Internationally-directed nation building combines great rhetorical promise with very mixed practical outcomes. In spite of considerable optimism on the part of international actors, and in spite of often substantial desire for a functioning government among targeted populations, it has not clearly succeeded in building states or nations. The question is why? While many authors look to the weaknesses of international efforts for explanation, the answers may lie instead in the difficult process of transition itself. Although transforming political and social interactions is often necessary in post-conflict contexts, doing so can intensify vulnerabilities and uncertainties that prevent reforming governments from establishing legitimacy. That can in turn enable the fragmentation of political authority and become a sort of worst case scenario for nation building. International actors have shown no ability to counteract fragmentation and in some cases may unwittingly aid its entrenchment. One reason for this is that nation building strategies seldom take account of the hazards of transition, particularly the ways in which international preferences and domestic needs may clash. This article examines nation building within the context of political transition to assess how and when international efforts serve to unite or splinter state authority. It argues that the capacity to improve outcomes rests in better understanding the dynamics of transition, particularly the group vulnerabilities that reform exacerbates. Where nation building cannot counteract fragmentation it cannot succeed, but will serve rather to create contexts where political violence is both easier and more likely.
More and more international donors finance capacity-building by training for conflict transformation. More and more agencies offer courses. More people in conflict situations request training as well, at least in my experience. Capacity-building agencies even commission expert studies on the need for training in conflict transformation. The guiding questions for this article are therefore, “How to make training in conflict transformation more efficient and more effective” and “How to make sure that training for conflict transformation has an impact on conflict transformation”. In the following section of the article, I clarify my own training “philosophy”. The main body of the article is dedicated to distilling conclusions, “lessons learned” if you wish, from my experience as a trainer for conflict management, crisis prevention and stress management, mainly in the context of development cooperation with a strong regional focus on Latin America. I look, in turn, at analysis and strategy development that need to accompany training events, at participants’ characteristics and their effects on training, at trainers’ profiles, at contents and formats, at the process in which trainings need to be embedded, and at possible negative impacts. I end each of the subsections dealing with these issues by presenting a very short list of questions that a trainer (or trainee) should ask him-/herself when faced with decisions about designing (or signing up for) training for conflict transformation.