The peace-building field is full of examples of projects that have attempted to use technology, but failed to live up to expectations. Effective conflict early warning and prevention approaches depend on building and strengthening relationships. Research in South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda shows that, at best, ICTs can support relationship building, but that they are not a substitute for the human element that is essential to creating trust, dialogue and shared goals.
Conflict is not a problem that is solved by finding the correct solution; it is a complex and messy social phenomenon, embedded in wider systems of inequality, grievance and power dynamics. Conflict is inevitable in human societies, but violent conflict can be mitigated and reduced.
The potential of ICTs such as mobile phones, social media or blogs for mitigating and reducing violent conflict is greatest where there are existing channels of communication and good inter-organisational trust.
High cost and low literacy levels mean that ICTs are out of reach of many people in the contexts where this research was carried out, and others like them. Simple, low-cost communications tools – banners, posters, flyers and blackboards – can have significant impacts, promoting messages to defuse conflict tensions and reaching audiences that may not use ICTs.
If ICTs are imposed externally in an effort to find a ‘solution’ to ‘conflict’, they are likely to be ineffective and unsustainable and can do more harm than good.
- Where ICTs are used to develop communication channels they should build on local people’s existing engagement with technology – introducing equipment, software or practices outside of people’s comfort zone will require significant groundwork and adds risk to the sustainability and viability of projects.
- External agencies should be wary of introducing ICT innovations and avoid short-term ‘fixes’. Instead, they should support local partners who enjoy trust and respect, and plan for longer-term relationship building and support to locally driven mechanisms for strengthening communication – which may or may not include ICTs.