Thursday, October 31, 2013

Early in 2001, I decided to try to find a way I might contribute to the reduction of organized political violence. My first thought was to look for worthy research projects to fund. However, after funding such projects and immersing myself in the peace and security world, I observed that much was already known about the causes and cures of violence. Promoting the more effective use of what was already known seemed to merit more support than adding to the large amount of existing knowledge. Moreover, preventing violence can be much more cost-effective than trying to deal with situations in which violence has already erupted, to say nothing of the lives and suffering saved. So now I am initiating and funding activities aimed at the prevention of mass violence in fragile states, which is where most wars have occurred since WW II.

In 2003, after about two years of groping for something specific that I could do that might reduce the amount of armed conflict in the world, I convened a group of ten well-qualified people to consider what concrete actions I might take. The group recommended encouraging and helping local leaders to do what they thought would be most effective in preventing violence in their countries. That seemed to be much more likely to be effective than basing action on ideas developed by outsiders. Since then, I have been trying to follow that recommendation, but it hasn’t been easy.

In the first eight years, I succeeded in funding only three projects that focused in specific, current problems. The first was what we called a test case, a project in Guinea-Bissau, in 2005. Local leaders there ran campaigns to promote orderly national elections, which observers thought would trigger the kind of widespread violence which the country had experienced several years earlier. The elections were peaceful and an orderly change of government took place.

In 2006, I convened an international meeting to explore the possibility of launching an organized attempt to initiate other projects modeled after the success in Guinea-Bissau. By 2008, an organization named BEFORE was established, presumably for that purpose. It was headquarters at Swisspeace in Bern, Switzerland. A distinguished Board of Governors was formed. Guinea was selected as the first site for action.

A large group of local Guinean leaders was convened. They elected to focus on “structural reform” and commissioned studies of the parliamentary system, the judicial system, and security sector reform. Studies of each were done and presented to the government. I am not aware that they had any influence on events.

While BEFORE was active in Guinea, two situations which threatened to turn violent were brought to its attention. In each case, BEFORE convened local leaders to address the problem, and in each case, violence was averted.

BEFORE’s management and Board of governors were committed to the idea that more effective governments are required to establish sustainable peace. I, on the other hand, was skeptical about the ability of outsiders to accomplish the needed governmental reforms, preferring to fund the more modest objective of helping local leaders to address immediate threats to peace. Therefore, in the summer of 2011, I notified BEFORE that I would reduce my funding and would discontinue it entirely after 2012.

I am now funding the Purdue Peace Project (PPP). Its mission is narrowly defined as encouraging and assisting local leaders to address immediate situations that threaten to lead to political violence. PPP began operations in 2001. It initiated projects in which local leaders addressed disputes in two districts in Ghana, both of which were successfully resolved. It is now engaged in two projects in Liberia, two in Nigeria, and four more in Ghana.

Included in PPP’s mission are developing more understanding of how armed conflict can be prevented most cost-effectively and documenting what it does and what results it achieves. Graduate research assistants at Purdue are already assembling information on past work in West Africa. PPP will then prepare detailed reports for the academic community and more reader-friendly reports for practitioners and wider audiences. It will also maintain a repository of information about its experience to be available to other organizations interested in contributing to peace.

I am hopeful that, as PPP achieves more successes in assisting local leaders to address local problems, other organizations will begin to rely more on local judgment about how best to prevent violence in their countries. After all, local leaders understand local culture and relationships better than outsiders can ever expect to do.

Based on its experience in West Africa, PPP intends eventually to extend its peace-building activities to other regions.

You can find out more about PPP at

Nov. 1, 2013