In the Central African Republic, communities often exercise considerable influence over armed actors. This usually happens below the radar and is often left unrecognised by humanitarian protection actors. Communities have influence over specific armed actors: often those that are more embedded in the community and decentralised, as they offer easier entry points for community negotiators. Communities also tend to have influence over specific types of day-to-day violence that affect them and use resources and assets to encourage the restraint of armed actors.
Too often external interventions, in particular from the government or humanitarian organisations, undermine and frustrate these community-level efforts. Efforts to prevent and reduce risks of violence should not ignore what communities are already achieving and should respect their agency in engaging armed actors. Instead, external actors should seek to complement these community owned approaches. Such interventions should be shaped by existing practice from peace actors, and focus on proximity and presence as well as be informed by a continuous analysis of conflict and community dynamics.
Evidence from the Central African Republic demonstrates the incredible potential of humanitarian mediation for reducing the risk of violence. Even where humanitarian mediation has had a less sustained impact, it still contributed to an overall reduction of violence and the strengthening of community capacity for mediation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
To be even more effective in violence reduction and prevention, humanitarian protection actors could learn from the experience of peace actors, the way they work with communities, and their conflict transformation approaches. This requires humanitarian organisations to think not only about their ability to be flexible and agile, but also their presence and proximity to communities in volatile and insecure situations. This approach should not seek to replace the role of peace actors, but for humanitarian and peace actors to complement their expertise by collaborating more closely together.
While there is collaboration in the Central African Republic between peace and humanitarian protection actors, there are opportunities for greater complementarity. This is particular the case with regard to working jointly on conflict analysis, conflict-sensitive programming and understanding community dynamics.