….And conflict sparks are?

Conflict spark is the word I use to refer to the event or events immediately before the outbreak of violent conflict that are seen as triggering it. They could include things such as an accusation of fraud during an election, the assassination of a key political figure, the unexplained death of a political activist, or the passing of a controversial piece of legislation.

A key thing to understand about conflict sparks is that they are not able to start a conflict on their own. They need kindling. And conflict risk-factors make that kindling. This is evident when you consider that potentially triggering events occur all the time without causing violent conflict. For example, in the 2013 Australian Federal election, during a re-count of West Australian senate votes, over 1000 votes were lost, and have never been found. The re-count had been called because the winning margin had only been 14 votes in the first place. Such an event could easily be considered a conflict spark, with far less controversial electoral problems resulting in violence in other places. Yet in WA, it didn’t, and neither was there any active attempt to try and avert violence. It was simply that this conflict spark occurred in a context that had few conflict risk-factors, meaning that there was the space for the natural, non-violent, resolution of this issue.

So what Proactive Peace work aims to do, is to focus on the risk-factors, not the sparks. It aims to support the kinds of peaceful conditions that allows the time and space needed for the natural, non-violent resolution of these triggering events. It aims to create the kind of environment where, if lightening strikes, it won’t be able to start a forest fire.

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