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Power, livelihoods and conflict: case studies in political economy analysis for humanitarian action

This research project examined the application of political economy analysis to humanitarian programming in complex environments. The study, conducted in 2001 and 2002, looked at four cases: Afghanistan, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and the Casamance in Senegal.

The case studies identify and test the analytical and methodological tools that humanitarian agencies can use to help them understand the environments in which they work. They also identify the key themes arising from political economy analysis that could have direct or indirect implications for humanitarian aid interventions.

While this study accepts that humanitarian agencies often face practical, methodological and institutional constraints on carrying out, and acting upon, analyses of the political and economic contexts in which they work, their operations need to be based on a sound knowledge and understanding of the social, political and economic environment. The tools to generate such analysis exist; the most significant challenge is an institutional one – how to integrate political economy analysis into the mainstream of agencies’ activities at all levels, and how to ensure that this analysis is linked effectively to operations at field level.

Much will depend on individual organisations’ objectives and motivations, and judgements about how to use political economy analysis appropriately will be agency- and context-specific. In some cases, it may encourage a broadening of agency activities, to encompass advocacy for instance. In others, it may lead agencies to restrict their activities, perhaps avoiding direct engagement with a particular faction, or suspending peace-building activities where it is not clear who the peace-builders really are.


Stephen Jackson, Martin Evans, Michael Bhatia, Jonathan Goodhand, Richard Fanthorpe