Technology, communications and conflict prevention in Zanzibar

The following is one of three blog posts written by members of the ACTION Support Centre in which they reflect on the lessons emerging from their research into how technology can play a role in conflict prevention. This blog post introduces the broader context of the project and the partners. The second blog reflects on the role of innovations in Information and Communications Technology (ICTs), identifying some of the research gaps and problematic assumptions observed. The third reports preliminary findings and reflections from a workshop hosted with the Zanzibar Interfaith Centre in September 2014.

During Ramadan in 2012, a group of Christians travelled door to door in a Muslim community in Zanzibar, evangelizing. Tensions rose. A community member phoned the Mufti’s office, cautioning that people in the community were preparing to throw stones. The Mufti asked them to wait. He phoned the leaders of the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches, who phoned their local congregations – none knew of any door-to-door evangelists from their own communities. They went to investigate and found a group of students who had travelled from Dar es Salaam. The local clergy informed them that their actions were insensitive, disrespectful, and harmful to the local community and the delicate peace in Zanzibar. The evangelists left. The local clergy apologised to the community for the insensitivity. Not a single stone was thrown.

The ACTION Support Centre (ASC) and Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations are partners in an 18-month research project, funded by Making All Voices Count entitled ‘From Early Warning to Response in Preventing Violence: Transforming Conflict through Citizen Engagement’. The project’s local partners are: the Zanzibar Interfaith Centre (ZANZIC), People’s Voice for Peace (PVP) in Northern Uganda, and Local Peace Committees  in South Africa’s Gauteng Province. We have been reflecting on initial visits to ZANZIC (September 2014) and PVP (October 2014), both partner organisations with whom the ASC has a longer term established relationship. The Making All Voices Count visits allow for a deeper engagement with local organisations and partners through focus groups, interviews, and workshops.

Members of ASC and ZANZIC in Zanzibar (September 2014)
Members of ASC and ZANZIC in Zanzibar (September 2014)

What led to the prevention of violent conflict in the above episode during Ramadan 2012? What are the opportunities to continue such prevention in future? What are the challenges to the current efforts in Early Warning and Early Response? How does technology affect local contexts? These are a few of the questions being explored in this project.

In many societies affected by violence and social conflict, responses by decision-makers and authorities frequently occur only after the violence has surpassed critical levels or attracted sufficient external attention and criticism. Early warning in managing conflict dynamics before they turn overtly violent minimises the destructive effects and increases opportunities for conflicting parties to constructively engage and transform the conflict. Local communities have the most grounded understanding of contextual dynamics, conflict drivers and triggers, yet are often hampered by ineffective communication, social and political marginalisation, and mistrust. Events over the last few years vividly illustrate this ‘gap’: service delivery protests and xenophobic violence in South Africa, electoral violence in Kenya, social and political conflict in Uganda, and electoral strife and attacks in Zanzibar.

Our research is grounded in human relationships and interpersonal engagement, to provide insights into the intersections of technology and development. Through a conflict transformation process, we learn from our partners about opportunities and challenges for technological and communications innovations in warning-response systems. Our research aim is to provide grounded analysis and guidance to improve warning-response communications between engaged citizens on the ground and authorities with the potential to respond to citizen concerns.

This blog was co- written by Steven Leach, Chas Morrison, Laura Payne, Richard Smith from the ACTION Support Centre – the Africa regional hub of ACTION for Conflict Transformation, a network of organisations and individuals committed to transforming conflict. ASC specialises in capacity building, lobbying and advocacy, grassroots mobilisation, facilitating dialogue and initiating innovative forms of community organising.

  • Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations advances research, education and partnerships to address the challenges posed by violent conflict and promote a deeper understanding of peace and reconciliation.
  • Zanzibar Interfaith Centre is an office of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania. It supports a joint committee of religious leaders who promote peace during elections, support 300 local peace committees, mediate interfaith conflicts, and make joint statements in the media calling for peace.
  • People’s Voice for Peace’s activities include facilitating reintegration of abducted children, advocacy for peaceful resolution to the LRA conflict, encouraging grassroots perspectives and including women’s voices to build a peaceful Northern Uganda.
  • Gauteng Local Peace Committees were initiated by ACTION with the support of Diaspora Focused and Community Based Organisations, the South African Police Service, South African Council of Churches and the City of Johannesburg Migrant Desk, to address local, community-specific challenges and also national, continental and regional issues that are affecting them.