April 02, 2023 | Audrey Bottjen

Understanding aid’s interaction with peace


Defining what we mean by ‘Peace’

In our experience at the CSF, aid actors are generally comfortable with the concept of seeking to ‘do no harm,’ but often struggle to understand how to make the contributions to peace that are asked by approaches such as conflict sensitivity, the humanitarian-development-peacebuilding nexus and peace responsiveness.

There are probably a number of reasons for this, but one important hurdle relates to a common misconception around the definition of ‘peace.’  We’ve found that many aid actors believe that peace is a political status that comes from the successful implementation of negotiated agreements, and that it is defined by the absence of active conflicts.  It would indeed be very difficult and inappropriate for most humanitarian and development programmes to contribute to this kind of political settlement.

However, peace studies suggest a different definition of peace: “the capacity to transform conflicts with empathy, without violence and creatively – a never-ending process.”[1] This definition is easier to act upon within aid programs.  It takes for granted that there will always be conflict – i.e. competition over resources and power, and differences of opinions for how things ought to be done.  Peace, therefore, is not the absence of conflicts or a one-off political settlement, but the ability to manage these differences as they arise. This definition is useful, because it opens the door to a multitude of ways that aid organisations in Sudan can, in fact, contribute to capacities for peace.

What are these capacities for peace in the context of Sudan?

The types of capacities that enable peaceful management of conflicts will vary across Sudan’s communities and contexts, but we can make some generalizations to help us think through aid’s potential impacts on peace.  Here are some ideas for ways that aid organisations can help to support capacities for peace through the implementation of their humanitarian or development activities.

  • Providing forums and safe spaces to meet and build relationships. Groups that are in conflict often struggle to feel safe communicating with each other. While aid agencies must ensure they don’t promise security that they can’t deliver, they are often in a position to create safe, neutral contexts where conflicting groups can – at a minimum – meet to engage on aid’s objectives and approaches.
  • Supporting downward accountability from leaders. When local leaders are only accountable to those more powerful than them, they are less able to understand, represent, or act on their communities’ interests.  This serves to perpetuate marginalization and long-standing grievances. Aid agencies are able to model, encourage and at times require downward accountability from local leaders, including through holding town hall meetings with leaders and community members, transparency around aid delivery, and communications.
  • Supporting mutually-beneficial interdependence. Interdependence, especially when it is beneficial to all parties, is a powerful incentive for people or groups to manage conflicts peacefully.  Interdependence can happen through markets, livelihoods, politics, access to education or health care, and shared infrastructure.  Proper analysis is needed to ensure aid agencies are not contributing to negative competition, but many aid projects have the potential to increase positive interdependence.
  • Reinforcing dispute resolution mechanisms and local justice. Local conflict resolution mechanisms play a critical role in resolving grievances before they escalate. Aid agencies should be aware of the mechanisms in their areas and be respectful of them, involving them when useful. These may not always be the formal systems that tend to be run by elder men, but may also include informal groups of women, youth, or others. Taking a broader view of dispute resolution mechanisms may help aid actors navigate the dilemmas often associated with local authority structures that marginalize women, youth, or other groups.

These capacities can be effective at the interpersonal and intercommunal level.  However, these same capacities also have relevance for societal, even national spaces of conflict – though they may manifest differently in different contexts.  For aid organisations seeking to have a positive impact in the areas where they work, proper analysis is needed to identify the right opportunities, and to try to anticipate any potential negative implications that could surface. Ongoing monitoring is also important to identify unexpected impacts and course correct when necessary. This requires some resources and appropriate systems – but should be within reach for any aid agency working in Sudan.


[1] Johan Galtung, Founder of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.  On Professionalization in Peace Research.  https://www.galtung-institut.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Peace-Practice-Professionalizing-Peace-Practice.pdf

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