to begin with Conflict transformation: People are not a “problem”

the Executive Director of the Nordic center for conflict transformation Naoufal Abboud

Conflict transformation has several tools that can be divided according to the kind of conflicts: symmetric or asymmetric.

In symmetric conflicts, meaning conflicts between parties that have some kind of similarities or belong to the same socio-economic or cultural group or community, some tools can be effective such as mediation through the use of a third party who can facilitate a solution that takes into consideration the conflict of interests among the parties.

In the opposite, in asymmetric conflicts, what is at stake is not necessarily a conflict of interests among the conflicting parties, but rather the structure of power that in itself problematic. Tools such as mediation won’t be effective without a genuine dialogue and negotiation. Other tools that are important for both sort of conflicts include active listening, respectful communication and most importantly the predisposition and will of the parties to find a fair and just solution.

Conflict transformation aims to find mutually agreeable solution. The will of the parties in finding a solution is an essential element before engaging in any peace negotiation or mediation. If one of the parties Dias not agree to be included in the process of mutual engagement in construction conflict transformation means that the process of conflict transformation cannot go forward. Other ways of envisage able to avoid violent clash such as judicial processes. These processes remain however confrontational and based on win-loose approach while conflict transformation approaches are based on win-win solutions.

People are not conflict but parties in it. One party cannot be considered as “the conflict” and in fact, both parties must separate the people from their positions and interests. Constructive peace negotiation is the one that is done from the perspective of interests and not focusing on the people or one’s positions.

Positions are different than interests. For example one party may have the position that one country must not be independent. But their interests is in fact about benefiting from the natural resources of that given country which the party consider as a right based on previous agreement with representative of that country. In negotiation, the parties could focus on a mutually agreed solution on natural resources exploitation based on the previous legal agreement for a particular time frame in exchange to declaring the independence of that country.

A key goal of conflict transformation must be the sustainability of the peace solution. This means that parties in a conflict must agree on the negotiated solution which they consider as fair and the outcome of a free decision without direct or indirect pressure. Unfortunately, most of the ceasefire agreements were broken because mostly one of the parties did not fully agree and didn’t consider the agreement as fair. Sustainable peaceful solution in constructive conflict transformation means that all the parties find the proposed solution or agreement is beneficial to them.

At the international level and between the parties, there are 3 tracks for peace negotiations: track 1 which is at the intergovernmental level such as the UN, the EU, the AU…. not much at the LAS… There are direct or indirect negotiations under the auspices of key intergovernmental organization, mostly the UN. Indirect negotiation would require coordination commissions…etc. Track 2 is back channel negotiations mostly conducted under the UN (rarely other intergovernmental organizations). These back channel negotiations set the terrain for direct peace process under track 1. Track 3 is the grassroots, civil society or NGOs peacebuilding which is essential for sustained peace especially in countries that democratic processes score low and where that grassroots communities do not feel represented at the governmental level and thus do not consider being concerned by any agreed solution at the track 1 and 2 levels.

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