Conflict-Sensitive Programming

Refugees, Ethnicity and the Struggle for Land

The Horn of Africa is home to two of the longest humanitarian crises, leaving whole generations without opportunities for personal development. The cycles of violence in Somalia and in South Sudan seem to be never-ending and have caused a continuous influx of refugees into the neighbouring countries. These countries, however, are themselves marked by internal tensions around issues of ethnicity or religious orientation and are furthermore facing pressures over access to land.

"Do No Harm" in the Horn of Africa:
Responding to Humanitarian Disasters


Ethiopia has been affected by the regular occurence of famine, attracting huge relief operations particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. These operations have frequently taken place in a situation of violent conflict, finally leading to the separation of Eritrea and to a political turn-over in Addis Ababa. While the situation appears to be more stable now, the country still faces the challenge of uniting dozens of different ethnic groups into one nation and to reconcile various Christian denominations and a strong Muslim minority.

As part of the "Local Capacities for Peace Project in the Horn of Africa", all partner organizations of the German Church Development Service were introduced to the "Do No Harm" approach. This also included the participation of 10 Ethiopians in the Trainings of Trainers conducted in 2001 and 2002. For several years, there was an active network of trainers coordinated by the Christian Relief and Development Association, trying to disseminate conflict-sensitive programming within their own organizations and among other local institutions and translating some material into Amharic. The experience with this network has been documented in a reflective case study by CDA and can be downloaded from the "material" pages on this website.
go to: Material / Reports

In 2015, two more trainers have joined this group of trainers, both being German nationals working for the Norwegian Mission Society and for GIZ, respectively. Initial workshops have been conducted as a result, involving staff members of the Development and Social Services Commission of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in one case and government officials of the Oromiya Security and Administration Bureau in the other. Due to their efforts, the "Do No Harm" terminology has also been translated into Amharic. In 2017, two more workshops have been arranged in the State of Gambela.

In the meantime, three trainers have moved to Addis Ababa from other countries, and another Ethiopian has attended a Training of Trainers in 2018, allowing for joint efforts to promote conflict sensitivity further.

For more information, see the country page "Ethiopia" (coming soon)


Somalia has been at the very centre of the development of the "Do No Harm" approach, providing even two of the original case studies. In fact, the experience of humanitarian organizations after the collapse of the state in Somalia in the early 1990s has been one of the triggers for the global reflections on how to operate in more conflict-sensitive ways. In the meantime, the country has disintegrated into several political entities, with de-facto independent Somaliland in the North-West, the quasi-autonomous region of Puntland in the North-East, and the remaining South-Central region being divided into areas under control of the government in Mogadishu and various opposition groups. For more than two decades, the country has practically been without functioning government structures where basic services like health and education have been provided by international agencies.

During the time of the "Local Capacities for Peace Project in the Horn of Africa" (which did not include Somalia), first workshops had been conducted for the Irish NGO Concern Worldwide in Mogadishu and for the UN-coordinated network Somalia Aid Coordination Body in Nairobi. These had been, however, isolated events resulting from the interest generated among partner organizations in South Sudan who also operated in Somalia.

More serious efforts to incorporate "Do No Harm" into its country programme were done by the Swedish NGO Diakonia, which arranged trainings for its own staff in Nairobi and for its partners in Garoowe. These trainings were complemented by the documentation of practical observations in the field through former workshop participants and by a follow-up visit of the workshop facilitators to all partner organizations on the ground. Eventually, 7 Diakonia and partner staff were sent to a Training of Trainers with the objective of further disseminating the knowledge and incorporating it into future project planning. Among others, this has resulted in the translation of the "Do No Harm" terminology into Somali.

As part of the evaluation of its "Strategic Partnership Initiative for the Recovery and Development of Education in Somalia" Unicef had commissioned a conflict sensitivity appraisal, which looked at the degree to which the programme had considered conflict sensitivity in planning and programme implementation. The study confirmed that the integration of conflict-sensitive considerations into project cycle management must be a conscious process that would require not only an investment in form of provision of knowledge and information about the respective approaches, but also a continuous monitoring of the environment, a constant questioning of the appropriateness of decisions, exchange of experience about observations made and lessons learnt, networking among practitioners as well as opportunities for adjustments in implementation.

Several other organizations have shown renewed commitment to conflict-sensitive programming in Somalia by selecting staff as focal persons to be sent to a Training of Trainers. This has first included the British charity CARE and Diakonie Emergency Aid from Germany, both operating in Somaliland. As a result of their training, both organizations have conducted workshops on the ground and even developed additional material adjusted to the local context. In a similar way, the American consultancy organization Development Alternatives Inc. has sent three staff members to a Training of Trainers with the aim of assuring conflict-sensitive decision making in its "Transitional Initiatives for Stabilization", which later resulted in all staff being exposed to "Do No Harm". More recently, the pool of local trainers has grown by four more ToT graduates from two Norwegian organizations, Norwegian Church Aid and Dialog Forening.

Staff members from all three parts of Somalia have participated in a series of three workshops organized by the Danish Refugee Council. The three workshops were held in Mogadishu, in Hargeisa and in Garoowe in order to to impart the basic knowledge about the "Do No Harm" framework, with an understanding of how aid or development interventions may negatively or positively affect conflict settings, and with some ideas of how to use this experience in future project planning. It is expected that this knowledge will eventually improve the programmes of DRC in Somalia through a stronger consideration for the dynamics of the conflict environment in which activities are to be implemented.

Political divisions within the country and the fact that many organizations are administering their operations from neighbouring Kenya have made it difficult to create a functioning network of "Do No Harm" trainers for Somalia. The active trainers are split between Hargeisa, Garoowe, Gaalkacyo, Mogadishu, Gedo and Nairobi with limited opportunities of interaction. Nevertheless, good progress has been made in terms of translation and adaptation of material. Furthermore, we have succeeded in bringing together many of the organizations mentioned above in two consultative meetings in Nairobi.

For more information, see the country page "Somalia" (coming soon)


Kenya had long been perceived as a safe haven in a region marked by civil war and violence. International organizations operating in South Sudan, in Somalia, and even as far as Rwanda, were planning their interventions in Nairobi and contributed to the development of a financial and logistical hub for all East Africa. It seemed that even local partners from the countries mentioned above needed a presence in Kenya to have access to funding. Peaceful Kenya? Agencies working in the rural areas or in the informal settlements of the capital had long reported about tensions rising but, still, it came as a surprise to much of the world when these tensions erupted in the post-electoral violence of 2007 / 2008. Since then, the awareness for ethnic, social, political and religious tensions has increased and the need for conflict sensitivity has become obvious.

Since the "Local Capacities for Peace Project in the Horn of Africa" had its offices in Nairobi, it also engaged with local organizations in Kenya. Partners in this initial stage were the training institution CORAT Africa, various development institutions attached to the Anglican Church of Kenya (IDCCS in Kisumu, WRCCS in Kakamega, ELRECO in Eldoret, NRIDCCS in Nakuru, MKCCS in Nyeri) and the consultancy firm STIPA. All of these institutions had at least one of their staff trained in the Training of Trainers in 2001 and 2002, creating a vibrant network of trainers within Kenya.

As a result of the existing cooperation between STIPA and the Anglican Church of Kenya, conflict sensitivity was integrated into participatory planning approaches. "Participatory Integrated Community Development" became a new way of encouraging local communities to take development into their own hands and to cooperate with their neighbours at the same time. Two pilot projects in Mount Elgon and in Songhor yielded valuable experience about the use of "Do No Harm" among local organizations.

From the perspective of the Northern parts of Kenya, the modern highrises in Nairobi are a world apart. Far beyond the end of the tarmac roads and even outside the mobile telecommunication networks, pastoralist activities continue as ever before, including the raiding of cattle from neighbouring communities and the competition over the sparse natural resources. In such an environment of inter-ethnic conflict, VSF Germany applied the "Do No Harm" concept in its "Improved Community Response to Drought Project" in Ileret. The project showed how pastoralist communities which had been in conflict for generations could be brought together for activities of common interest and how even the process of conflict-sensitive planning helped reduce mutual mistrust and address deeply-held prejudices. The experience with this project has been documented and can be downloaded from the "material" pages on this website.
go to: Material / Best Practices

In a sort of follow-up to the project in Ileret, VSF tried to expand the work with pastoralist communities and brought another actor on board, the Kenya Wildlife Services. Since the search for pastures had often led cattle and goat herders into the Sibiloi National Park, it became necessary not only to reduce tensions among the various pastoralist groups but to give nature conservation a voice, too. Surprisingly, wildlife people and pastoralists discovered many Connectors and found meaningful ways of cooperation by applying the "Do No Harm" concept.

No Training of Trainers without Kenyans! Not only that the most experienced Kenyan "Do No Harm" trainers have long been part of the facilitation team for these trainings, one or two newcomers join the pool of existing trainers every year. During recent years, this has included participants from Diakonie Emergency Aid, FIDA International, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Finn Church Aid, Free Pentecostal Fellowship and Norwegian Church Aid. The network of trainers tries to keep up regular meetings in order to boost cooperation and to influence public opinion.

Application of conflict sensitivity has become more and more obligatory for many international donors, and so the planned "Lake Nakuru Biodiversity Conservation Project" has called for experts to help integrate the "Do No Harm" concept right from the start. The project aims at demonstrating how a national park can be maintained just next to an urban agglomeration. During the current feasibility study, which has been commissioned by the Rift Valley Water Services Board and by Kenya Wildlife Services, water engineers, sanitation experts and wildlife consultants are discussing with us "Do No Harm" trainers about the various options for making Nakuru a greener and healthier place without causing tensions.

For more information, see the country page "Kenya" (coming soon)


Uganda has gone through turbulent times since independence, with several military regimes producing horrible news around the world. Even though the political situation has become much more stable since the 1980s, some tensions have continued to affect social and economic development, particularly the division between North and South Uganda, which has led to a long civil war with many innocent victims. The "Lord's Resistance Army", which has its roots in Northern Uganda, has become known for abductions and forceful recruitment of child soldiers. At the same time, Uganda has seen the influx of huge numbers of refugees from South Sudan and Eastern Congo. In addition, Uganda is witnessing strong competition over land resources, which have recently been aggravated by the interests of oil exploration companies.

In the initial years of the "Local Capacities for Peace Project in the Horn of Africa", whose mandate had not included this country, occasional planning and training events had already involved some organizations operating in Uganda. Particularly involved was Action Africa Help with its programmes for refugees from South Sudan and with its peace-building efforts in the areas along the Northern border. As part of the regional network of Anglican Churches, the Church of Uganda had also come into contact with the "Do No Harm" approach and even sent one staff member to a Training of Trainers together with a colleague from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda.

In the meantime, many orientation workshops have been held for various organizations, most notably for Lutheran World Federation in Nairobi, for Catholic Relief Services in Gulu, for Caritas Switzerland in Mbarara, and for Africa Humanitarian Action in Fort Portal. In all cases, the relevance of "Do No Harm" became evident, not only for the work with refugees and displaced communities in the North, but also to address local tensions in other parts of the country.

The German Development Service (DED) has seen a particular need for conflict sensitivity in its support for local administrations in Uganda and organized a specific Training of Trainers for their government partners in Gulu. This was later complemented by sending staff of NGO partners to another ToT, so that there are now a number of trainers in various parts of Northern Uganda.

Recent years saw the number of skilled "Do No Harm" trainers in Uganda steadily rise with participants from the Archdiocese of Kampala, from CARE International, from Diakonia Sweden, from Caritas Uganda, from the Pentecostal Churches of Uganda and from Oxfam. The fact that we have discovered the Ankrah Foundation in Mukono as a most suitable venue for our Trainings of Trainers has surely helped in building up a sizable pool of "Do No Harm"ers in Uganda. As the ToT graduates are always applying their new skills at the end of their training, a number of local organizations have hosted workshops for us in the meantime, offering an opportunity to their staff to get exposed to conflict sensitivity.

For several years now, Uganda has an established network of "Do No Harm" trainers who are meeting at least once a year to discuss new developments.

For more information, see the country page "Uganda" (coming soon)

South Sudan

South Sudan has been marked by violent conflict for the better parts of the sixty years since the independence of Sudan from British administration. Peace seemed to have come in 2005 after more than twenty years of uninterrupted fighting against the government in Khartoum, when first a comprehensive peace agreement was signed and then a referendum was held, leading to the birth of a new nation. Unfortunately, local people did not enjoy peace for a long time. Currently, South Sudan is in the news again for corruption, human rights abuses and internal wars. At the same time, massive relief and development operations are under way, for which conflict sensitivity should be a mandatory requirement.

When the "Local Capacities for Peace Project in the Horn of Africa" had been established, South Sudan had still been at war against the government in Khartoum. The dire needs of the affected population had resulted in the biggest relief operation at that time, and many organizations asked themselves how their continuous support could also have an influence on peace. It was this situation which had made the German Church Development Service become part of the global efforts to promote conflict-sensitive programming. During the next years, all partners were exposed to the "Do No Harm" approach and several of their staff members attended a Training of Trainers.

Among these organizations, Action Africa Help deserves special praise for systematically integrating "Do No Harm" into its project planning methodologies. Consequently, the potential impact of project activities on the tensions found in the initial context analyses was taken into consideration right from the planning stage. Masterplans for agricultural development and for the promotion of civil society were developed in that way, and even the strategic planning of the organization included elements of conflict sensitivity.

Internal conflicts had shaken South Sudan even before independence. While the fight against the common enemy united the different parties, violence was also frequently erupting among different ethnic and political groups within the South. The New Sudan Council of Churches was the main actor pushing for the cessation of hostilities and finally achieving the famous "Wunlit People-to-People Peace Accord". This agreement went further than peace-building by launching a number of development projects as a reward for peaceful cooperation, mainly implemented by Church Ecumenical Action in Sudan (CEAS). Staff members of both agencies underwent training in "Do No Harm" in order to improve their effectiveness.

Across is another organization which tried to apply "Do No Harm" in practice within its operations in South Sudan. This included projects aiming at the development of agricultural markets around Rumbek and the promotion of education through a teachers' training college in Yei.

After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a number of new actors entered South Sudan and tried to build a foundation for functioning state institutions and economic development. Some of these organizations included extensive training components into their programmes, which very often took conflict sensitivity into consideration, too. Accordingly, workshops were conducted for organizations like Catholic Relief Services in Ikotos, the German Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Juba and in Wau, Norwegian Church Aid in Juba, International Aid Services in Akuem, VSF Germany in Nairobi, and the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation in Kampala.

In the meantime, more than twenty individuals from South Sudan have attended a Training of Trainers. Due to the big distances and the poor infrastructure, however, it has proved to be extremely difficult to keep contact to all these "Do No Harm" trainers and to get them together for a regular exchange of experience. Efforts are on-going, nevertheless.

For more information, see the country page "South Sudan" (coming soon)


Sudan has faced international isolation since the "Salvation Revolution" in 1989, which had established a military regime based on the Islamic Shari'a law. Political differences have made development cooperation difficult, so that many agencies have limited themselves to pure relief operations. In view of the wars in South Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains and in Darfur, many organizations found themselves in trouble with the government in Khartoum since their reports were perceived as being biased.

The Northern parts of Sudan have been rather neglected in terms of "Do No Harm", although one of our oldest trainers has her roots in that country. Our long cooperation with many church organizations and the lack of Arabic-speaking facilitators have not been very helpful in disseminating conflict-sensitive approaches in (North) Sudan but this is starting to improve. In recent years we had some Sudanese participants in our Training of Trainers, working for Search for Common Ground, for the Nuba Women for Education and Development Association and for the government-owned Humanitarian Aid Commission. This will also help us to translate more material into Arabic.

Some organizations working in the Northern parts of Sudan have conducted workshops for their staff in the belief that conflict sensitivity must be strongly considered in this country. These have included the German Development Service (DED) and Welthungerhilfe as well as Norwegian Church Aid and the German Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

Following the outbreak of war in Darfur, internal displacement and refugee movements into neighbouring Chad caught the attention of the world. Like in South Sudan, massive relief operations were started in order to stop the suffering of the civilian population and to secure that basic needs are met. Various church organizations in Europe started a joint programme under the title "ACT / Caritas Humanitarian Programme in Darfur", coordinated by Norwegian Church Aid. Based on the mandates of the contributing organizations, this programme was meant to be implemented according to conflict sensitivity standards. How conflict-sensitive has it been? We took much effort to find out from observations on the ground, from focus-group discussions and from interviews at field level. The assessment confirmed how important it is to keep "Do No Harm" in mind in all aspects of programme implementation, from capacity-building to community participation, from coordination to codes of conduct, from staffing procedures to procurement regulations.

Preparations for a new programme targeting the living conditions of refugees and host communities in Eastern Sudan have included a peace and conflict assessment of the situation in Gedaref and Kassala States. The Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) intends to create better opportunities for the many refugees who have come to Sudan from Ethiopia and Eritrea, while at the same time also improving the economy of the local Sudanese population and contribute to peaceful co-existence. The assessment has looked at the relationship between host population and refugees and also at internal ethnic, social and political tensions among the Sudanese themselves.

For more information, see the country page "Sudan" (coming soon)