Over the last decade, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has targeted isolated communities in the border regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan. Because most communities in this region don’t have access to communications infrastructure that would allow them to send rapid messages to one another and the outside world, the activity of armed groups, including the LRA, has historically been severely underreported and communities were left without the tools and support needed to improve safety.

In 2009, the LRA carried out a series of attacks on remote communities in northeastern DRC in what became known as the Makombo Massacre.

To help address this issue, we developed our Early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker, which work together to improve the access local communities have to important security information and ensure that humanitarian and security actors, conservation experts, and local partner organizations are equipped with up-to-date information and analysis that can inform efforts to protect communities and deploy other essential services to the region. 

This week, our Crisis Tracker was named as one of five finalists in the innovation category of this year’s .Org Impact Awards. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to highlight the unique and powerful impact that this tool has on the lives of people across central Africa. The winner of the award will be announced on December 4, 2020 during Public Interest Registy’s 10 Days of .Org

To get a better picture of how the innovative way in which the Early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker work together, we spoke with three members of our team who provide a first-hand look on what the process looks like. 

We spoke with Aimé Seredouma, Protection Manager of the Early Warning System (CAR), Ferdinand Zangapayda, Network Manager of the Early Warning System (DRC), and Maya Moseley, Program Officer (IC Headquarters, Washington, DC). Keep reading for their unique insights into what makes the Early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker such powerful tools.

Ferdinand using HF Radio
Ferdinand, using the Early Warning Network to collect information on armed group activity in northeastern DRC.

How does the Crisis Tracker help Central African communities prevent violence? 

Maya: There is minimal reporting on armed group activity in the tri-border area of CAR, DRC, and South Sudan because communities in this remote area often don’t have access to communication infrastructure like telephone nextworks and high-speed internet. The Crisis Tracker reimagined conflict mapping in this region, utilizing information reported over Invisible Children’s community-based Early Warning Network which operates using a system of High Frequency radios operated by local volunteers. Thanks to this network, we’re able to provide up-to-date information on armed group activity in the region on a rolling basis. This enables local communities, protection actors, and humanitarians to make more informed, relevant decisions based on near real-time data.

What is the most difficult part of collecting and analyzing conflict data?

Aimé: The most difficult part of collecting and analyzing is when an incident has taken place in a community that is not connected to any sort of communication system. That’s why we are always working to expand the reach of the Early Warning Network. In a region where telecommunication and internet infrastructure doesn’t exist, we’ve developed this “low tech” system that makes it possible for communities to share information, which is fed into the “high tech” Crisis Tracker data mapping and analysis tool. 

HF Radio Installation
We install High Frequency Radios in remote Central African communities which connect them to each other and the Crisis Tracker.

What does a “conflict analysis” look like? What’s the process?

Ferdinand: It is a bit like the work of a doctor who listens to her patient’s complaints, orders examinations to identify the root of the illness, and prescribes medicines. We gather the data and work to understand what pieces of information are  and what information tells us something new about armed group activity in the area. When an incident of violence occurs, we work with data shared over the Early Warning Network and interview local community members to understand what happened and why.  We’re looking to identify the cause or reasons for violent activity, and provide that information to stakeholders. A comprehensive analysis is the first step towards conflict resolution.

We’re able to do all of this thanks to the early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker. These tools are essential to the process and create the unique ability we have to not only report armed group activity but also to share life-saving information and analysis with local communities and others who improve safety in this region. 

What role do local communities play in data collection and analysis through the Crisis Tracker?

Maya: Local communities are an integral part of the Crisis Tracker. Local volunteers operate the Early Warning Network radios and are on the front lines of collecting and sharing information on incidents and trends. Due to the limited telecom infrastructure, the majority of violent incidents in the region are not covered by the media or other sources. The Crisis Tracker relies on the communities and Early Warning Network to report information. Even more importantly, this method of data collection keeps the communities most affected by violence at the center of reporting information, identifying needs, and deploying solutions. 

Gathering Crisis tracker Data
Invisible Children staff speak directly with affected communities via HF radio to collect data that powers the Crisis Tracker.

Is there anything else you think people should know about the Early Warning System and the Crisis Tracker?

Ferdinand: The Early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker are simple yet effective tools for strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities. With the access to information these tools provide, communities no longer live as an island, an isolated strip of land in the middle of the waters, but are connected to each other and to the outside world. Union is strength, they say! 

In addition, when people have information, they are able to protect themselves and minimize the risk of an unexpected attack. This is the capital role of information, when it is properly collected and rapidly shared. By sharing information through the Early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker we are providing local communities with the tools to become more resilient and get the assistance they need from the outside world.

Maya: Agreed. I’ll also add that the Early Warning Network and Crisis tracker are essential tools for Invisible Children’s work to help armed group escapees return to their families. Through the Crisis Tracker, we maintain a secure internal database of reported civilian abductions. When someone escapes from an armed group like the LRA, the Invisible Children team uses the database and the Early Warning Network to identify escapees and reach out to family members. Given the expansive geographic area in which the LRA operates, many returnees escape hundreds of kilometers away from their communities of origin. So both of these tools are essential to helping them get home. 

With Crisis Tracker information and the Early Warning Network of radios, we can former LRA captives home to their families.

Your support allows people like Aimé, Ferdinand, and Maya to continue working alongside Central African communities to improve access to information and local safety. Donate to Invisible Children today to ensure that tools like the Early Warning Network and Crisis Tracker can continue to help make communities safer. 

Remember to tune into the 10 Days of .Org on weekdays between November 30 and December 11th to see if Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker is selected as the 2020 .Org Impact Innovation Award winner.

The Crisis Tracker and Early Warning Network are made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of Invisible Children and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.