Tag Archives: conflict early warning

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.




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

Chapter 9: FCE’s Early Warning System and Applicability to Other Countries

The 9th and final chapter of the FCE book on Third Generation Early Warning was co-authored by Kumar Rupesinghe and Tadakazu Kanno. This is an important chapter that seeks to draw on the lessons learned from the Sri Lanka experience to outline how a similar approach might be taken in other countries.

As the authors note, the Third Generation approach is particularly applicable at containing inter-communal violence. It is also very refreshing to read that the authors include a section on the weaknesses of FCE’s EW/ER system. It would be great to see other initiatives do the same.

Rupesinghe and Kanno write that “if there is no will for peace, the FCE-type Early Warning/Early Response cannot work effectively” and that the “cessation of violence is subject to the will of [paramilitary groups].” This is why I have been advocating for a tactical approach to conflict early warning and response; one that leverages the tactics of strategic nonviolent action and digital activism.

The authors also include a helpful section on “Criteria for the Application of FCE EW/ER System.” This section includes pointers on necessary conditions (e.g., inter-communal conflict) and subordinate conditions (e.g., causes of conflict are grievances). Another very helpful section of the chapter outlines how the FCE approach could be applied in specific countries such as Pakistan and Kenya.

In conclusion, Rupesinghe and Kanno write that FCE’s Early Warning/Early Response system “will contribute to saving a number of precious lives in conflict areas.” This is the last sentence of the entire book and a very important one. To be sure, the saving of lives should be the ultimate indicator of success and it is important that we apply rigorous monitoring and evaluation frameworks to assess whether we have any impact on this important indicator.

Chapter 8: Impact of FCE’s Human Security Program

The 8th chapter of the FCE book was co-authored by Joseph Bock, Patricia Lawrence and Timmo Gaasbeek. The chapter summarizes findings from six in-depth case studies carried out to assess the impact of the FCE’s Human Security Program in the East Province. I won’t comment on the individual case studies but will review the authors’ overall findings.

The authors write that “FCE’s Human Security Program has prevented violence.” I think what’s needed beyond the qualitative case studies is some hard numbers. I could equally write “CEWARN has prevented violence.” This would be a true statement—CEWARN has intervened in a dozen or so cases to prevent or mitigate violence. But one has to ask for a percentage figure, i.e., what percentage of all violence did the FCE program actually prevent?

In the case of CEWARN, there has been well over 3,000 incidents of violence documented by the “early warning” network. This would mean that CEWARN’s “batting average” is 0.004%. So yes, CEWARN has prevented violence but is the early warning and response system successful?

I find it refreshing that the authors are so up front about the difficulty of assessing FCE’s singular impact. “Because many different actors seek to resolve problems and support peace in the Eastern Province, there are few cases in which FCE was the only actor involved. Because of this, FCE’s claims at effectiveness will by default always be contested.”

The authors also note that the reports coming in from the field are “not always read because people get so much information that they do not have time to read everything. Generally, people glance through the daily reports a few times a week, mainly to confirm reports that they have already heard.”

The FCE introduced the use of SMS, which is probably the first example of a third-generation early warning system employs text messaging for the dissemination of alerts. The authors note that this mode of communication is “relevant for people working and traveling in the districts, because it helps them avoid dangerous areas.” In terms of staff outside the districts, the authors realized that “being bombarded real-time with security information if one cannot really do anything with it might cause a lot of stress […].” Finally, two FCE staff members noted that the incident reporting via SMS was generally “correct and useful, but in very rare cases the situation is misinterpreted.”

The data analysis at FCE headquarters was found to “support early response, but it’s exact impact is difficult to measure.That said, FCE field officers “commented repeatedly about how the categorization scheme of FAST [which is actually VRA’s] and the training they received from Swisspeace […] made them think in new ways.” However, the authors note that as a macro-system, FAST was inapplicable to the micro-purpose of FCE’s initiative.

The use of a computer-assisted micro-system also has the effect of promoting forward thinking. In the authors’ own words: “To the extent that an [early warning system] requires that each location has a list of community leaders to be contacted in the event of high tensions, it fosters forward thinking.” I couldn’t agree more and also see an important parallel with crisis mapping. To the extent that crisis mapping platforms like Ushahidi require georeferenced information, it fosters forward thinking on where one might intervene.

Chapter 7: Ethnic Violence in Kattankuby & Eravoor

Heshani Ranasinghe authored the 7th chapter of the FCE book. This chapter goes into quite some detail regarding the Sri Lankan context, which I don’t have the knowledge to comment on. This is an important chapter since Heshani takes two case studies to evaluate how well the FCE’s early warning system worked. I really appreciated the author’s transparency when they note that the system had both successes and failures. Very refreshing indeed.

Chapter 6: Dynamics of Social Identities for Conflict Prevention

The sixth chapter in the FCE book was authored by Priyan Seneviathan. I’m no expert on the Sri Lanka context vis-a-vis social identities and relationships for conflict prevention. So this “review” will figure a few excerpts from the chapter that I found interesting.

Currently there are 95 such Co-Existence Committees established across 7 districts of the country comprising of 5,821 members.

The uniqueness of the co-existence committees is that they comprise of people from different trades and different religions as well as different ethnic groups.

Boege in his analysis on conflict transformation argues that for a successful conflict transformation process to take place, there should be mechanisms in place that are effective in the localities of conflict affected societies that could effectively address relational issues at the local level. He argues that solutions that are bought ‘at the top’ will not be sustainable unless they are synchronized properly with solutions that are coming from the bottom.

In a world that always tries to look at the big picture of a conflict, important aspects of communal relationships that are formed through social identities tend to lose its influence when planning for a post conflict reconstruction phase.

I wish that more had been shared on the main challenges that FCE faced in helping to form the Co-Existence Committees. It would be helpful to have a list of hard lessons learned.

Chapter 5: Theoretical Justifications for FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response System

This chapter by Dinidu Endaragalle is definitely my favorite chapter of the entire book. I highly recommend a close read to anyone interested in the field of conflict early warning.

Endaragalle draws on two contemporary theories identified by Professor Joseph Bock Bock to justify early response interventions by the FCE’s Early Response system. The first relates to timing and nature of interventions while the second addresses the capacity to intervene.

Timing and Nature

Donald Horowitz (2001) has provided insights about the timing and nature of intervening to prevent ethnic violence. Through an extensive comparative study, he identified how collective ethnic violence displays a marked pattern. Where there has been a hostile relationship between ethnic groups and usually, but not always, after there has been a ‘precipitating event,’ there is a period of time (a ‘lull’) when consensus building for violence occurs.

The attacking group develops intense emotions. Its members build a consensus around a moral argument justifying violence (which is commonly linked to religious beliefs). They assess the threat posed by another group (often exaggerating that threat). And they downplay the anticipated risks of participating in violence.

This focus on the tactical level is one that definitely resonates with me. Understanding patterns of conflict in large part requires an understanding of what military strategies and tactics are employed. See, for example, Jen Ziemke’s excellent research on spatial patterns of civilian targeting during the Angolan civil war.

Capacity to Intervene

The second theory that can be applied to the science of early response originates from Ashutosh Varshney’s work. Varshney has “provided empirical evidence that formal inter-ethnic associations, especially in urban areas, constitute an effective capacity to intervene to prevent violence. […] he wound that violence was much less likely when associations were formalized […] and inter-ethnic in their membership.”

Taken together, Endaragalle argues that “the essence of Horowitz’s theory of intensity and timing of a ‘lull’ and Varshney’s theory of capacity to intervene provide important insights to the science of early warning and early response.” Endaragalle then applies this framework to two real case studies from Sri Lanka.

Developing a theoretical framework and then being able to apply it and draw preliminary conclusions is the mark of serious applied academic research. For example, Endaragalle relates Varshney’s formal association theory to the FCE’s Co-Existent Communities (CECs) as these are formal interethnic associations with different religions represented. By applying the theoretical framework to actual case studies, Endaragalle finds that “after a precipitating event […], the early response interveners should concentrate on diminishing the degree of consensus building for violence by conflicting parties.”

I found this insight interesting as it relates to the idea of patterns and anti-patterns that I have described here in the context of conflict and crisis mapping.

Insider Partial Mediators

Endaragalle also adds a third component to the two-pronged theoretical framework originally proposed by Bock. This one focuses on the concept of “insider partial mediation” developed by Paul Wehr and John Paul Lederach (1996). These authors suggest that the “insider partial mediators often prove beneficial in reaching a successful settlement.” Wehr and Lederach define this type of mediator as “an entity (an individual or institution) that is already involved in the conflict and, at least to some extent, is aligned with one side or other.”

In general, this means that these mediators “are people of high stature and as a result, they have credibility with stakeholders on all sides of the conflict.” Endaragalle combines this concept with the theories developed by Horowitz and Varshney. Insider partial mediators already have network ties with local communities and may thus have the contacts necessary to identify upcoming lulls in inter-ethnic conflict. “The mobilization of ‘insider partials’ can also increase the capacity to intervene in conflicts rapidly in most instances.”

There are a few points in this chapter that deserve to be written in more detail. Endaragalle refers to the FCE’s GIS maps: “they zoom into the databases and the GIS maps and single out the events data relating to the precipitating events,” but does not expand further. How are the events singled out? Do the maps facilitate this singling out in terms of spatial patterns?

Like other chapter authors, I would press Endaragalle to be more specific when writing that FCE’s early warning system “intervened in a recorded number of 174 cases of conflict.” Namely, 174 out of a total of how many incidents? And out of this 174, how many can clearly be shown to have been successful? I don’t doubt the probable success of the system, but having specifics would make the 174 figure a stronger case.

In the same paragraph Endaragalle writes that the next task for the FCE’s early response system is to “estimate the time period of the actual time period [i.e., the lull] for the actual onset of the violence.” I agree that timing is important, of course, and would be curious to know why Endaragalle does not draw on William Zartman’s concept of ripeness. I would also liked to have seen a discussion on William Ury’s Third Side approach vis-a-vis capacity to intervene.

In any case, the plan to analyze lulls is a very good one. But I’m biased given that I’m doing similar research with colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute and the Technical University in Zurich. There is evidence from other scientific research that the “wait times” between certain events often follow a specific statistical distribution, often a poisson distribution.