Saturday, 19 July 2014

The AFRICOM That Africa May Tolerate

"Fas est et ab hoste doceri" [You can learn from anyone, even your enemy] - Ovid, 43 BC - 17 AD.

United States Africa Command - A Combatant Command tasked with protecting US interests in Africa.

This blog entry reflects on the Capstone Exercise at the end of my MSc. Defence, Development & Diplomacy degree at Durham University. The entry requires a strong disclaimer because my constituency will find it repugnant that I should say anything positive about the United States Africa Command. To my Comrades in the Republic and I, AFRICOM is a neo-imperialist tool that is a neo-imperialist tool. This role play that sees me speak in its favour is just an end of academic year simulation exercise and does not mean I confer any legitimacy in so doing to AFRICOM. I would however draw my compatriots' attention to the fact that in military affairs, emotions should play no part, we can copy what works even from our enemies and discard what doesn't. Hence Ovid's remark that opened this blog entry.

Durham University, School of Government and International Affairs - SGIA.
by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

The structure of this paper is as follows; Part A is a pre-Capstone Exercise paper I wrote explaining what my role would entail in the simulation. Part B is a reflection on the dynamics of the simulation so as to show what I learnt from the exercise. 

Part A: Pre – Module Report.

Complex Emergency in Dadaab: AFRICOM Security Advisor’s Role


This paper explains the role an Africa Command Officer would play if placed inside a complex emergency setting such as that of the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. It emphasises respect for institutional goals as the chain of command in the US Military is well established. Ultimately, all the effort and input from an AFRICOM officer is premised on achieving US foreign policy goals which are eliminating security threats to the US through enhancing partner (Kenya and Somalia) capacity to control their territories. This paper will view the Dadaab situation as a microcosm for applying US recommendations for improving partner capacity, while also paying attention to extraneous forces.

Organisational Background:

United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany came into being on 1 October 2008. “AFRICOM is one of six of the U.S. Defense Department's geographic combatant commands and is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for military relations with African nations, the African Union, and African regional security organizations” (United States Africa Command, 2013). The Command is therefore subservient to policy directives from the White House and exists to support those policies. The policies are articulated in the Presidential Policy Directive as (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development (White House, 2012). The theme running through these directives is the understanding that there needs to be a holistic approach to achieving security for the partner countries. The concept applied towards realizing these goals is that of 3 – D (Defense, Development and Diplomacy) whereby “traditional military and police organizations continue to play major roles, but are closely coordinated with all the other instruments of power under the control of the civil authority” (Strategic Studies Institute, 2006). Unsurprisingly then our mission statement reads: “United States Africa Command, in concert with interagency and international partners, builds defense capabilities, responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity” (United States Africa Command, 2013). Still, the Command is not without its critics.

Voices Against AFRICOM:

The fact that AFRICOM is headquartered on European soil and not in Africa is testimony to the opposition the Command faced in its inception as it was viewed by African States as an imperialist tool. There are accusations that AFRICOM is really about countering China’s rising influence on the continent; with The Guardian (2012) recording that, in an unguarded moment, a top AFRICOM official declared that the Command “was about preserving the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market." The further accusation is that the United States has adopted a strategy called “offshore balancing” whereby naval and air assets are used to support pliant local forces in protecting the United States’ interests (Axe, 2011). The same official, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, quoted in the unguarded comment above has sought to clarify our position. The key points he raised are that AFRICOM does not create policy but executes its remit, which is; protecting American lives through working hand in hand with the diplomatic corps and listening to the concerns of its African partners (Moeller, 2010). The question has been asked as to why a military command is the United States’ chosen vehicle for engagement with Africa but a look at the security situation in most African countries necessitates this, security being a basic condition for achievement of development (RT, 2014). With this in mind we can now envisage the role an AFRICOM officer will play in Dadaab: supporting our partners in building and maintaining their capacities. 

Partners: African States

Both the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia and the Kenya government face the security challenges posed by irregular militaries and violent extremists of Al Shabaab. These include terrorist attacks and kidnapping for ransom. In this regard there is a shared interest with AFRICOM’s remit of fighting Al Qaeda’s affiliates and protecting partner nationals from abduction. Here, under direction from the State Department (Ambassador to host state) and within the parameters of international law, the AFRICOM officer will provide the necessary assistance to the national security forces (Njubi, 2011). The unique capabilities that the United States brings are Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR). The AFRICOM officer will work closely with the local security forces to advance peace and security as this is the primary purpose of the Command. Al Shabaab was specifically mentioned by General Carter Ham, who said it would count as AFRICOM “mission failure” if it were able to train people who will carry out attacks on American soil (AFRICOM, 2011). The important aspect for the AFRICOM officer in Dadaab is to study the dynamics of the camp and, drawing on knowledge of counter-terrorism doctrine, share his assessment of what ought to be done to restrict Al Shabaab’s ability to use the camp for rest and recuperation or any other activities that cause insecurity. In this remit there is also a need to be cautious about aiding and abetting human rights abuses by the host state as this would not sit well with our other partners.

Partners: United Nations, European States & NGOs

Having satisfied the respect for sovereignty requirement of being there by invitation of host state, there is a need for coordination and coherence between the many actors so that we do not work at cross-purposes. There is bound to be some institutional frictions as development and relief agencies such as the Red Cross may feel association with the military impinges on their neutrality principle. For this purpose, AFRICOM will follow the lead of the State Department and USAID in this simulation.


This brief paper has highlighted that the AFRICOM officer in the simulation will be guided by the United States Presidential Policy Directives in his engagement with the Dadaab Simulation exercise. There is also a need to respect the African partners’ wishes and to follow the lead of the State Department.

Video Essay:

To elicit what AFRICOM thinks it is about, I watched a former Commander speak on his task here:


For mannerisms in the role play, I trusted Hollywood:

Durham University - School of Government & International Affairs - MSc Defence, Development & Diplomacy; MSc Conflict Prevention & Peace-Building  Class(es) of 2014. 

Part B: Post Module Report

Capstone Exercise:  Complex Emergency in Dadaab, Post-Module Report.


This report reflects on my participation in the humanitarian emergency simulation that took place at Durham Global Security Institute (DGSi), Durham University from 21st May – 23rd May 2014. The paper is divided into two sections, with Section I focusing on how effectively I played my role. This section sets out my goals, my plans for achieving them and then what constraints and opportunities I encountered in that regard. It also answers the question how much was my role a hindrance or help in achieving the stated group’s aims of providing humanitarian relief in a fast developing crisis situation. 

Section II is a discussion of the relevant theories and concepts from my core modules throughout the year. In this section I choose what I think are the most significant concepts from my year-long study at DGSi which guided my efforts and goals in the Capstone exercise. The most important concept for me is 3D policy coherence, which states that for political goals to be achieved, equal attention should be paid to the imperatives of defence, development and diplomacy since neglecting one domain creates problems that feedback negatively in the other domains. My role in the simulation was that of Colonel Mike Carter, a United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) Officer on a fact-finding mission related to security threats in the region. I had the freedom to act when the need arose, but in strict accordance with AFRICOM’s goals as articulated by the President of the United States in the Presidential Policy Directive.

Section I 

Personal Reflection on the Simulation:

The setting for the simulation was the Dadaab refugee camp in North-Eastern Kenya, close to the Somalia border. This camp was established in 1991 due to the total collapse of the state in Somalia and the violence that ensured, and now houses around 470 000 people. With either renewed fighting in Somalia or cycles of famine, the camp continues to receive more refugees seeking shelter from these threats. Our simulation took place at a time when the camp was receiving a new influx of refugees from the latest crisis in Somalia. The task of the whole group was to coordinate our different capabilities and specialities so as to successfully deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis over four days. As the Kenya government and Transitional Federal Government in Somalia (TFG) do not have the requisite resources to manage these crises, the international donor community is very active in these camps, with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) being a very important player. I envisioned this as a microcosm where the donor agencies would fill in for government where its capacity has been so obviously stretched and so practice the aspects of good governance the donors tend to preach. 

For the organisation I was representing – AFRICOM – it was a chance to apply US recommendations for improving partner capacity in coordination with our other European and United Nations allies. The task set for AFRICOM by the President of the United States is that of supporting policies that attempt to advance both security and development in Africa as underdevelopment has, since 9/11, been seen to threaten the security of the United States. 

My own task, as Colonel Mike Carter of AFRICOM, was a fact finding mission related to the on-going instability in the region, with the activities of Al Shabaab being of the most serious concern as they are affiliated with Al Qaeda. The threats from Al Shabaab are kidnapping aid workers for ransom, using the camp as a staging post for revenge attacks against Kenyan government involvement in Somalia, attempting to recruit fighters among the population and hijacking of food and medicines meant for the camp’s population. My engagement was guided by the counter-insurgency idea that force has its utility but should be supported by other instruments of policy so as to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the population. As the United States is not actively at war in Kenya, my aims were to support any initiatives by the donor agencies that would help the population so as obviate Al Shabaab’s appeal as an alternative.

I was aware of the fact that there are frictions between the Department of Defense, which AFRICOM is a part of, and the State Department and USAID. These largely relate to the fact that the Department of Defense (DoD) is encroaching onto what is traditionally State Department/USAID territory and, also, the DoD tends to be given carte blanche where resources to carry out its missions are concerned. The other points of friction I anticipated were that organisations like the Red Cross who were players in this simulation would not want to be associated with AFRICOM because of their neutrality principle. To ensure that I would not be engaged in competition with my allies in the camp, I allowed the USAID local conflict advisor to take the lead as she was more in touch with the realities in the camp and also would be acceptable to actors who may be averse to dealing directly with the United States military. 

In terms of my goals of supporting any development initiatives that would undercut Al Shabaab’s appeal as an alternative I contributed D3 000 to the UNICEF education and WASH initiative, and D1 000 to the CARE emergency food and water fund when the food trucks were stuck in floods. The biggest project I contributed to was the Kenyan Government Police Training and Equipment supply programme. I contributed D16 000 towards this project. This project was proposed by the UK Conflict Advisor, but I had serious reservations about it because it proposed to change the salary structures of the police force by pledging to pay officers in Dadaab more than officers in the rest of the country. This, I felt, was assuming the task of the legislature where we had no right. Overall I was satisfied with my contribution as it adhered to the “Do No Harm” principle; all my contributions were for projects that aimed at human security not the undermining of it. 

Still, there were a lot of things that were outside our control. The hijacking of food trucks and subsequent distribution of food to the camp was an Al Shabaab tactic to win hearts and minds that we could not do anything about. The kidnapping of a high profile British UN representative was also out of our control and my only advice to UK Conflict Advisor was that use of force would not achieve her release and so instead he would have to negotiate with the captors. I also would have wanted to interact more with the security services but this was minimal since there was no military presence but just the police who were kept busy by their tasks throughout the simulation.

Section II

Theories and Concepts Guiding My Participation:

The first guiding principle comes from Rupert Smith’s conceptualization of what war is in the twenty first century: war amongst the people. He has conceived war amongst the people quite differently from traditional battlefield engagements in that “it is the reality in which the people in the streets and houses and fields – all the people, anywhere – are the battlefield. Military engagements can take place anywhere in the presence of civilians, against civilians, in defence of civilians. Civilians are the targets, objectives to be won, as much as an opposing force” (Smith, 2006: 4). There is therefore a fight to capture the hearts and minds of the people and usually this cannot be achieved by military means but instead by development and diplomacy tools. Smith (2006: 277) thought that the mistake politicians make is to think the military can create and maintain this condition through force, thus the other tools that are appropriate for it are chronically under-resourced.

In this conception he recognises the limits of force where military success can be achieved but yet the political goals are not attained (Smith, 2006: 5). He also outlines the structure that governs the conduct of Western militaries, with the political level being given primacy as the source of power and decision (Smith, 2006: 11). This winning of hearts and minds theme is what has guided the Pentagon’s engagement with Africa through the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). This command was thus presented as one that is not a traditional military command but one willing to listen and respond to its African partners’ needs (Bachmann, 2010: 566). AFRICOM more than any other command, is premised on trying to achieve human security for target populations.

Thus, the outstanding theme that guided my participation was 3D policy coherence, which Weiss et. al. (2009: 9) defined as the need for “institutions that once largely acted autonomously – defense, diplomacy and development – to exchange information, share resources and cooperate in strategy development and implementation.” The military efforts should be complemented by development and diplomacy, with the most appropriate tool for the situation being given primacy. For the United States, the actors involved are the Department of Defence, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State. Among these actors there will be conflicting institutional strategic outlooks that then need to be made to cohere. The Department of Defense would ordinarily prioritise physical security to the detriment of developmental issues like providing education and health. It is widely pointed as a flaw of consecutive White House administrations that they prioritise the Department of Defense and pay little attention to development issues since USAID is but an adjunct in the State Department and not a standalone institution (Weiss et. al., 2009: 26, Bachman, 2010: 569). Further, there is a view that institutional competition among these organizations blocks the attempt at coherence (Weiss et. al., 2009: 26). 

The United States only prioritised the security threats that can come from weak and failing states after the attacks of 11th September 2001, with President George W. Bush declaring “that America was now more threatened by weak and failing states than we are by conquering ones” (Patrick, 2009: 57). 3D policy coherence was touted as the means to successfully counter this new threat domain but instead departmental mandates and concerns have stood in the way of this (Patrick, 2009: 60).

Coming to the specific branch of the Department of Defense I was representing – AFRICOM – the same themes of 3D policy coherence are instructive, and importantly I paid attention to the criticisms that have been levelled specifically at AFRICOM. The main criticism against AFRICOM is that it is about countering the rise of China and “preserving the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market" (The Guardian, 2012). This view is shared by most African states who have opposed AFRICOM being located on African soil, so instead it is located in Stuttgart, Germany. In this view, the priority for the United States is providing for its physical and energy security and not achieving human security for the local population. The argument is that if AFRICOM was really about supporting the goals of the local population’s aspirations for living secure lives, then development assistance would be prioritized and not military assistance. This criticism, while valid, also runs into an equally valid rebuttal that security is a basic precondition for development and a sober look at the security situation in most African states will yield that military engagement will be necessary where state capacity is largely absent (RT, 2014). 

The other important thing to remember about my role is that my ability to act was circumscribed by institutional constraints. The United States military does not decide policy, the White House decides policy and the military is just a tool that executes that policy. Although in my role as an AFRICOM Officer here, the gist of the White House’s Africa policy conformed to the concept of 3D coherence I have outlined above. The White House Presidential Policy Directive (2012) sets out the US policy goals as (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development (White House, 2012). These goals if well-coordinated should result in human security being achieved for African partners as well as threats to the United States thus being reduced. 

However, the other side of the coin is that where the United States national interests diverge with African states' interests, the United States will act in its interest first. What has aroused US interest in Africa according to Bachmann (2010: 567) is the “sudden strategic relevance of Africa” with this five factors being salient; “HIV/AIDS, terror; oil; armed conflicts; and global trade.” In a globalised world where threats are no longer territorially bound, these factors are important for the whole globe as disease, migration, terrorism and armed conflicts have been shown to affect neighbouring as well as distant countries. The downside to the securitisation discourse is that it tends to disempower the people in developing countries as, for example, defining migration as a threat can result in racist and exclusionary outcomes (Ibrahim, 2005: 165). The securitization of ungoverned spaces may also mean that the United States may partner with governments involved in rights abuses if they can help the US achieve its security goals, to the detriment of the local population.

The possible remedial measure to this problem is the deepening, broadening, and emancipatory praxis proposed by critical security studies. While I, of course, could not follow this proposal in the opposite direction to the stated goals of the United States where it leads, I was aware of the importance of this concept in my role play. The critical security studies framework questions the dominant discourse so as to establish the true causes of state fragility, whose security is being pursued/ignored and what can be done to emancipate the local population so that their human security concerns are not ignored in their engagement with the developed world (Gunning 2013). I was conscious of these concerns in the role and acted according to them, where I could.


This paper was a reflection on the author’s participation in the Capstone Complex Emergency in Dadaab at the end of the Durham Global Security Institute (DGSi) 2013/14 academic year. The exercise brings all participants in the MSc programmes here together to act out how the skills they have learnt may apply in a fast unfolding humanitarian crisis. For the 2013/14 Capstone Exercise I played the role of Colonel Mike Carter, a US AFRICOM Officer on a fact finding mission to the camp so as to better understand the nature of the challenges posed by Al Shabaab and the deficiencies of the partner African states – Somalia and Kenya – in countering these challenges. I managed to contribute positively to the human security agenda in the camp by providing money for education, food and security sector capacity building. The concept that guided my participation was 3D policy coherence; advancing development and security at the same time so as to achieve human security. 

Photo Essay: 

In no particular order, pictures from the 3 day simulation at Durham University from 21 - 23 May 2014.


Axe, David (September 2011), America’s Somalia Experiment, The Diplomat. Accessed 15 May 2014.

Bachmann, Jan (2010), Kick Down the Door, Clean up the Mess, and Rebuild the House – The Africa Command and Transformation of the US Military. Geopolitics, Vol. 15 No. 3: 564 – 585.

Glazebrook, Dan (June 2012), The Imperial Agenda of the US's 'Africa Command' Marches On, The Guardian. Accessed 27 June 2014.

Gunning, Jeroen 2013, Introduction: Debates, Definitions, Power and Policy, Lecture delivered at Durham Global Security Institute, Durham University on 7 October 2013. Bottom of Form

Ibrahim, Maggie (2005), The Securitization of Migration: A Racial Discourse. International Migration, Vol. 43, No. 5: 163 – 187. 

Moeller, Robert (July 2010), The Truth About Africom: No, the U.S. military is not trying to take over Africa. Here's what we're actually doing.  Foreign Policy. Accessed 15 May 2014.

Patrick, Stewart M. (2009), “The US Response to Precarious States: Tentative Progress and Remaining Obstacles to Coherence,” in Weiss, Stefani, Spanger, Hans-Joachim and van Meurs, Wim (eds.), Diplomacy, Development and Defense: A Paradigm for Policy Coherence. Gutersloh: Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung: 54 – 104.

RT (2012), Crosstalk – AFRICOM, Accessed 15 May 2014.

Smith, Rupert (2006), The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World. London: Penguin Books.

Strategic Studies Institute (2006), Defense, Development and Diplomacy (3D): Canadian and U.S. Military Perspectives, Colloquium Brief, 15 May 2014

Monday, 30 June 2014

What Does A Mediator Actually Do?

"Now you both come to me with this bad blood. What do you expect me to do? Am I a gangster?" - Don Michael Corleone, The Godfather III, 1990, mediating between Joey Zasa and Vincent Mancini.

With my coursemates for the Conflict Mediation CPD on 08/05/2014 - 10/05/2014. As  the William Edmundson Peace House mediation team.

I wrote this assignment after my Conflict Mediation CPD at Durham University very much at gun-point, it being my cherished idea that if people are foolish enough not to realise for themselves the benefits of cooperation, then they deserve whatever outcome of their conflictive behaviour. I, myself, will never be a mediator. For what? To babysit megalomaniacs?

by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

What does a mediator actually do?

Mediation is a conflict management tool which depends largely on non-coercive means to try and help conflict parties arrive at a mutually acceptable compromise. What a mediator actually does depends on their style, type of actor, conflict context and their capabilities. Some definitions include negotiations and the implementation of agreements as part of the mediation process while others just limit it to just the bringing of the parties together to talk and thus find a solution. What is generic about mediation is that it is a third party intervention by an actor who is not a party to the conflict otherwise it is not mediation. According to the literature, mediators do three things to help parties achieve resolution of conflict: they facilitate dialogue, formulate solutions, or manipulate conflict parties into adopting a solution. Of these three, facilitation is at the low end of the intervention scale and could be done by unofficial or private persons while on the other end, manipulation would best suit states given the amount of resources required to make it work.

What Is Mediation?

The United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation (2012: 4) defines mediation as “a process whereby a third party assists two or more parties, with their consent, to prevent, manage or resolve a conflict by helping them to develop mutually acceptable agreements.” A look at the various other definitions of mediation yields that, despite their slightly different emphases, there are these features in common: two or more actors in a dispute, and third party assistance with the conflict actors’ consent, where the parties will have realised that the conflict is costly and they cannot resolve it without outside help. Thus for mediation to work, the parties to the conflict should consent to it, as without this consent, mediation cannot apply as a conflict resolution tool. All mediation efforts then, despite the type of mediator, require an entry point; a point when both conflict parties realise that “the conflict is too difficult to terminate by themselves, and at the same time, that it is too costly enough that they both want to see it end” (Bercovitch and Gartner, 2006: 332). This is also what Zartman called a hurting stalemate. 

The other definitions in existence imply that this is not a field where markers can be easily set up to clearly separate mediation from other contiguous activities such as negotiations and the implementation of agreements. This is especially true where a mediation strategy of carrots and sticks is employed. Instead, there are ‘spill-overs’ where the mediator may be found involved in negotiations or if they have the capability; implementation of the agreement. Most of the definitions indeed state that mediation is non-coercive and they try to separate it from the other activities, but in practice this distinction is not easy to maintain. What cannot be disputed is that mediation is an intermediary role by an actor who is not a party to the conflict. What the mediator will do is then determined by what type of actor they are, because indeed, some mediators will have to take on more tasks beyond ‘pure mediation.’ So, it is possible that what the mediator actually does is very dependent on what type of actor they are, their capabilities and thus the style that is congruous with their capabilities. 

There are three mediation styles listed in the literature of what mediators do. These are the mediator as facilitator, as formulator and as manipulator. The thread that makes these divergent styles part of the same activity we call mediation is that different conflict contexts and actor capabilities will demand different strategies. Thus as argued by Bercovitch and Gartner (2009: 6), mediation is a conflict management tool that actively interacts and is shaped by environmental factors such as; “available mediation strategies, by who the mediators are (e.g. personal and organizational attributes), by context, setting and nature of dispute (e.g. intrastate or interstate, intractable or short term), and of course, the nature of the environment in which the dispute takes place (e.g. a structured, well-regulated environment, or an unstructured environment).” For these authors these factors determine what a mediator will be channelled into doing.

The actual writing of this summative report after the CPD almost got derailed by the beginning of the 2014 World Cup.

Mediation Styles: Mediation as Facilitation.

Adam Curle refers to what can be thought of as ‘pure mediation’ whereby mediation “aims to remove often largely psychological obstacles that prevent hostile parties coming together for constructive negotiation, which is the process by which protagonists reach an agreement through discussion and bargaining” (Curle, 1986: 1). In his formula, he stresses that mediation employs non-violence as he thinks “it is an illusion to hold that peace can come through violence although it may come through power” (Curle, 1986: 1). This view coincides with the conception of the mediator as facilitator. Mediation in this regard, consists of the attempt by the mediator to help conflict parties see possibilities for ending their conflict through the mediator’s help, who will help build and maintain channels of communication as well as providing information so as to limit the adverse effects that arise due to incomplete information (Curle, 1986: 5; Lake and Rothchild, 1996: 47; Beardsley et. al., 2006: 63). 

In the role of facilitator, the mediator will arrange meetings, collect information, help prioritize issues and carry messages between the disputants if face to face meetings are not possible (Quinn et. al., 2009: 189; Berber, 2012: 401). The mediator as facilitator does not make any “substantive contribution to the negotiation process but, rather is restrained to insuring continued, and hopefully constructive, discussion and dialogue between or among disputants” (Quinn et. al., 2009: 189). This view is shared by Adam Curle as he thought that the barriers to conflict resolution are largely psychological, caused by mutual distrust among conflict parties and, therefore, establishing a channel of communication would help solve this problem (Curle, 1986: 1). 

Apart from distrust as a barrier to the ending of conflict, the other issues that arise due to incomplete information are those that relate to when conflict actors misrepresent their interests, weaknesses and strengths. Lake and Rothchild (1996: 47) conceived the problem that mediators help resolve in this regard as ‘information failures’ which they defined as when conflict actors possess private information and incentives to misrepresent that information. The tendency to misrepresent information arises because revealing true information would affect the group’s ability to achieve its interests, so the groups in conflict may exaggerate their strength while hiding their weaknesses, a recipe for escalation (Lake and Rothchild, 1996: 47; Curle, 1986: 4). This then becomes an impediment to compromise, but careful probing of the facts and preferences by the mediator and then communicating this accurate information between disputants may help resolve information failures (Lake and Rothchild, 1996: 48). A position that is also accepted by Beardsley et. al. (2006: 63) who wrote that:

If actors had complete information regarding their opponent’s capabilities and intentions, the actors would likely be able to identify mutually acceptable alternatives to violent conflict. Under incomplete information, actors may overestimate their own capabilities and likelihood of winning a conflict and make an offer below the opponent’s reservation point. Consequently, facilitative mediators ensure that the actors have access to all necessary information to best estimate the range of mutually preferable outcomes.

Curle then says this method relies on the mediator being able to befriend the conflict parties, so that through the established trust they will be willing to trust her with accurate information and, further, trust that she will only use that information in aid of resolving the conflict (Curle: 1986: 14, Horowitz, 2007: 53). The key role the mediator performs here is information provision, whereby if uncertainty is affecting the resolution of a conflict, mediation activities supply the information that remedies this (Savun, 2009: 96). Still, according to Beardsley et al (2006: 63) there are some scholars who maintain that facilitation should be thought of as an activity distinct from mediation.

Meeting - separately - the disputants in the conflict we were mediating on.

Mediation as Formulation:

Unlike facilitation which avoids promoting any particular solutions to the conflict, formulation involves a substantive contribution by the mediator who actually proposes new solutions to the conflict parties (Beardsley et al, 2006: 63; Quinn et. al., 2009: 190). Still, according to Quinn et al (2009: 190) and in accordance with the precept that mediation is a voluntary exercise; the mediator is not empowered to force the disputants to adopt his proposals. However, Berber suggests that there are other channels to influence the conflict parties to accept the proposals of the mediator without resorting to carrots and sticks. He notes that Lakhdar Brahimi said “leverage in mediation is not about putting a gun to someone’s head nor is it about promising something’’ (Berber, 2012: 402). Instead, he says “mediators formulate proposals and compromises, and they provide and withhold information as they attempt to convince disputants to adjust expectations” (Berber, 2012: 402). Thus by managing which information to disseminate or withhold, the mediators can get conflict parties to adopt their proposals. The mediator’s control of proceedings also extends in this style of mediation to determining “structural aspects of the meetings, control constituency influences, media publicity, the distribution of information, and the situation of the parties’ resources and communication processes” (Bercovitch and Gartner, 2006: 339). 

Zartman refers to the mediator, regardless of style adopted, as a third-party catalyst who is needed to help conflict parties reach agreements they could not reach on their own (Zartman, 2001: 6). So by formulating her own ideas the mediator will still be in that role of catalyst since perhaps the parties will have been unable to come up with a solution that is mutually acceptable. Beardsley et al (2006: 63) puts this down to the fact that since parties to a violent conflict tend to view things in zero-sum terms, they are likely to reach an impasse even in negotiations about negotiations. With the process stalled in this manner, it will be incumbent upon the mediator to come up with different solutions.  

Planning and adjusting our mediation strategy away from the glare of the media.

Mediation as Manipulation: 

The final style is manipulative mediation whereby the mediator makes a substantive contribution and is empowered to force conflict parties to adopt his solutions by punishing the disputants for reneging and rewarding them for cooperating (Zartman, 2001: 6; Quinn et. al., 2009: 190). The mediator in this style not only formulates potential solutions but demands that they become adopted, and for this to happen she relies on her resources of power, influence and persuasion to manipulate the parties into agreement; as well, she becomes an enforcement mechanism for these agreements (Quinn et. al., 2009: 190). Richard Holbrook’s mediation at Dayton, Ohio is one example cited by Bercovitch and Gartner, (2006: 339) of what mediation as manipulation entails. 

Manipulative mediators thus offer incentives for conflict parties to end their fighting and disincentives for continued fighting. This is the carrots and sticks approach or mediation with muscle. In terms of carrots, the mediator may offer cash or preferential trade while on the sticks side; they may threaten economic and diplomatic sanctions as well as direct military intervention (Beardsley et. al., 2006: 64). Manipulation thus commits the mediator to other activities which, though contiguous, are different activities to mediation such as negotiations and implementation of agreements. This is also quite necessary because sometimes the barrier to settlement of a conflict is the problem of credible commitment where conflict actors cannot trust their safety to an agreement on paper but instead require a powerful outsider to guarantee their security (Walter, 1997: 339).

Our target: getting to an agreement!

What Mediators Actually Do:

To relate the above three mediation styles to the type of actors who may be suited to each style based on capabilities, facilitation would suit Track II actors such as individuals like Adam Curle himself. Formulation and manipulation would suit Track I actors such as the United States, United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations because of the resources that they need to bring to bear. Still, the assigning of styles to actors made above is not hard and fast, it is just for the sake of conceptual clarity since there is nothing that prevents an actor wielding middle power state resources from pursuing mediation as facilitation. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, in mediating the Zimbabwe Crisis on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between 2007 until the achievement of a Government of National Unity (GNU) on 11 February 2009, resisted any pressure to impose sanctions or invite direct military intervention on Zimbabwe, instead calling his approach “quiet diplomacy” (Al Jazeera, 2014). As well, with regards power and resources, it is quite possible to fail in your mediation efforts as did both Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi in Syria when they could ostensibly draw on the might of the United Nations Security Council. There are also instances where ‘threat power’ would be ineffectual but while ‘exchange power’ and ‘integrative power’ may achieve results (Ramsbotham et. al., 2012: 23). The recent mediation by Qatar for the release of an American soldier – Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl – who had been held captive for 5 years by the Taliban, in exchange for 5 Taliban Guantanamo Bay detainees is instructive with regards the limitations of ‘threat power.’ 

Leaving aside the differences in style, what the mediator will be really trying to do is end conflict as it is costly in human lives and to development. Individuals may be motivated by wanting to see an end to the suffering while states have their own motivations such as the desire to preserve international peace and security. The essence of what mediators actually do then is that they move belligerents away from violence and escalation by paying attention to these three elements: stakes, attitudes and tactics (Zartman, 2001: 7). In Zartman’s conception, stakes are the issues that matter to the parties and the skilled mediator should change these from zero-sum to a positive sum and conflict parties’ attitudes must be changed from conflictive to accommodative, while tactics means doing the right thing at the right time to bring about the desired result by the mediator (Zartman, 2001: 7)

This also serves as a handy metaphor - the mediator must be able to pay his undivided attention to the task at hand.

This essay has argued that there are three types of mediation styles which when followed determine what a mediator does. The mediator as facilitator has been said to be what can be termed pure mediation as here the mediator allows conflict parties to reach an agreement they have forged themselves. All the mediator will have done is facilitate dialogue and help conflict parties see they have mutually compatible interests. The mediator as formulator is when the mediator proposes solutions of her own when there is a dearth of solutions between the disputants. While manipulative mediation which runs the large risk of making the mediator a conflict party is when the mediator uses her ‘threat power’ to bring disputants to adopt her proposed solution. What a mediator does is also influenced by the type of actor they are and the conflict environment. What is generic about mediation is that all mediators will be trying to end conflict by helping remove the stumbling blocks to peace that the parties cannot overcome without her help.


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