Nov 2020

Social Change Builds Community-Based Responses and Conflict Mapping

By Dr Baba J Adamu

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Social change builds community-based responses that address underlying social problems on an individual, institutional, community, national and/or international level. Social change can change attitudes, behaviours, laws, policies and institutions to better reflect values of inclusion, fairness, diversity and opportunity. Social change involves a collective action of individuals who are closest to the social problems to develop solutions that address social issues. For any social change to occur, one must be able to see the result of a vision that depicts the change. “You must see the change as if it has already happened.


This is the only way that one can articulate the steps needed to take to make the vision come true. The vision must be intentions for a better future than what currently exists at any giving time. This vision must:

·      Be understood among a collective, so others can share in the vision;

·      Empower and engage people to want to take action;

·      Be well defined and articulated;

·      Be vivid, engaging, inclusive and expressive.

The first step in engaging a collective action in the vision for change is to know what it is that people would like to change. What underlying issues are they trying to address? Are they working towards eliminating ethnic chauvinism in the community? Is it about ensuring every child is healthy, safe, and secure? Is it to reduce crime and violence in the communities? Is it to address banditry and kidnappings in the community head-on or the provision of tools for empowerment to everyone irrespective of ethnicity/tribe, social class, and religious beliefs or even political affiliation? One must be able to identify that one key issue (s) to address that can make a difference in the community and/or society. Using the term protracted social conflict (PSC), to identify the type of crisis that has persisted, which is different from traditional disputes over territory, economic resources, or North-South rivalry and it was distinctive, most of all because it revolved around questions of communal identity and grudge. Four clusters are identified as variables that act as preconditions for potential conflicts' transformation to high levels of intensity.

Precondition I: Communal Content: The most useful analysis in protracted social conflict (PSC) situations is the identity group: racial, religious, ethnic, and cultural; and others. Linking the disjunction between state and society as in many parts of the world to a colonial legacy which artificially imposed European ideas of territorial statehood onto different communal groups on the principle of “divide-and-rule” As a result, in many post-colonial multi-cultural/communal societies the state machinery is dominated by a single communal group or a coalition of a few communal groups who are unresponsive to the needs of other groups in the society. This strains the social fabric and eventually breeds fragmentation, thus feeding into the other factors which produce PSC.

Precondition II: Deprivation of Needs: As postulated by Azar, deprivation of human needs as the underlying source of PSC, in particular, security needs, development needs, political access needs, and identity needs (cultural and religious expression). In the approach taken by Azar, people's security can only be provided for by the meeting of these needs. Security is not a “stand-alone” idea but is linked to needs for development and political access. The reduction of overt conflict required a reduction in levels of underdevelopment. Groups who seek to satisfy their identity and security needs through conflict are in effect seeking changes in the structure of their society. In this case, conflict resolution can only occur if societies can also develop economically. In this way, peace is linked to development and job opportunities because development in all ramifications (poverty reduction, wealth creation, healthy environment, social cohesion etc.) is the satisfaction of needs, which, if they remain unsatisfied, will propel people into conflict.

Precondition III: State and Governance: The role of the state and the nature of its governance is a critical factor in determining the satisfaction or frustration of individual and identity group needs. Most states in which PSC happens tend to be characterized by incompetent, parochial, fragile, and authoritarian governments. The weakness of the state is a crucial factor in provoking these conflicts for three reasons. Firstly, in Western liberal theory, the state is supposed to act as an impartial (just) arbiter of conflicts, treating all members of the political community as legally equal citizens. This is not what happens: political authority tends to be monopolized by the dominant identity group which uses the state to maximize their interests at the expense of others. Secondly, the monopolizing of power by dominant individuals and groups and the limiting of access to other groups creating a crisis of legitimacy, so that excluded groups have no loyalty or attachment to the state and may then seek to secede from it or to take it over completely. Thirdly, PSCs tend to occur in developing countries which are typically characterized by rapid population growth and a limited economic resource base. This also means that they have a restricted political capacity. They often have a colonial legacy where they have had weak or non-existent participatory institutions or a hierarchical tradition of imposed bureaucratic rule from above. They may also have inherited instruments of political repression. This limited and inflexible political capacity prevents the state from responding to, and meeting, the needs of all its citizens.

Precondition IV: International Linkage: The concept of international linkage refers particularly to political-economic relations of economic dependency within the international economic system. The internal factors generated by the first three preconditions become complicated and exacerbated by the spread of the conflict across the borders of the state. A network of political-military linkages develops as both the state authorities and the rebelling groups look for regional and global sources of support. This is already happening in Nigeria, as in the case of the SARS protest in Oct 2020 but Nigeria must do everything possible to avoid a similar conflict in Rwanda in the 90s at all cost.

Restoring Co-Operation and Trust: Peace Building-From-Below

Effective and sustainable peacemaking processes must be based not only on the manipulation of peace initiatives but equally importantly on the empowerment of communities torn apart by the crisis, meaning, building peace from below. There are important lessons to be learned from the experiences of peacekeeping operations in the 1990s. Firstly, in the course of civil wars, cultures and economies of violence develop and provide formidable barriers to constructive intervention. In these conflicts, simple, one-dimensional interventions - whether by traditional mediators aiming at formal peace agreements or peacekeepers placed to supervise cease-fires or overseeing of elections - are unlikely to produce a comprehensive or lasting resolution. Secondly, formal peace agreements need to be underpinned by understandings, structures and long-term development frameworks that will erode cultures of violence and sustain peace processes on the ground.

Thirdly, it is important to recognize the role of local chiefs/imams and groups, citizens’ initiatives, and the non-governmental sector and the effect of participatory approaches to peacemaking. These provide vital links with local knowledge and resources. These groups are important because they provide the source of sustainable citizen-based peacebuilding initiatives. They open-up participatory public political spaces to allow institutions of civil society to flourish. If this process does not happen then the conflict is likely to remain, and the crisis may continue for a long period without a solution.

Ethno-Conflict: To understand conflict behaviour, Avruch and Black argue that it is necessary to attend to the local understandings of being and action which people use in the production and interpretation of conflict behaviour. They refer to this cultural knowledge as an ethnic-conflict theory or, simply, the local common-sense about conflict. The ethno-conflict theory is influenced by a set of complex, interdependent determinants that vary cross-cultures, including language, social, political, religious and economic structures, values and psychology (or, “ethno psychology” – the local assumptions about people and relationships). In terms of this analytical framework, these determinants are not sources of conflict (although, outside of the framework they may lead to conflict); they are variables within a cultural system that, over time, influence the thinking and behaviour of the individuals in the group. In addition to prescribing the rules for conflict regulation within a given society, the ethnic-conflict theory may also inform outsiders of the most appropriate strategies for intervention.

Ethno-Praxes: Ethno-praxes are the corresponding conflict resolution techniques and practices. All human groups have developed their ways of responding to conflict. There is, consequently, an abundance of culturally constituted techniques and processes, both formal and informal ethno-praxes, for managing and resolving conflict around the world.

At Macro-Level: At the macro-level, the international community frequently prescribes linear, top-down, state-centric (official) conflict management aimed at the leadership of the conflicting parties (i.e., usually men, and often warlords and faction leaders without the majority support of the community). Often, local community leaders are not consulted and there is a failure to recognize and build upon the cultural strengths and resources of the local community (i.e., Peace Building-from below). There is an assumption that this approach is “right”, without considering the reality of the conflict on the ground as viewed by the people directly involved. An example of an attempt to establish stability is the negotiated settlement package that focuses on democratic elections aimed at re-establishing political authority. Yet, this approach may not be traditionally appropriate or culturally accepted, as seen in the Paris Peace Agreements during the operation in Cambodia, or the national reconciliation conferences initiated by UNOSOM in Somalia. The short-term, “quick-fix” approach ignores or trivializes the bottom-up perspective that focuses on long-term conflict transformation. In other words, peacekeeping and peacemaking are separated from Peace Building. Serious attention must be given to the cultural and religious applicability of the conflict resolution processes employed by the intervention and its participants.

At Micro-Level: It is important to understand how culture and religion influence the interpersonal interactions between culturally and religiously diverse individuals and groups. The purpose here is to understand the dynamics of these differences before they lead to misunderstandings and conflict at the micro-level, which, in conflict resolution terms, may obstruct the macro-level intervention process. This includes awareness of cultural differences in perspectives toward conflict and conflict resolution, worldview, verbal and non-verbal language (e.g., space, touch, gestures, facial expressions, use of time, comments and certain beliefs, values and even perception of things), and cultural and religious rituals and practices.

Conflict Mapping

Conflict Mapping is the first step for intervening in a conflict. It gives both the intervener and the conflict parties a clearer understanding of the origins, nature, dynamics and possibilities for resolution of the conflict. It is a way of presenting a systematic analysis of a particular conflict at a particular moment in time. Conflict mapping is a tool used by conflict analysts and it is widely used in conflict resolution workshops to provide participants with a snapshot of the conflict under consideration. A conflict map does not of course, aim to solve the conflict; it attempts to identify questions and issues that must be taken into account in any intervention strategy. A conflict map should be understood to be indicative rather than comprehensive.

This is followed up by further analysis using the information in the map to identify the scope for conflict resolution, preferably carried out with the help of the parties or embedded third parties. This should identify:

  1. Changes in the context which could alter the conflict situation, including the interests and capacities of third parties to influence it;

  2. Changes within and between the conflict parties, including internal leadership struggles, varying prospects for military success, and the readiness of general populations to express support for the government initiatives;

  3. Possible ways of redefining goals and finding alternative means of resolving differences, including forced mediation and suggested steps towards peace and eventual transformation;

  4. Likely constraints on these; and how these might be overcome.

For the specific needs of peacekeepers like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and North East Development Commission (NEDC), there should be ongoing efforts to review the operational priorities of their mandate concerning the changing realities of the conflict, and constantly access the situation and monitor early warning of potential conflicts.

Early Warning: Early warning aims to monitor particular areas of potential conflict, and seek ways to act early enough to thwart potential conflict or crisis; or its escalation. There are two tasks involved here: first, identification of the type of conflicts and location of the conflicts that could become violent; second, monitoring and assessing their progress to assess how close to violence they are, or in the case of an on-going crisis, what factors could fuel its escalation. One line of approach aims to establish the circumstances under which violence is likely to take place. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict suggests several indicators of conflict proneness in states, listed below.

Indicators of States at Risk:

  • Demographic pressures (high infant mortality, rapid population change, high population density, youth bulge, food or water shortage, ethnic groups sharing land, environmental pressures, widespread poverty, cultural and religion dimension);

  • Lack of democratic practices (human rights violations, marginalization, criminalization, de-legitimization, exclusiveness);

  • The ethnic composition of the ruling elite differing from that of the population at large;

  • Deterioration or elimination of public services or lack of access;

  • Sharp and severe economic distress (uneven economic development along ethnic lines, lack of trade openness and resource sharing);

  • A legacy of vengeance-seeking group vigilance;

  • Massive, chronic or sustained human flight.

There are possible responses to these situations in specific cases. In terms of the theory of early warning and conflict prevention, the indicators suggested above might call upon light Preventions, which include:

  • Flexible and accommodating state actions and strategies;

  • Moderate “communal” actions and strategies on the part of the leaders of challenging groups;

  • Mutually de-escalators “built-in mechanisms” of conflict management.

And Deep Preventions, which include:

  • Adequate political institutions and good governance;

  • Cohesive social structures and the rule of law;

  • Opportunities for groups to develop economically, culturally and religiously;

  • The presence of accepted legal or social norms capable of accommodating and peacefully transforming these formations.

For example, research on ethnicity suggests that preventions of ethnic conflict include:

  • Federal structures;

  • Consociation systems;

  • Multi-culturalism;

  • Elite accommodation;

  • Social mobility; and Policies of social inclusion.

Mapping-Out Ways to Prevent Conflicts from Happening: More recently, analysts have located the sources of contemporary conflict at the global level, regarding conflict as local manifestations of global processes. The main focus here is on what Paul Rogers describes as three interlinked trends:

  • Deep inequalities in the global distribution of wealth and economic power;

  • Human-induced environmental constraints exacerbated by excessive energy consumption, bills for house rent/maintenance, costly living condition and social amenities, etc., making it difficult for human well-being to be improved by conventional economic growth;

  • The continuing militarization of security relations, including the further proliferation of drugs and lethal weaponry.

As a result of these trends, a combination of wealth-poverty disparities, limits to growth and poverty may contribute to future unsatisfied expectations. At the end of the twentieth century, 1/7 of the world's population controlled 3/4 of its wealth, and 3/4 of humanity live in developing countries, a proportion which has been rising.

In this context, forecasters are giving serious consideration to predictions of a coming generation of conflicts fuelled by both local and global economic turbulence, environmental deterioration, north-south (and other) political tensions, drugs and weapons proliferation, and international crime impacting on “weak states”. As traditional patterns of authority and order are weakened, exclusionist policies linked to ethnic and religious identities emerge as alternative sources of loyalty. Looking at the kind of analysis considered here, most of the conflicts bedevilling Nigeria (insurgency, communal crisis, kidnappings, armed banditry, farmer-header crisis, religious crisis, etc.); largely that turned brutally violent are completely predictable and thus preventable.

Conflict Mapping and Prevention Techniques: According to Tom Woodhouse, when the mapmakers of the old world came across terra incognita or unknown territory, they sometimes wrote on their maps, "beyond here be dragons". For peacekeepers and others working in contemporary conflict zones, there are dragons aplenty in the terra incognita of complex emergencies and protracted social conflicts (PSCs). A particular conflict can be understood and prevented by the use of conflict mapping and conflict tracking techniques.

Moving from how conflict, in general, can be understood at the macro-level, to how particular conflicts can be understood through a conflict mapping analysis at the micro-level (i.e., the parts of a specific conflict). One of the first conflict mapping frameworks in Conflict Resolution was developed by Paul Wehr, from whom the guide here is adapted. The analysis of conflict is a necessary precondition for successful management and resolution. Conflict mapping provides a method by which to apply the broader guidelines provided by conflict analysis. Conflict mapping gives a clearer understanding of the origins, nature, dynamics and possibilities for resolution of the conflict; and profiling gives a clearer opportunity to predict future conflicts and take measures to prevent them from happening. A conflict map is an initial snapshot, to be regularly updated by conflict tracking and profiling techniques aimed at predicting a coming generation of conflicts fuelled by ethnicity, social, religious, political, communal or otherwise (analysis of a group or person's psychological, behavioural characteristics, violent tendencies to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere; and address their root causes to prevent them from starting a crisis). This will include the use of algorithms or other mathematical techniques that allow the discovery of patterns or correlations in large quantities of data, aggregated in databases for the purpose.

The framework below provides a starting point by which one can gain orientation and a good working understanding of the background to a conflict and to the actors and the issues they are pursuing. This analysis can be built upon and made more complex by adding other mapping features, for example, Section D. The relevance of this level of analysis will depend on the responsibilities held. Higher-level analysis of this kind is more likely to be conducted by those with strategic policy analysis roles in the military, diplomatic and political arenas. To map-out well, unless the nature and political intensity of a conflict arena is understood, the outside intervention will be ineffective, if not counter-productive. Also, the cultural and religious dynamics of the conflict and its local peculiarity and population must be fully taken into consideration to avoid inappropriate and insensitive intervention processes.

Conflict Mapping Framework /Guide



A. Conflict Background

1. Map of the area

2. Brief description of the region/country

3. Outline the history of the conflict.

B. The Conflict Parties

1. Who are the core conflict parties?

  • What are their internal sub-groups?

  • On what constituencies do they depend?

2. What are the conflict issues/demands?

  • Is it possible to distinguish between positions, interests (material interests, values, relationships) and needs?

3. What are the relationships between the conflict parties?

  • Are there inequalities (asymmetries) of power?

4. What are the different perceptions of the causes and nature of the conflict among the conflict parties?

5. What is the current behaviour of the partie

  • Is the conflict in an “escalator” or “de-escalatory phase?

6. Who are the leaders of the parties?

  • At the elite/individual level, what are their objectives, policies, and interests and demands?

  • What are their relative strengths and weaknesses?

C. Peacemaking Activities

1. What efforts have been made in the past to resolve the conflict?

2. What efforts are being made to resolve the conflict presently?

  • What is the role of a mediator (s)/peacekeeper likely to be?

  • Is the role clear?

  • Do they have the expertise and resources to manage?

  • Who else in the area is involved in peacemaking efforts (either internal or external groups)?

  • Are they aware of other individuals or organizations in the area with which you might liaise?


D. National, Regional and State Level Context

1. National Level

  • Is the nature of the state contested?

  • Are there institutions or organizations that could provide legitimate spaces for managing the conflict?

  • Regional and Local Level

  • How do relations with neighbouring states and local societies affect the conflict?

  • Do the parties have regional/state/local supporters? Which regional/state/local actors may or may not be trusted by the conflict parties?

3. International Level

  • Are there outside geopolitical interests?

  • What external factors fuel the conflict?

  • What may change them?


(Analysis of a group or person's psychological, behavioural characteristics, violent tendencies to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere; and address their root causes to prevent them from starting a crisis. This will include the use of human intelligence as well as algorithms or other mathematical techniques that allow the discovery of patterns or correlations in large quantities of data, aggregated in databases for the purpose).

  • Is the adversary satisfied with its current position or demand?

  • What likely future moves or strategy shifts will the adversary make and how dangerous are they?

  • Where is the adversary vulnerable?

  • What will provoke the greatest and most damaging retaliation by the adversary?

  • What will make the adversary withdraw and reach a concession?

Lesson: On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan genocide directed against Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus began. During the period, an estimated 500,000 - 800,000, and in some estimates possibly up to one million people were killed in the course of the genocidal civil war. Over two million people fled to become refugees in neighbouring countries, and up to one million became displaced within Rwanda. The conflict and its aftermath continue to trouble the Great Lakes Region within which Rwanda is situated. Ethnic Conflict must be prevented at all costs.



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