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Mediating the Impossible?

My worlds collided in the 2018 Tutu Foundation and Regent’s University World Peace Summit.

Bringing together activists, mediators, politicians, campaigners, researchers and journalists to inspire and aid us in ‘Mediating the Impossible’, the improbably inspiring mix of speakers and panellists including South African President FW De Clerk, Gina Miller, Denis McShane, Baroness Shirly Williams as well as a raft of practitioners and activists engaged on the front line of peacemaking and conflict transformation.

It was fascinating to hear from Concordis International about the ways in which cooperation between adversarial herders and settled farmers in Sudan and South Sudan identified shared interests and common ground. By applying mediation principles that delve beneath positions (for example violent responses to particular behaviour) to understand the needs and interests of those involved, solutions to repetitive violent clashes were found in realising that each group could be the other’s market. By developing mutually beneficial relationships centred on livelihoods and the recognition that each could provide the solution to accessing much needed supplies, a committed and safeguarding relationships flourished amongst groups previously suspicious and violent towards one another.

This innovative shift from seeing the other not as enemy, but to market created an interest in the wellbeing and flourishing of the other which enabled markets to be created and, inevitably, relationships to develop across previous divides. Yet the question remains as to the transformation of such conflicts. I felt provoked to consider the role and notion of reconciliation - a possible red herring, no-longer needed and unrealistic aim belonging to a utopian vision of the future?

Jean Paul Lederach intimated as such in his insistence not on conflict resolution, but on conflict transformation, whereby each party to a conflict, and those impacted by it, are creating a new reality, going to a place not yet visited. It is this thinking, which I see at the heart of mediation processes which place parties in the driving seat, creating, testing, exploring and negotiating their own solutions, in safe and creative space held by a skilled mediator. Maybe through this process some sort of reconciliation between parties can be achieved, but crucially this comes after the transforming co-creation of new ways of being in relationship.

Next I’ll set out the three Ps of effective and transformative mediation and peace work requires what Kofi Annan Fellow Farazan summarised as the three Ps - Proximity, Passion and Privilege.

©2019 by Jim Robinson, PhD.