Dialogue is positively indicated for exploring interests and finding solutions or preventing escalation of disagreement that can culminate into conflict.
By Samuel Baligidde
IGAD held its Third High Level Retreat on Mediation in Addis Ababa [September 12-14, 2018] on the need for ‘Enhancing Dialogue and Reconciliation for Conflict Prevention and Transformation’.
That is an internationally and regionally credible forum whose observations are knowledge-based, informed by experience sharing from mediation engagement in previous and current conflict situations, workshops, high level as well as local discussions with key actors and stakeholders in the entire African continent and quite instructive to be used for addressing volatile situations resulting from inter-state and intra-state tensions such as the growing political impasse both the international and local Media has alluded to.
Dialogue is positively indicated for exploring interests and finding solutions or preventing escalation of disagreement that can culminate into conflict. For sustainability, an interest-based approach to dialogue should be based on four key principles, namely, separating the people from the problem; focusing on interests not positions and inventing options for mutual gain instead of focusing on defeating the other side.
Separating the people from the problem might be quite challenging because the actors are human beings; with deeply-held values who will be engaging each other in discussions during the dialogue but it is important to insist on using objective criteria to make arguments; not subjective perceptions of the problem. For the dialogue to start on the right footing the parties should refrain from demonizing each other because they will fail to recognize each other as human and not know how the other side will respond.
The human element could be everyone’s downfall or their success factor. If the key negotiators are hurt or frustrated and have their backs against the wall, they may cause the dialogue to miserably fail. If however, a positive relationship is built through public diplomacy, like Gen Elly Tumwine belatedly attempted to do recently, the negotiators will have to work hard to see that when the dialogue process commences, it proceeds to a successful conclusion.
The actual issues presented on the table for discussion and the relationships between the participating parties may become mixed up and if things get really bad, relationship problems might additionally become issues too. Relationship issues can become a root cause for disagreement and further escalation of turmoil.
Uganda’s Opposition Political Parties have reportedly set preconditions for the National Dialogue championed by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda. The FDC leader Patrick Amuriat told the Media that his party submitted preconditions for the talks to the IRCU. He reportedly said that they had informed the faith-based organizations of their resolve not to engage in dialogue unless IRCU changes the moderator and chooses an impartial and independent umpire.
Neutrality is difficult but impartiality is possible. Elders Forum Justice Ogoola promised to look into their demands for possible balancing against the input from other political parties. DP Secretary-General Gerald Siranda’s statement about dialogue being “the only platform for the healing of Uganda because even in other countries where there has been crisis dialogue has resolved disasters” is sincere and wakeful. In response, the NRM leader President Yoweri Museveni, a key decision-maker in the anticipated process quipped that “the presidency is not determined by dialogue but elections”.
The mediators should look beyond such positions which are like lines drawn in the sand. They do not reveal much about why the lines are there or their purpose. When the positions are contradictory the interests are too. Yet there is a need to articulate clear interests but what could be less clear is how to do it.
Positions should be clear and accessible; but interests are sometimes deeply hidden and may not be expressed in a straightforward manner. Understanding the other side’s interests is just as important and difficult as understanding a party’s own interests. The organizers must remember to include secondary and peripheral parties and interest groups; and not focus on the main parties.
The writer teaches at Uganda Martyrs University-Nkozi