Technology and Post-conflict Reconstruction: Lessons for DDR

In 2014, the World Bank released an interesting study titled ‘The role of information and communication technologies in post-conflict reconstruction.’ The report reflected the untapped potential of technology in addressing post-war challenges. In general, conflicts mark the disruption of a State’s information and communication channels. From a DDR standpoint, the restoration of these networks might not be an immediate priority but evidence shows that it can reap its own benefits, especially in terms of confidence building measures among the affected community.

Some supranational initiatives, such as The Expert panel on Innovation in UN Peacekeeping (2014), commissioned by DPKO[1] do already acknowledge the role of technology in making peacekeeping a more innovative enterprise. The examples that the Expert Panel cited include:

  1. PMP[2] which was piloted by MINUSCA[3] and allowed 80 users to connect to a single point, internal web-based radio stations developed by UNMIK[4] and MINUSMA[5] to broadcast news alerts accessible anywhere on the intranet grid.
  2. ASIFU[6] developed by MINUSMA to provide the mission’s force commander with timely and integrated intelligence analysis.

Such technological interventions can be of interest to DDR as well. In places such as Sudan, which houses a DPKO Peacekeeping Mission that worked in tandem with UNDP on DDR, the sharing of technological inputs to achieve better connectivity and coordination can be a great blessing.

However, treating technologies as an end goal in itself can be counterproductive.  Instead, depending on the end user, the technological formulations ought to be customized. For instance, DDR practitioners can leverage off the fact that cell phone penetration among the population is generally high. The focus can thus be on developing training modules on skills training initiatives for ex-combatants which rely on SMS/MMS based technologies.

The idea is to actualize their hopes of access to another world, one far removed from conflict and violence. On the other side, where issues like resource provision and efficient administration become important concerns, technologies like biometric identification for ex-combatants (already used in places like Afghanistan) can be examples of useful interventions. Additionally, local peace builders can use cell phones and social media to build trust between hostile groups; crucial to any successful community reintegration effort. The example of a such an initiative includes ‘Peace Factory’, which shares messages of friendship on Facebook, allowing for people to people contact to foster amicability between warring population groups like the Israelis and Palestinians.

Reliable information is crucial for making informed policy decisions and for availing donor support and international help. Civil society organizations can play a greater role here by disseminating information through local communication networks like the public radio. In this light, The World Bank Study (2014) points towards the need to have Early Warning Systems (EWS) and technology-enabled intelligence gathering mechanisms to identify conflict hotspots well in advance.  In terms of collaboration, the internet offers new possibilities for UN DDR practitioners, donors, community organizations and national actors to come together. For instance, UNDP created an online platform called ‘Mahallae’ in post-conflict Cyprus for online collaboration among the community members to discuss matters related to peacebuilding.

In short, post-conflict societies have different histories and different socio-economic trajectories. Still, as underscored by the World Bank study (2014), they tend to share the common feature of social cohesion disrupted by violence. As Winston Churchill famously said, “jaw jaw is better than war war”, i.e., talking, communicating and negotiating is better than violence that seeks any form of redressal. But communication needn’t happen at that upper echelons alone.  In fact, in post-conflict situations, greater knowledge of each other is crucial to allow for intangibles like empathy to burble up to the fore. For all this, we need to provide for a channel of communication which can be addressed by various technological solutions discussed here. Nevertheless, it is important to not forget that one has to be cautious about the unequal access to technology and digital divide, especially in the post conflict setting. Despite such nuances and potential complications, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) ought to be placed as one among the priorities for the long term national reconstruction and socio-economic development, both of which are essential ingredients to the peace-building process.

– by Ardra Manasi

[1] Department of Peacekeeping Operations

[2] Point-to-Multipoint

[3] United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic

[4] United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo

[5] United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali

[6] All Sources Information Fusion Unit