How does the micro level of warfare relate to the macro level? What is the appropriate relationship between outsiders and insiders in conflict areas? This concluding chapter in the book, Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – or War, reflects on the experiences of aid workers in order to understand the challenges faced by development agencies in conflict settings. International agencies need to find a way of insisting that appropriate political actions are taken, while remaining non-political in providing aid.
Civil wars provoke the most complex domestic situations in any country. Outside forces sometimes perpetuate internal wars. Neighbouring countries pursue their interests through policies and direct subsidies of money, weapons and fighters. The world’s larger socio-political and economic arrangements also shape crises that occur within countries.
When international aid is given during violent conflict, it becomes a part of that conflict. The role of aid workers, operating as foreigners in these situations and taking responsibility for other people’s welfare, is complicated and challenging. For aid workers, civil wars pose the most complex moral as well as practical challenges.
How can the gap between communities at war and the international context in which civil wars take place be bridged? While there are no easy answers to this question, the following points should be born in mind.
- Local actors are willing to accept outside involvement in their domestic problems but only up to a point.
- People in warring societies often invite outsiders’ ideas and analyses of the local situation.
- There are advantages and disadvantages to the role of the outsider in a conflict situation. He or she has incomplete knowledge. On the other hand, he or she is not partisan and can provide a different perspective.
- Since aid has an impact on warfare, aid workers cannot avoid the responsibility of trying to shape that impact, and can be accused of inappropriate action.
- Aid may play a role in enabling people in war torn societies to gain the international political assistance they need. This role will become increasingly important as agencies and political forces interact in areas of unfolding crisis.
It is important to continue to learn how to play the outsider role. Further experience is needed to determine how this is best done in each setting, by different kinds of aid and personnel. In the meantime, aid workers should:
- Try to identify local actors and local networks that can promote peace
- Design their aid programmes to support local peacemakers and reinforce positive networks.
- Be aware that judgments identifying local peace actors may constitute dangerous and inappropriate social engineering.