A different approach to early warning systems


Gulu, Uganda

There was great excitement in Gulu town in the last few days of April. President Yoweri Museveni was in town to open a local market, and build some momentum behind the start-up of his election campaign. With troops in South Sudan, ongoing involvement in the neighbouring DRC and public demonstrations against a 3rd term for being met by heavy repression in Burundi, it’s a volatile time for the region.

Museveni has been in power in Uganda since 1986. If elected next year he will have established himself for the 5th term of a potential 35 years in power. The stakes are high for all involved and on the ground in Gulu there is real concern that another election will bring the usual politicisation of all aspects of society and a general escalation in the levels of tension.

ASC members travelled to Gulu, Northern Uganda at the same time as the Presidential visit to reconnect with ACTION founding member Rosalba Oywa and People’s Voice for Peace, a partner in the ASC led Making All Voice Count project. PVP had requested the ASC to assist in facilitating an analysis and planning process aimed at laying the foundation for a multi-stakeholder early warning system.

Over 2 days of intensive discussion a detailed framework was agreed for monitoring and organising around shifts, trends and rapid changes in the conflict dynamics of the context. A quick survey of academic literature will reveal a wide range of different and disputed approaches to early warning. From the high tech options that use smart phones and the latest software to community protection systems that use whistles and drums to alert communities to danger.

Despite efforts from some quarters to suggest that a technical approach to early warning can be helpful the ASC team followed a more elicitive process. Based on the learned experience that the unique nature of each context requires a unique approach a basic process was followed aimed at working with the participants to come up with the most viable and effective early warning model for Gulu and the Acholi region.

These elements were identified as the key drivers of conflict and will form the basis for the monitoring system that is being established:

  • Unresolved land disputes
  • A breakdown of family cohesion
  • Discrimination and stigmatization
  • Perceptions of bias within the justice system and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms
  • Lack of accountability and poor responsiveness of leaders
  • Unequal access to opportunities and education
  • Politicisation of society

Using a conflict transformation approach, guided by the knowledge and experience in the room, and informed by the input and participation of all involved, a dialogue and analysis process arrived at an agreed approach that will be refined and polished by PVP and its partners over the next few weeks.

PVP and the ASC will work together to feed learnings and insights generated by the establishment of this system into the research component of the MAVC project over the next few months. A symposium to be held at Coventry University in September will provide an opportunity to share the outcomes with the wider peacebuilding community.