The Role of Development Aid in Conflict Transformation: Facilitating Empowerment Processes and Community Building




Bigdon, Christine
Korf, Benedikt

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Berghof Foundation


This article examines both the theoretical assumptions and expectations, as well as the practical experiences, of empowerment approaches within the field of development aid, with a particular focus their potential for conflict transformation. The authors build upon the recent discourse in development policy that discusses the extent to which development cooperation can effectively contribute towards crisis prevention and conflict transformation. It attempts to analyze and build from three inter-related approaches: The do-no-harm approach which primarily aims to avoid doing more harm than good, and is vitally concerned with the unintended negative impacts of development aid, which too often tends to aggravate conflict rather than contribute to its resolution; the local capacities for peace approach which seeks to identify potential entry points for conflict transformation through development aid, and recommends that external donor agencies should focus on supporting local capacities for peace; and the discourse on peace and conflict impact assessment approach which stresses the need for a thorough analysis of the conflict context. The article examines these approaches through the practical experience of traditional relief and development projects working on complex emergencies in the field of community development. The authors explore the nexus between conflict transformation on the one hand and participatory and empowerment approaches on the other. They critically assess the potential of common empowerment approaches within community building not only to avoid doing harm but also to make a substantive contribution to conflict transformation at the local level. The empirical base of the chapter lies within participatory research and in the experiences of bilateral and multilateral development cooperation in the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka. The authors explore some common participatory and empowerment approaches within the field of community development, as well as constraints, dilemmas and ambivalences for the facilitation of empowerment processes through development aid within complex emergencies. The authors conclude with future prospects on the potentials, constraints and ambivalence of empowerment approaches and recommend a more political role for development aid in complex emergencies as it engages in more inclusive community building through processes of empowerment and recognition



Development, Conflict Transformation, Community Building, Complex Emergencies, Sri Lanka