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…