Development in Conflict: The Experience of ACORD in Uganda, Sudan, Mali and Angola

by ACORDApril 1995

Conflict has had a devastating impact in Africa, and demands new ways of working from development agencies. ACORD has come to see development as an essentially turbulent process, in which crises and conflicts are likely. This paper examines the impact of conflict on the development process in four African countries: Uganda, Sudan, Mali and Angola, and its implications for NGO policy and practice. The paper is divided into two main parts. The first reports on the case studies, while the second highlights themes common to these four conflictaffected countries and in terms of ACORD’s response.

In turbulent situations, distinctions between `relief’ and `development’ have little meaning. Flexible approaches, which can adapt to the changing needs of populations, are vital. Long-term programmes need to be judged against their ability to give people the resilience to deal with crises; short-term activities, while ensuring survival, should also pave the way for the achievement of long-term objectives.

ACORD has attempted to provide `emergency support in a developmental manner’, emphasising support for local coping strategies and local institutions. Some forms of programming have proved more resilient than others. Investing in the development of people and organisations which have the skills, capacities and confidence to cope with change, as well as to resolve conflicts themselves, has proved most successful in times of crisis and conflict.

Conflict tends to magnify any weak points in a programme. Staff are isolated, communications are poor, and distance management is difficult. Consequently, the quality of programming depends to a large extent on the capacities and cohesiveness of programme teams. Having teams that are able to analyse the changing situation around them, and respond flexibly and appropriately, is vital. Equally important has been the development of relationships with communities before, during and after prolonged conflict. Where these have been strong, programmes have often been able to retain their relevance by adjusting to changing needs. The presence of staff local to the area, with links and a commitment to the communities, has been important in this.

Improving the response of NGOs such as ACORD to conflict therefore implies strengthening programme quality, and the capacities and cohesiveness of teams, in times of stability. Achieving this vision of well-trained and well-supported `frontline staff’ will require the investment of time and money prior to the outbreak of conflict and the appropriate commitment from donor organisations.

This should be matched by greater preparedness. This means operational measures to maximise the safety of staff and communities. Procedures for programme suspension and closure must be developed which ensure the maximum level of consultation between field staff and headquarters, and minimise the differential treatment of expatriate and local staff, for example in terms of UN evacuation procedures.

Greater preparedness also requires greater political analysis of conflicts. Like development, conflict is a political process and should be treated as a strategic issue to be analysed at all levels of programming. Such analysis should include an assessment not only of the likelihood of conflict and its impact, but also of how NGO activities will affect local and wider conflicts (latent or otherwise). Furthermore, conflicts produce both winners and losers, and offer considerable opportunities for effecting social change, for example in gender relations. NGOs must therefore ensure that they are able to analyse and identify such opportunities.