolution of the conflict analysis, which was made possible by Al-Jazeera’s War on Gaza project powered by Ushahidi.

Picture 5

Abstract

The Gaza Conflict (2008-2009) between Hamas and Israel was de fined the participants’ strategic use of force. Critics of Israel point to the large number of Palestinian casualties compared to Israelis killed as evidence of a disproportionate Israeli response. I investigate Israeli and Hamas response patterns by constructing a unique data set of hourly conflict intensity scores from new social media and news source over the nearly 600 hours of the conflict. Using vector autoregression techniques (VAR), I fi nd that Israel responds about twice as intensely to a Hamas escalation as Hamas responds to an Israeli escalation. Furthermore, I find that both Hamas’ and Israel’s response patterns change once the ground invasion begins and after the UN Security Council votes.

As Thomas notes, “Ushahidi worked with Al-Jazeera to track events on the ground in Gaza via SMS messages, email, or the web. Events were then sent in by reporters and civilians through the platform and put into a Twitter feed entitled AJGaza, which gave the event a time stamp. By cross-checking with other sources such as Reuters, the UN, and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, I was able see that the time stamp was usually within a few minutes of event occurrence.”

Picture 4

Key Highlights from the study:

  • Hamas’ cumulative response intensity to an Israeli escalation decreases (by about 17 percent) after the ground invasion begins. Conversely, Israel’s cumulative response intensity after the invasion increases by about three fold.
  • Both Hamas and Israel’s cumulative response drop after the UN Security Council vote on January 8th, 2009 for an immediate cease-fi re, but Israel’s drops more than Hamas (about 30 percent to 20 percent decrease).
  • For the period covering the whole conflict, Hamas would react (on average) to a “surprise” 1 event (15 minute interval) of Israeli misinformation/psy-ops with the equivalent of 1 extra incident of mortar re/endangering civilians.
  • Before the invasion, Hamas would respond to a 1 hour shock of targeted air strikes with 3 incidents of endangering civilians. Comparatively, after the invasion, Hamas would only respond to that same Israeli shock with 3 incidents of psychological warfare.
  • The results con rm my hypotheses that Israel’s reactions were more dependent upon Hamas and that these responses were contextually dependent.
  • Wikipedia’s Timeline of the 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict was particularly helpful in sourcing and targeting events that might have diverging reports (i.e. controversial).

Perhaps the main question I would have for Thomas is how he thinks his analysis and findings could be used for conflict early warning and rapid response to violent conflict.

Patrick Philippe Meier

An Open Letter to CEWARN Colleagues

Dear CEWARN Colleagues,

I am honestly quite puzzled.

You know that I publicly apologized on my professional blog for the mistakes I made when characterizing CEWARN in my recent book review. You also know that I apologized privately to you via email. You kindly offered to provide me with up-to-date information on CEWARN so that I could correct my previous blog posts. So I took your criticism positively and as an important opportunity to learn more and promote CEWARN’s good work.

I very much appreciate the time you took to clarify my misconceptions of CEWARN and took this as evidence that you were serious and willing to disseminate evidence of the successful results achieved by CEWARN. You offered to share with me the contact info for CEWARN’s country coordinators and field monitors. You also kindly offered to share with me additional information on CEWARN’s remarkable progress and achievements.

I sent you two emails one month ago in which I thanked you and took you up on your offers listed above. You have ignored my emails. You have answered none of my questions. You have provided none of the specific information that you yourself had offered to share in the first place.

May I ask why? I have found the rest of the conflict early warning community to be a lot more open and transparent.

Best wishes,

Patrick