Global Policy Forum

Role of NGOs in Conflict Prevention Crucial


By Ndung'u Wainaina

Kenya Times
May 2, 2006

Towards the end of 20th century, exciting developments happened in organising world politics. But of phenomenal magnitude was the emergence of powerful international organisations whose influence shaped various outcomes globally.

The United Nations and its agencies, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund are some of such institutions that reconfigured the terrain of international relations and politics. The same period saw a set of regional bodies like the African Union, European Union, Inter American States Organisation among others developing into powerful entities. However, even with such influential bodies coming up, the quest for better tools for managing world politics has seen new twist and turns. Regional and international Non Governmental Organisations have emerged that are playing a vital role most notably in seeking to defuse conflicts, addressing more concretely human rights violations and post conflict reconstruction. Their voice and influence has increasingly gained recognition.

The presence of Non Governmental Organisations in conflict zones is hardly a new phenomenon. The International Committee of the Red Cross has cared for the victims of modern conflict situations for some time. More recently, a number of international humanitarian organisations like Care International, Oxfam, ActionAid among others have been highly visible players in coping with disasters. What is different about the human rights NGO activism in zones of conflict is that many groups are now playing a leading role in trying to defuse nascent or full blown conflicts, as opposed to just cleaning up the human suffering that results.

NGOs have developed a wide range of conflict prevention and resolution activities including monitoring conflict and providing early warning of new violence; opening dialogue between adversarial parties; playing a direct mediating role; strengthening local institutions for conflict resolution; and helping to strengthen the rule of law and democratic processes in countries affected by violent conflict.

After the Cold War, new forms of conflict have broken out around the world. NGOs have emerged as important partners to both national governments and international agencies engaged in diplomacy and conflict resolution in dealing with conflict and reconstruction. Also, these NGOs have played a critical role in seeking to turn loose talk about "global civil society" into a concrete reality on the ground.

Like international relief agencies, NGOs focusing on conflict resolution respond to major failures on the part of the international community to deal effectively with global problems. Too often, intergovernmental bodies and agencies have proved too slow and cumbersome in dealing with emerging urgent crisis situation as demonstrated in Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, DRC and Darfur. Also, both international agencies and governments often have institutional and political limitations that hamper their effectiveness in situations of enormous complexity and delicacy.

NGOs facilitate up to date extensive fact-finding missions, engage in dialogue with a wide range of groups involved in conflicts, map out strategies for defusing conflict and galvanise action by national governments and international organisations to help stabilise tense situations. Situations in Burundi, Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, Darfur, DRC and Rwanda provide examples of where NGOs have played a decisive role in heading off major conflicts.

Most civil society groups have worked on different aspects of these crises, including monitoring the conflicts, seeking to prevent the delivery of arms and assist in mopping arms, promoting peaceful dialogue, addressing socioeconomic disparities, attempting to strengthen government organs like the judiciary, security systems etc. and aiding efforts to bring war criminals and human rights violators to justice. With their extensive field operations and their networks of local contacts, these groups have access to a wide array of information about the crisis that is not available to either international organisations or national governments.

However, despite the critical role that NGOs have continuously played in helping to stabilise the conflict situations, the future engagement of NGOs within the international agencies and governments, remains vague. Partnerships between NGOs and governments or international agencies are inherently difficult and awkward. NGOs are on one hand strong critics of these agencies and government policies and yet on the flip side they provide first-rate in-depth analysis of deteriorating conflicts.

The working relation between NGOs and national governments will be very much dependent on the circumstances of particular crisis situations. National policy makers will turn to NGOs for help when they must, but otherwise appear not to take steps that would institutionalise these ties. The leadership of international organisations is likely to be more open to closer ties with NGOs. The working relation has to find footing considering the emerging demands, global dynamics and interdependence of state and non-state actors.

The institutional capacity of NGOs focused on conflict interventions and post conflict reconstruction crisis remains inadequate. International development partners and agencies would have to make direct financial contributions to NGOs engaged in conflict prevention for this have a major impact and bearing on the UN Secretary-General report on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-conflict Societies, August 2004.

More Information on NGOs
More Information on NGOs in the Field
More Information on NGOs and Stattes


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.