Mediation knowledge – The role of third parties in mediation processes

The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) has provided an interesting article and reminder about the effectiveness of third parties in mediated processes.
A very good and useful article to continue the debate on how to link process and outcome in such a way that we have an implementable agreement at the end of a long day.

Here is the link to the article:

A Culture of Intervention – towards a new debate

Since the end of the Cold War era, the international community has gained a bit more space to maneuver in the quite opaque realm of interventions in conflict environments. On the one hand, we find the most potent powers to assume and to exert military power in order to quench or to stop a local conflict (think Libya, think Somalia). But at the same time, realities and politics suggest that the international community does not just stop with ending a conflict but that there is much more external intervention into structures and contexts of societies to the extent that a recurrence to violence can be mitigated.

The issue is not the intervention into a conflict area itself – as a matter of protecting human rights, one needs to agree that intervening in order to stop and alleviate suffering is a sound proposition. Rather, the question should be to what extent does a culture of intervention transform the local societies being subjected to this intervention and what dynamics and complexities take place throughout the nation-building process, initiated by the intervention of the international community.

To this day, the impact of intervention in terms of the creation of democratic conditions to render peace sustainable remains unexplored and often times elusive. This is mainly due to the fact that research and practice is looking at two independent variables without a more systemic understanding of the linkages between the practice of a culture of intervention and the creation of a new society. But new societies change also the culture of the intervener and we need to get a better understanding of these dynamics if we want to move towards a new culture of intervention and reflect better on the responsibility to protect and international humanitarian law.

In the coming posts, I am opening the debate through a new series looking at understanding the dynamics taking place between the intervener and the intervened.

You comments and feedback are always welcome.



Sisyphos’s task in the DRC

While working on a mediation support task during the Kampala talks, it became quite evident, that the surprising-not-so-surprising victory of the FARDC over the M23 rebel movement would be a momentous event, not necessarily followed by a thorough process of addressing the root causes of the conflicts in the Eastern DRC. Whilst the strategy might have its benefits, a mix of military support, African solutions, and a wider regional framework for peace and support, it still requires the DRC government to prove that its governance structures in both the political and military sphere are able to address security issues while providing the impetus for economic development and thus peace and security to prevail. However, the initial honeymoon phase of change and transition has already turned into a deja vu exercise of weak institutions and re-arming of rebels (M23 factions are being re-supplied and forming again in the Eastern part of the DRC. ADF and other groups are re-positioning themselves, making the changes for the upcoming elections a daunting task.

Jasons Stearns’ article from December 2013 has a range of interesting points and hints that could form the basis of a renewed analysis and view of the DRC conflict.

Ending Congos Civil War | Foreign Affairs.

Negotiating the pitfalls of civil wars – the notion of strategic deceit

Whilst mediation is being hailed as viable tool and solution for overcoming violent conflict and bringing parties to the table (even in the most violent of conflicts), there has to be a moment where parties do get together to find alternate ways to solving their issues.

The Syrian case is a good case in point when it comes to understanding the notion of ripeness, readiness, windows of opportunity, and, moreover, the limits of mediation. The inherent dynamics of the conflicts at the micro-level and the geopolitical sphere are so intrinsically connected to the actors that any attempt to bring parties together will have to deal with some of the most contentious parameters in mediation. Actually, the entire conflict resolution community is witnessing the advent of a new type of intervention into violent civil wars, one that the community is not ready to address.

What eludes us peacemakers is the notion of strategic deceit – the tactic that one side may be willing to negotiate with the ultimate goal of gaining time and momentum among followers, factions and friends in order to sabotage the final agreement. Syria wouldn’t be the first case. Angola during the 1980’s witnessed the same negotiation dynamics. As long as strategic deceit is an option in the arsenal of the parties involved to the conflict, the notion of peace is mere utopia. To overcome strategic deceit, peacemakers need to work horizontally and vertically across many factors, communities and disciplines.

This article by Transconflict is a perfect resume of the challenges and opportunities in the Syria case.


The trajectory of the Geneva II negotiations – either towards convergence (resolution) or divergence (non-resolution) – will affect the outcome of one of the most violent and protracted conflicts in the Middle East.

Negotiating the Syrian crisis – a compromise remains far off | TransConflict.



New, More Transparent, Contracts To End Africa’s ‘Resource Curse’? | Economy Watch

New, More Transparent, Contracts To End Africa’s ‘Resource Curse’? | Economy Watch.

One of the paradoxes of Africa over the last century has been the continuing crushing poverty that has afflicted – and continues to afflict – so many citizens in so many resource-rich African countries. The barriers that prevent the cash raised by the extractive sectors in those countries from genuinely flowing into development projects, particularly in the localities around major extractive operations, have been many and various, but chief among them has been the cloak of secrecy that has surrounded deals between African governments and multinational mining companies. This secrecy has allowed the blatant theft of natural wealth to go unchallenged, to the huge benefit of kleptocratic rulers and the mining companies themselves. Read more by clicking on the hyperlinked title at the top of the page.

Quo Vadis Conflict Analysis – Part II

Conflict Analysis – Quo Vadis, Part II

If we can agree with the argument, that conflict analysis should be done with the conflicting parties in mind, including indirectly affected actors due to the contested space and situation (either political or territorial), then we can start looking into the themes and priorities which help to guide the exploration and understanding of the core issues. Let me emphasize that a descriptive approach is no less interventionist than a prescriptive angle, yet it reminds us at all times about the Do No Harm principles of any intervention. I would also like to emphasize that keeping the parties in mind goes beyond realpolitik as it speaks inherently to addressing and satisfying human rights. But I will come back to that notion of human rights and mediation at a later point in time in our discussion.

So what are those constitutive elements that make up our descriptive approach to conflict? Whatever we discuss here is not set in stone – some practitioners and learned scholars have acquired their own insights through years of experience, others are just beginning to understand the world of peacemaking and mediation. So, allow these elements to be guidelines rather than templates as they need to constantly adapt to the stages in which the conflict is. Understanding conflict stages are a key component of our understanding on when and whether to intervene, but let us not put the cart before the horse. Understanding is key.

Every current condition or situation like a conflict, dispute or an issue has a past, an antecedent. No conflict or dispute erupts out of nowhere. Some say that it is a part of human condition and evolution to engage and at times fight it out. Notwithstanding the ethical debate about whether conflict is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (click here for some links to interesting discussions about this topic), every conflict has a ‘past’. Think of the Arab Spring, apartheid South Africa, the racial divide in the US, the escalation of a dispute between you and your partner – each stems out of unanswered frustrations, needs, lack of communication, structural violence.

This is the history of the conflict, our first guiding element. In order to limit the delving into history, we must limit ourselves to the following filters (actually very appropriate since we discussed in part I that we need to adopt lenses to help us understand the situation, to see the mosaic from the parties’ perspective – if history is our lens, then let us use some filters to get better picture from the past): what was the situation like in the past that led to unanswered grievances? What were the past solutions brought to the fore to address and redress the situation? What and which resources (human and financial) have been used to propel and enable these solutions? So: past situation, past solution, past resource – somewhere along the lines of these three filters, something went wrong.

What are the future situations we would like to attain? Through the use of which resources (financially and capacity-wise) and which solutions do we apply? And what are the current parameters and conditions under which belligerent parties operate to reach a solution through available resources? How do we enlarge the pie so that the conflicting parties can broaden their perspectives?

Once again, conflict analysis has to take context, situation, disposition of the parties to both conflict and peace and the systemic environment into account. Those factors are vital in order to get parties interested in peace. As long as parties perceive that the benefits and costs of war outweigh the benefits and costs of peace, they will keep the conflict going. In this context, it is worth debating the notion of ripeness and it it is possible at all to ripen the context conducive to negotiation in such a way that parties must perceive that a continuation of war or warlike activities is not possible. It is easy to look for successfully mediated cases, however, the factors under which successful or failed agreements have been reached is quite anecdotal at this stage due to the lack of knowledge and data. Clear is that process is not necessarily connected to outcome.

Conflict analysis needs to sensitize the mediator and his/her team to the possible entry points for an agreement. Even if an agreement is reached, it is not necessarily implementable nor sustainable. Which takes us back to the initial stages and questions when doing conflict analysis: What are the positions and the interest of the parties? How can there be a satisfactory and peaceful outcome even if the position are diametrically opposed? How do we negotiate power sharing deals? Would a government really be open to negotiate a constitutional reform knowing it would be loosing its grip? And how do we tackle unconstitutional changes of government and secessionists movement? What is the intervention angle?

Looking ahead, it is quite clear that a new chapter in mediating international conflicts has to be written as the past 20 years have shown us on how to deal with and address inter- and intra-state armed conflicts. Yet, the impact of the Arab spring, a Russian powerhouse, parties willing to go the extra mile in a violent conflict, coup d’etat and secessionist movement do require a renewed approach to the topic and purpose of mediation. Some regional organizations have sought the solution by shifting the attention to preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention. But, what role does mediation play in conflict prevention since mediation can only apply when a third party is becoming involved?

We need to start looking closely at the upcoming missions to Mali, CAR, South Sudan, Myanmar, Georgia, Syria, and the Philippines. New insights can be gained on how mediation may have to absorb new variables, vectors, and strategies in order to be effective and in order to bring peace to the table.

Or is peace still an elusive concept?

Quo Vadis Conflict Analysis – Part I

Quo Vadis Conflict Analysis?

The first step to understand a situation, a dispute or a conflict is to conduct thorough conflict analysis. This exercise helps us to get a better picture or to apply a range of lenses in order to establish a composite of what is taking place.
As such, there are a range of conflict analysis tools, provided by international organizations, donors, expert institutions and for a broad range of conflicts.
Oftentimes, they have been designed with a specific audience in mind: typically, these are the users of an intervention structure or mechanism, such as UNDP, the Worldbank, UN FAO, SIDA, to name a few. These tools inform the users, to give them a better appreciation of the situation and to start designing interventions, to coordinate better and to keep the beneficiaries of the intervention involved and engaged. As such, it is an open ended activity since conflict is an ever evolving system, as the old adage says.

At this point is where I believe that we need to start having a better appreciation of the tool itself and how it gets translated into effective interventions and conflict resolution. With that being said, I would like to focus on two important factors: the role and function of the users and the purpose of doing analysis.

Since we know that users apply a specific understanding and approach to conflict, their interventions will be driven based on the results of their respective conflict analysis. However, it can also be said that users may have to re-evaluate their approach to conflict analysis to allow them to reframe their perspective and approach to finding a solution to a situation. This reasoning is less theoretical than a more pragmatic approach to the way on how misguided interventions have generally not paved the way to anything more than mere management of conflict and, to lesser extent, conflict resolution. My argument goes to a more descriptive approach and frame of conflict analysis than a prescriptive one. While policy responses are the normal daily business of interventionists, a descriptive angle would allow for more audience and conflict parties focused interventions, ie observing not diagnosing is the new proposed approach. The angle is to get a better grasp and appreciation of parties’ aspirations, expectations, positions and needs. Putting the party into the focus of the intervention allows for empowerment, equity and parity, equalizing power disparities and, actually, peace.

Let me attempt to develop the argument further in the next part.

to be continued…

Courts Can’t End Civil Wars

The conflict in South Sudan is only the latest instance where extreme violence has erupted after a breakdown of political order. But rather than prioritizing political reform, the international community tends to focus on criminalizing the perpetrators of violence….: Courts Can’t End Civil Wars – by Thabo Mbeki and Mahmood Mamdani

Mediation 101 / When to mediate

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.