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Mediation Perspectives Blog: Applying Mediation and Negotiation Techniques at the Family Dinner

the fight scene

Courtesy of Josué Menjivar/ Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here

During 2016, our mediation perspectives blog covered a variety of topics. We wrote about avenues for Research on Mediation; we honoured deceased mediators; we considered the value of Early Warning/Early Response mechanisms; we looked at national dialogue in Colombia, and we even wrote about the role of meditation in mediation. As the new editor of the Mediation Perspectives blog series, I’d like to round up the year with a more every-day focused blog entry – which should be read with a healthy dose of humour. So, here is today’s question: How can basic mediation techniques help you to avoid fighting at your Christmas Family dinner? (For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, this question is of course applicable to a wide range of big family gatherings.)

The day is here, guests will arrive in a few hours, you’ve set up the table and the decorations, and now you want to sit down to watch a bit of TV and to relax while waiting. The smell of cooking from the kitchen is tempting, and why not pre-taste tonight’s dinner? You go to the kitchen where your wife is busy snipping and steering (Yes, “wife”; if we are honest, in most families it’s still the women who do the cooking, right?) and you help yourself to a spoonful of stew. You smile at your wife, say “just needs a bit of salt”, and walk back to the living room. Or so you thought, because she now starts screaming at you, calling you a lazy bum and threatens to throw the stew out of the window if “monsieur” doesn’t like it. You turn, look at her and say: “What? Throwing out the stew, are you crazy!”

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Mediation Perspectives: Seven Avenues for Research in International Mediation

Peter Wallensteen

Peter Wallensteen speaking at the 2016 International Conference on Mediation.

What are new avenues for research in international mediation? This question was discussed at the International Conference on Mediation, which took place in Basel, Switzerland, in June 2016. It was jointly organized by the Centre for Mediation in Africa (CMA) at the University of Pretoria, the Global South Unit for Mediation (GSUM) at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and swisspeace, which is an associated institute of the University of Basel.

The utility of the conference lay in its focus on two topics. First, trying to bridge the research–practice gap by having both mediation researchers and practitioners attend the event. Second, the conference sought to bridge the North-South gap by hosting researchers and practitioners from both the Global North and Global South, and thereby helping to rebalance the present research asymmetry that exists in the world.

By drawing on a variety of perspectives, the conference highlighted the following areas of research as being particularly relevant for the further development of the mediation field.

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Mediation Perspectives: Learning from Freedom Nyamubaya

Freedom Nyamubaya
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

“In the absence of vision
The earth starts to vomit skeletons long buried,
Once swallowed by time,
As politics become a means to amass wealth,
You can buy a vote at thirty pieces of silver …”

Excerpt from “In the Absence of Vision.”[1]

                                                   – Freedom Nyamubaya

Daniel Bowling and David Hoffman argue that mediators go through three stages in their training. They first learn skills and techniques, then they learn to
intellectually understand how mediation processes work, and finally they take the most challenging step – i.e., they develop “self-awareness, presence, authenticity, congruence, and integration,” which are qualities that “can be learned but . . . cannot be taught.” [2]

One way of learning such qualities is letting oneself be inspired by other people – mediators and non-mediators alike – who have such presence. The late Freedom Nyamubaya (1957–2015) was such a person, as I would now like to discuss in this partial commemoration and partial reflection on how to mediate well.

Freedom Nyamubaya was a freedom-fighter in Zimbabwe’s war of liberation. She joined the struggle at age fifteen and later advanced to the rank of Female Field Operation Commander. After the war she was active as a farmer, development worker and poet. In recent years she also became involved in peace and security issues as a Trustee for the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme. While she would not have called herself a mediator, she did work tirelessly to build bridges across conflict divides and was a powerful source of inspiration to many people within and outside of Zimbabwe.

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Give (Arab) Peace (Initiative) a Chance

Flag of Federal Republic of Israel-Palestine. Courtesy of Akiersch/wikimedia

This interview was originally published by The Atlantic Council on 12 May 2016.

In the following interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen, Bilal Y. Saab discusses the prospects of reviving the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative and much more.

Q: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu no longer recognizes a two-state solution; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is widely considered too weak politically; and the Israelis and Palestinians have a serious trust deficit. In this context, how can the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative be revived?

Saab: Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t think current regional and Palestinian conditions allow for a two-state solution, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize a two-state solution. As hardline as he is, even he knows that it’s the only way to bring an end to this conflict sustainably. For him, security comes first, which is understandable. The problem, however, is that what he has in mind is perfect security and zero risk, which is completely unrealistic. Even [the late Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon accepted political and security risks when he disengaged from Gaza [in 2005]. For a leader whose domestic position is so powerful, it boggles my mind, and that of many others both inside and outside Israel, how Bibi is so reluctant and so cautious on an issue more critical to the survival of Israel and its Jewish democracy than any other: peace with the Palestinians.

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Mediation Perspectives: Spoiler Alert – How Governments Can Undermine Peace Agreements

Pacman figure made with 9mm Parabellum cartridges about to eat the peace sign. Courtesy of Ragnar Jensen/flickr

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Most armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War have been civil wars. In contrast to wars between states, civil wars last longer – on average for seven to ten years – and usually end in some kind of settlement. Such settlements can result in mere ceasefires or, in more ideal cases, power-sharing agreements and genuine attempts to deal with the root causes of conflict. Yet one in two civil war settlements fail and violence reoccurs. Today’s blog provides one explanation for why this rate is so staggeringly high – the ‘spoiler’ role played by governments.

In most cases, peace deals in civil wars are signed when warring parties are weak, particularly the government. Military stalemate, exhaustion, and external pressure may encourage belligerents to settle at the negotiating table. Under such circumstances, a settlement is likely to be a compromise that still threatens some actors’ power, worldview and interests. As a result, they may try to undermine or ‘spoil’ the agreement in a way that allows them to reap the benefits they consider favorable, while not paying its designated price. The benefits may include retaining state power, gaining international or domestic recognition for committing to peace, continued exploitation of resources, and maintaining patronage networks, among many others.

Given these benefits, the underlying reasons why peace deals aren’t complied with are thus plentiful. Yet the media, as well as academia and its ‘spoiler theory’, all too often focus on the violent breaches of a peace and attribute blame to the rebel group. But since being a ‘spoiler’ works both ways, we’re left with a glaring question: How do governments impede or violate peace agreements and what non-violent means do they employ towards that end?

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