#GrassrootsVirtuality: Three Stones International and NATO working to better prevent and predict instability
November 2018

In 2000, 30 major conflicts, including 10 of the 23 civil wars taking place worldwide, were located in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). In 2014 there were more than 4,500 clashes between armed groups and more than 4,000 instances of armed violence against civilians. Armed conflict stripped African economies of an estimated $18 billion per year between 1990 and 2005, or approximately the equivalent amount of international aid from major donors in the same time period.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is one of the most violent regions in the world in terms of sustaining the most wartime deaths per decade, and these conflicts and their trajectories, trends, and impacts are critical to understand and mitigate in order to ensure economic growth, inclusive development and regional stability… The fundamental nature of conflict has changed in the region towards increasingly intrastate-armed violence and the dividing line between armed conflict, organized crime and ideological extremist violence has become blurred. Unpacking the changing nature of violent conflict in the region is critical to understanding effective mechanisms to improve livelihoods and diminish the negative impacts of conflict on people and resources in SSA.
Text box: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pa00mj39.pdf

Fundamentally, conflict revolves around power: power over resources, power over people, power over decision-making; power over wealth. As such, it is frequently those in power – government officials, drug lords, warlords – that might have the greatest incentive to promote conflict or at least maintain the status quo in order to preserve and maintain their vested interests and power.

Given the constantly changing nature of conflict in SSA, civil society leaders are often those most connected to communities affected by violent extremism, conflict, and strife. In many cases, what begins as community-level conflict – sometimes stoked by national level figures – can evolve into a sub-national, national or regional conflagration. Understanding local drivers of conflict and grievance, critical stakeholders and the means/methods of acting out violence are not only essential elements in attempting to prevent conflict, but also in seeking to mitigate its impacts.

Civil society serves a very important role acting as a countervailing force, not only in providing a more nuanced accurate picture of on-going conflict but also identifying and surfacing tensions that have yet to be realized by international relief and development agencies. The majority of conflicts cannot be resolved by one single player. Thus, engaging with as many civil society organizations (CSO) as possible – collecting and synthesizing their views, experiences, networks, and recommendations – is critical for developing effective, holistic approaches to stabilization and conflict management efforts. This level of engagement may also be utilized in predicting the next potential crisis and addressing it before it becomes a protracted conflict.

To address these considerations in SSA, in September 2017, the NATO Southern Hub was formally established as an information sharing organization that connects allies, partners and subject matter experts to better understand and overcome challenges, as well as look for opportunities in NATO’s South (Middle East, North Africa, Sahel, and Sub-Saharan Africa). The Hub aims to contribute to coordination, synchronization, and de-confliction of NATO activities across the South, while optimizing resources and maximizing effectiveness.

The Hub and Three Stones International began collaborating in 2017. As an international research, management and development firm, Three Stones engages with civil society– collecting and synthesizing their views, experiences, networks, and recommendations to help better predict and prevent instability.

To assist the Hub, Three Stones designed and deployed a cost-effective approach bringing voices from community level leaders and organization to the Hub and providing rapid synthesis and analysis of key themes emerging from the varied voices. Three Stones’ goal is to support the Hub’s ability to build relationships as well as coordinate and synchronize efforts across the Global South; which will lead to improved understanding of drivers of conflict and instability. By offering this in a cost-effective online convening platform it provides the Hub with the ability to access and gain perspectives of civil society and allowing additional voices and narratives from Africa, which may not be accessible through normal channels, to be heard.

Through an inaugural event held in April we explored the overarching theme: “Who funds instability in Africa.” Utilizing an online platform, community and civil society leaders from 12 African and 5 Western countries participated. Several NGOs and local and regional experts contributed too. This event demonstrated the feasibility and appetite for such a platform and #GrassrootsVirtuality was launched.

#GrassrootsVirtuality enables the Hub to consult and gain the perspectives from local leaders and global experts. It creates a unique way to interact and hear from CSO and leaders. Ideas can be exchanged to better understand drivers of instability, primarily through a local lens.

Bringing together local voices, context and perspectives that are not typically accessible to NATO, Three Stones hopes to enable the Hub to leverage these voices, foster relationships and create allies with youth, women’s groups, grassroots and religious leaders, and CSOs. These relationship help the Hub provide better advice to NATO while building relationships that can ultimately lead to peace and stability—NATO Soft Power.

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