Conflict-Sensitive Programming

Desertification, Diamonds and the Search for National Identity

The Western part of the African continent is marked by the transition of various ecological zones from the great Sahara desert through the semi-arid and semi-humid savannah areas of the Sahel to the tropical rainforests along the Gulf of Guinea. The climatic conditions have determined the livelihoods of people in this region for times immemorial, and changes in the carefully adapted land-use systems might have devastating effects for certain groups. Desertification and climate change are indeed threatening the complex pattern of co-existence, leading to the competition over scarce resources among the heterogenous communities in many of the countries affected. At the same time, fluctuations in the prices of export products and the exploitation of valuable mineral resources are destabilizing economic and political conditions in certain countries.

"Do No Harm" in West Africa:
Between the Desert and the Tropical Coast


Mali has long been considered a model for diversity with many different groups living in harmony in spite of speaking their own languages, following their distinct cultures, practicing various religions and living on agriculture, pastoralism or fishery. Of course, the perfect image was never fully true, as some ethnic groups, particularly in the Northern areas, felt neglected by the central government. The explosion came in 2012 during a time of weakness of the national government following a military coup. With plenty of support from outside, terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaida hijacked the old Touareg dream of an independent state and established an "Islamic State" in Northern Mali, leading to heavy displacement and horrible atrocities. Although this period quickly ended through the intervention of the French army, tensions have remained high and several terror attacks have created a feeling of insecurity.

Having been active in Mali since the great drought in the 1980s, Aide de l'Èglise Norvégienne started reflecting on its role in light of this new situation. The organization, which had in particular operated in the Touareg areas, reviewed its programmes and put emphasis on integrating "Do No Harm" into their strategic planning. Starting with an introductory workshop, all staff were invited to communicate their relevant observations with a team of consultants, which were then discussed in a follow-up workshop, leading to recommendations for an adjustment of the country programme. A task force has been established to accompany the process further.

Guinea Bissau

While the small former Portuguese colony of Guinea Bissau has seen several coups-d-état, the general atmosphere is that of a peaceful country, somehow laid back from the hectic of the modern world. In spite of belonging to different ethnic groups, people are living in remarkable harmony. This is particularly true also for the co-existence of Christians and Muslims, who apparently have no problems with their neighbour's faith and with the respective rituals and occasions.

United Nations Volunteers selected the town of Gabú in the Eastern parts of the country for a pilot project on the application of "Do No Harm", inviting experienced consultants at the planning stage, for a monitoring visit at mid-term stage, and for a final evaluation. The project was supposed to highlight how waste management activities should be planned and implemented in ways that promote cooperation and avoid tensions within the local community. The evaluation report can be downloaded from UNDP's Evaluation Resource Centre:
download from UNDP


Liberia's history is remarkably different from the rest of the continent since the country had never been a colony of any European power. Instead, the Republic of Liberia had been established by former slaves from the United States of America, who had returned to Africa after their liberation on the other side of the Atlantic. While this history has made Liberia special, it has not protected the country from violence. On the contrary, there has always been a division between the descendants of those who had returned from America and the indigenous ethnic groups. From the 1980s, Liberia has gone through more than 20 years of instability and civil war, further instigated by criminal gangs trying to secure the exploitation of diamonds. In the meantime, peace has come and there have been clear signs of recovery - until the outbreak of Ebola has hit the poor country in recent years.

Many local organizations were introduced to "Do No Harm" as part of a programme implemented by the German Welthungerhilfe, which had adopted conflict-sensitive programming as part of their global policies. In the meantime, there is also a graduated "Do No Harm" trainer in Liberia, working for the United Methodist Church in Monrovia.


Ghana is widely considered as a beacon for positive developments in Africa. The country shares the variation of ecological zones and the heterogeneity of its population with the neighbouring countries but has avoided the related outbreaks of violence observed elsewhere. Consequently, most development organizations have not felt the need to apply conflict-sensitive approaches here.

Still, Ghana is part of a bigger region and so "Do No Harm" has arrived here, too. Transparency International organized a short workshop as part of a conference for its programme on "Poverty and Corruption in Africa", bringing together participants not only from Ghana but also from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Moçambique, Uganda, and Zambia.


As the most populous nation of the continent, Nigeria has a high degree of diversity in terms of landscapes, peoples, languages, religions and cultures. Keeping this heterogenous population together has never been an easy task for any government, and so each president has struggled to balance the demands from the various parts of the country. This has not always happened peacefully; in fact, the secession of Biafra in the 1960s has been the first example when hunger was used as a weapon and humanitarian organizations watched helplessly. After a period of military governments, Nigeria has returned to democracy in 1999 and has had several peaceful elections since. Nevertheless, violent confrontations are regularly making headlines, particularly in the North-East where the terror attacks of Boko Haram have seriously affected the daily lives of ordinary people.

Our network currently has three "Do No Harm" trainers in Nigeria