Mediation is a tool, mechanism, or a system for conflict resolution. People can either go to court, go to war or find alternative ways to constructively end their disputes. Mediation works best in situations where there is a power disparity, parties want to maintain the relationship, reduce conflict costs, or where there is a high number of deaths on a battle field. As an earlier post has already defined mediation, let us focus on here on the when to mediate, under which circumstances and principles to mediate, and whether mediation is the right mechanism to address grievances between parties or not.
1. To mediate or not to mediate – that is the question
Mediation differs greatly from any other alternative dispute resolution method. It does not judge, arbiter, offer unilateral solutions, impose sanctions, criticize, expose, evaluate, decide, seek, speed up, fight, negotiate, resolve, nor does it manipulate, instigate, neutralize or exhonerate parties. Since we have learned that there are many definitions to mediation, I would like to emphasize that it helps the parties of finding an amicable and workable solution through the help of an accepted intermediary and it needs to be solution the parties can live with. It is very important to retain this popular definition of mediation because it is the parties who engage in mediation, not the mediator. It is their speed, level of comfort, and information base that allows for dangerous decision making processes. Mediation works alongside many different methods of intervention. In the African Union Handbook on Mediation, which I wrote while being part of a project led by a South African NGO, I shared 16 different ways of intervention, mediation being one of them. Mediation takes into account antecedent and current conditions and works towards outcomes that contribute to a larger peace process.
A peace process is the sum of all conflict resolution activities that lead to the transformation of a specific conflict. This means that, at times, a peace process is the result of a range of mediated agreements. Sometimes, it takes just a comprehensive peace agreement to be mediated to end the violence. And, cessation of hostilities, containing the violence, and moving towards constructive resolution of the conflict is when we mediate. Securing the right for individual to live, survive, be heard, and to alleviate any suffering is the right time to mediate. And we mediate at the earliest possible point, when security conditions are favorable, the parties have invited the mediator, and if the mediation is running according to the Do No Harm principles. If there are personal risks, risks to the parties, to the government, to the rebel groups, to the refugees, then there should be NO mediation, but rather another tool for intervention, such as good offices, disaster management, crisis management, sanctions, embargoes, etc. This may ripen the situation for any peace process to happen, but more importantly, the parties’ attitudes and acceptance of the mediation and the mediator are key for the initial brick to be laid. This, in return, means that mediation is not concerned with conflict resolution per se on the onset, although it can be used at a different level and with varying degrees of interaction and coordination to address and transform the root causes of a conflict.
2. Complementarity and convergence
Especially in political mediation settings, the added value of coordination, complementarity and convergence of competences and capacities does pose a great deal as to the success of a mediated process. Albeit still missing actually validated data linking process to outcomes, it can be said that the more convergence is taking place between various actors and different peacemaking structures, the more useful an intervention can become to stop the violence and to create the negotiation space required for warring factions and traumatized people to get together and to even think of forgiveness and reconciliation. A single actor or entity is not able to quell the violence in a conflict or to even deter a recourse to violence. It takes a range of stakeholders and actors, at various levels, from the international to the national level, from the country to the local level, and from the local level to the tribal and individual level to address and tackle conflict and post-conflict settings. Issues of inclusion, equity and equality have to be positively addressed in order for a meaningful conflict transformation process to take place. This includes the inclusion of women, minorities, the marginalized and the most vulnerable in a post-conflict society.