The CSS Blog

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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Mediation Perspectives: Early Warning/Early Response: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Zanzibar. Courtesy Steven leach

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.

Governments, researchers, and peacebuilders are constantly looking for ways to translate a renewed focus on and heightened awareness of grassroots knowledge into violence prevention and conflict transformation. At present, particular interest has returned to honing and implementing effective Early Warning/Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, but this quest raises a complex question: Should these mechanisms be community-based and originate at the grassroots level or should they be top-down and established as parts of larger structures? Advocates of the grassroots approach, for example, argue that it strengthens and supports the ability of local communities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict, while advocates of large centralized structures acknowledge the benefits of institutional support and broad mandates. The purpose of this blog is to compare these two approaches and ultimately identify the necessity for balance – both approaches have strengths and limitations.

Current trends in the development field suggest that a bottom-up approach, with its emphasis on local initiative and ownership, might be preferable to other options. After all, violence prevention and conflict transformation efforts at the local level can be highly contextual, which is a good thing. Such efforts can more confidently secure a community’s cooperation and support, and they typically identify more nuanced responses, including those that are sensitive to and incorporate traditional practices as well as involving key actors who are positioned to directly intervene in tense situations.

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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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Mediation Perspectives: Meditation for Mediation?

Walking Meditation in Plum Village, Photo © 2015 Sybille Berchtold

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.

Did you know that the US Army trains its soldiers in meditation techniques in order to make them more resilient  to provocation when they go into battle? While this fact may not be relevant to most mediators, it highlights how meditation can be used in unexpected ways. The inspiration for me to explore the relationship between meditation and mediation a little further came when I read Dan Harris’ bestseller “10% Happier”, where he does indeed mention the use of meditation techniques by the US Army. Besides being an entertaining read, Harris’ book also does a great job of exploring the use of meditation techniques in modern-day ways. In the following blog, I hope to build on Harris’ example and 1) briefly distinguish between meditation and mediation as disciplines, and 2) then highlight five meditation principles that can make mediators more effective. The principles center on active listening, dealing with emotions, distinguishing between process and results, practicing self-care, and embracing the right “mediation attitude”. » More

Proposal of a Dignity Scale for Sustainable Governance

Image: stokpic/Pixabay

This article was originally published by the Journal of Public Policy on 29 November, 2015.

In October 2005, two North African teenagers died of electrocution in one of the banlieues of Paris as they were running from the police through a dangerous power substation. An inquiry later established the teens were innocent, and the incident sparked some of the worst unrest seen in France over the past 40 years.  The riots brought about much debate over the tense relationship between immigrant youth and the state, the recurring problems of “fracture sociale,” and a perceived lack of social justice. Above all, the protests were an expression of acute feelings of alienation experienced by a large section of society. The banlieues have been a breeding ground for deep frustration, maintaining a distinctly poor and marginalized status for decades. Unemployment is common and 36% of the banlieu residents are estimated to live below the poverty line—three times the national average. » More

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