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Security Conflict Diplomacy CSS Blog

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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Humanitarian Issues CSS Blog

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”.

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Conflict Gender CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: Dealing with the Problem of Patriarchy

Hanaa El Degham’s graffiti of women queuing for cooking-gas canisters instead of standing in the voting line on the day of the post revolution parliamentary elections. Image: Mia Gröndahl (© 2013).

This article is based on a collection of insights published in “Gender in Mediation: An Exercise Handbook for Trainers”, produced by the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich in November 2015.

How can conflicts be resolved without one side imposing their view of what is right and good on the other side? This is at the heart of mediation as a method to deal with conflict, and also at the heart of a transformative understanding of gender equality. Both approaches question paternalistic and patriarchic ways of resolving conflict, where a leader decides what is right for others without listening to their views. Rather than seeing gender equality as a question of political correctness and normative necessity, we should explore it as a fundamental shift in how we shape societies and deal with conflict: questioning patriarchy and fostering cooperative decision-making processes.

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Conflict Diplomacy CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: Building Consensus on Security Sector Transformation in Zimbabwe

Traditional leaders in Zimbabwe preparing a mediation role play exercise. Image: Valerie Sticher/Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zürich.

This article was originally published in the Bulletin on Swiss Security Policy, a publication of the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich, on 27 October, 2015.

After years of estrangement, Zimbabwe and the West have slowly started to re-engage with each other. The popular approval of a new constitution in 2013 – which introduced significant civil rights – and the subsequent peaceful elections provided the impetus for the thawing of relations. This included the easing of European Union (EU) restrictive measures imposed in 2002 following Zimbabwe’s controversial land reforms.

But that’s not to say that the country’s myriad challenges have been resolved once and for all. The unresolved succession of 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, continues to paralyze the country’s politics and economy. High levels of unemployment and empty state coffers make economic survival most Zimbabweans’ main concern. Finally, there’s a growing need to undertake a series of far-reaching institutional reforms, particularly when it comes to Zimbabwe’s security sector. But how do you tackle such an undertaking in a country where there is a lack of political will and capacity for such sensitive reforms?

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Religion Conflict CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: What Monsters Can Teach us about Religion and Conflict

A cute Monster overlooking a crowd of people
Image: dylan Snow/flickr

One of my favorite group exercises in mediation training is the monster game. It begins with the participants forming a big circle and designating someone to be the first monster. The monster then speaks the name of one participant in the circle and slowly approaches him/her making a dangerous looking monster face and terrible monster-like noises. The rules are simple: when you are attacked, you are not allowed to move until you’ve said the name of another participant in the circle. You need to do so before the monster physically touches you. If you can’t give a name in time, or you start moving before you have given a new name, you are “dead” and have to leave the circle. The “survivor” then becomes the new monster and the game continues.

While the aim of the game is to stay alive, many participants don’t survive the first few times they get attacked. That’s because when we get scared, our brains don’t function the way they usually do and raw survival instincts take over. Our first reaction is to escape from the threat as fast as we can. That’s also why we regularly use the monster game in mediation training – complex mediation processes may take unexpected turns. For instance, participants might experience emotions such as insecurity and doubt, or even outright fear and panic. These emotions are neither good nor bad, but merely provide us with information that there is a (perceived) monster in the room. However, our immediate and instinctual reaction may set us back in the sensitive mediation processes we are involved in – just as they may inhibit us from producing the name of another participant in the monster game.