A Failure of Dedication: International Development NGOs in the Field of Violence Prevention

Ulf Terlinden
2002 Journal of Peacebuilding and Development  
Most development (and humanitarian) non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have still not explicitly committed themselves to the task of violence prevention in African armed conflicts. Ironically, while NGO headquarters seem to be stuck in policy debates, theoretical reasoning and workshops, their field offices take on a steadily increasing lot of violence prevention activities on the ground. Are there difficulties associated with violence prevention that can explain this discrepancy? This
more » ... repancy? This article summarises some key findings on this issue 1 with special attention to its practical aspects. It argues that the hesitant approach of NGOs should be replaced with a strong and explicit commitment to develop their violence prevention activities. This could mitigate the harmful effects of the hesitance, and help to address many of the problems that will be identified below. At the same time, a clear and more coherent dedication to violence prevention, including profiled conflict advocacy, would respond to critical discussions over the 'normalising' effect that NGO activities might have for certain conflicts. Increased public awareness is indispensable to tear political fig leafs off those donors who use NGO activities as a welcome alibi to disengage themselves from the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution. Violence prevention activities of NGOs Violence prevention generally encompasses activities aimed at preventing and/or countering violence-prone processes. For the purpose of this article, the term identifies all those measures intended to impede or intercept acts of physical violence of groups or individuals who pursue their interests in the course of intra-and interstate and society conflicts (Debiel 1996:3). To critical minds, this may sound like a minimalist approach, only looking at violence rather than conflict when and where it surfaces. However, the focus on physical violence is meant to identify the main and overall driving force behind this kind of work-to prevent forceful fighting, injury, death and the human suffering related to these processes. But violence prevention is understood as a holistic and long-term process, thus addressing early any conflict with the potential to develop to such excesses. The term also draws a clear demarcation from 'conflict prevention', the notion that makes too many people believe that conflict as such needs to be abandoned. This is not the case, for conflict, defined as a principal divergence of interests, is an essential and necessary part of everyday life (Ropers 1995:3). However, to avoid violence and human suffering and to bring about a conducive environment for development, conflict needs to be addressed and to be used effectively to further social change. In line with the holistic nature of the approach, violence prevention needs to take place at every stage of conflict-in pre-violence phases, at the height of 'hot' conflict, in transition phases and after a settlement of the conflict has been achieved. It paves the ground for and accompanies longer-term peacebuilding, which can in fact be regarded as part of violence prevention. 2 Let's look at four examples to make the matter more practical, and to further explore the scope of the term. • Micro-lens -the project level: Oxfam Great Britain (GB) was planning to construct a new water scheme in Shebelle, a village in eastern Ethiopia. The two main clan in
doi:10.1080/15423166.2002.707153231219 fatcat:e3s65hjbajfzjknctddghglyoi