Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

reflections on Carana

Aimé Saba, who recently participated in the Carana simulation as part of a World Bank/AUSAID course on fragility, sent us on the following reflections on the course and the simulation.


The World Bank’s course on Fragility and Conflict designed for officials in donor organisations was extremely useful. The use of the fictional country called “CARANA” was perhaps more useful for officials with limited analytical abilities of political and security issues common to conflict-affected countries.  Nearly half of my colleagues whom I took the course with had either theoretical knowledge of peace and conflict issues, through either post-graduate studies, or short courses delivered by academic institutions. The trainers – Gary Milante and Erik Johnson – were excellent. And it helps to have well experienced trainers with sufficient knowledge (I have benefited from numerous training opportunities in this field and I am now in good position to distinguish excellent trainers from average ones. Knowledge of facilitation techniques is a very good asset, but content is more important). Coming from a conflict-affected region (the Great Lakes region of Africa) and having done post-graduate peace and conflict studies, I had a number of critiques, some of which I am sharing here:

  1. Courses delivered for, or by donor organisations rarely touch on the key, critical issues which lie behind failures of external organisations in responding to conflicts. Sensitive issues of lack of coordination which explain ‘waste’ tend to be discussed in a way that blames only others. Bilateral donors tend to blame other multilateral and non-like minded bilateral donors. And local elites. Rarely themselves. They all acknowledge the need for coordination, but avoid a serious analysis of the cost of lack of coordination and harmonisation.
  2. There is no doubt that there is a minimum standard of abilities in conflict analysis required by donor officials. And it is true that courses such as the World Bank’s can serve the purpose of equipping officials with those skills. But increasingly, I doubt whether a junior official without a strong foundation in political history within a 2 day course, the crisis of post-coloniality (i.e. countries whose processes of state-building was either never finished, or started on wrong foundations (refer to Rene Dumont’s 1960s book: false start for Africa).
  3. The other issue I observed throughout the course (and common in most courses on conflicts) was the fascination with differences – whether religious, ethnic, racial –. It is true that local ruling elites are responsible for manipulating and magnifying those differences, but outsiders’ analyses continue to highlight these as if they are part of the root causes of most conflicts. They are not. In most conflict-affected countries, there are always good opinion leaders who transcend those ‘differences’ and have more objective views, different from those held by ‘tribal’ ruling elites with a seat at donors’ roundtables. The challenge is of course, how to make sure that these positive leaders become decision makers and influence dialogue processes between external and local actors.
  4. The other issue, related to the first one, is the disconnect between reality and rhetoric. In courses, one seems to have a good picture of what is not working and what needs to be done to respond to the situation of fragility. In board room meetings though, one realises quickly how certain innovative ideas such as ‘do no harm principles’, or ‘conflict-sensitive development’ or the ‘use of conflict and fragility lens’ etc, suddenly become labelled as “concepts belonging to academia with less practical use to policy makers”.

So, would I recommend the course to others? Absolutely yes. I participated in train-the trainer program and participated in adapting the training module to the Asia-Pacific context in which AusAID works. In general, and regardless of the regional specificity, I think that trainers should well prepare and devote sufficient discussion time on the session on ‘state-building and nation-building’. All sorts of things are said, but it is important to manage well the discussion, as it is in my opinion, a good foundation in explaining everything related to assisting developing countries faced with conflict and fragility. Once again, I would recommend it, but I would encourage attention be given to content of some modules.

Aimé Saba


Gary adds:

Thanks for the review, Aime.  Glad you enjoyed the course and the simulation!

To clarify, the AusAID experience is a little different than the Bank experience.  At the Bank we have four days and a lot more coursework interwoven with the simulation.  AusAID started with a two day course and my understanding is that it is now three days.  Since there is not a lot of fat in the Carana simulation, the whole course will have a higher Carana to Coursework ratio in AusAID than we have at the Bank.

I agree that the AusAID staff are highly trained and skilled, indeed, they’ve delivered some of the better Carana recovery plans I’ve seen (and have been the impetus for making the game harder in recent versions).   The audiences are a bit different between the Bank (economists and development specialists) and AusAID (whole of government including everyone ranging from development specialists to treasury to defense to police).

It is possible that the ethnic differences are overemphasized in the design of Carana, but it is, I think, because those ethnic differences are often underemphasized in the actual realization of the simulation.  All too often participants revert to their technocrat personae and concentrate on trying to “solve the puzzle” of Carana’s recovery, often at the expense of realism – the main characters of Carana have been embroiled in a difficult ethnic conflict for nearly a decade and should have serious trust issues.  We can’t force people to roleplay, but we can alert them to issues which might be present at the negotiating table, overtly or not.

With regards to (2) and (4) above – I totally agree – indeed, Carana is designed to be a sandbox where participants can only really scratch the surface and get exposed to how complicated and difficult working in these environments can be.

One response to “reflections on Carana

  1. Irene Storyteller 08/08/2012 at 11:39 pm

    This is a great review! i have heard there is supposed to be a 10 minute video available on this simulation. Can you share any more information about the multimedia resources available?


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