“Conflicts have been with man since creation. In fact it was as a result of conflict that God sent away Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, in the Bible.” (AMOH, 2007). According to this statement, conflict and life have been intertwined since time immemorial. The author meant that, as long as there is life, there is conflict. It doesn’t matter what kind of conflict it is, whether it is internal or external; social, economic or political (Bergmann et al., 2018). Conflict is conflict and we are all aware that, every action triggers a reaction. Amongst the most crucial reactions to conflict; is the desire by humans to resolve their disputes unilaterally, bilaterally or with the help of a third party (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001). There are many approaches to conflict resolution, and the choice of an approach differs based on the type of conflict and the actors involved. There are institutionalised mechanism like adjudication and ad hoc methods such as negotiation and mediation (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001).
This essay will aim at making an overview on mediation; what it is, how it compares with other approaches, its major characteristics that makes it stand out and finally my take on it as a tool for resolving disputes.
According to Bercovitch and Jackson (2001:60), mediation is defined as a process where conflicting parties seek the help of, or accept an offer of assistance from a neutral third party not directly involved in the feud, to resolve their dispute without employing the authority of the law. In line with the definition of this two authors, it is only through the consent of the parties involved in a conflict that a mediator comes in and also at the mercy of the parties is the implementation of whatever is agreed during the mediation, because it cannot be enforced by force or by law.
Mediation and Other Conflict Resolution Approaches
Mediation is a ductile approach to conflict resolution and just as it is bend to the will of the parties, it is also very flexible and applicable to a wide range of conflicts types such as divorce issues, labour management disputes, intra-state and interstate conflicts (Bergmann et al., 2018). Similar to mediation but separated by a thin line is negotiation which many believe to be the foundation of mediation. Nevertheless, negotiation is a process by which parties to a conflict communicate and trade proposals on ways to reach consensus on ending the conflict among themselves and produce a roadmap for their future interactions (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001). Unlike arbitration, litigation and other methods of conflict resolution; mediation and negotiation are the primary mechanisms where parties have the full right to solve their disputes without coercion (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001). As a common knowledge, arbitration and litigation are not as flexible as mediation and negotiation. Litigation for instance is done within the confines of the law and it is both public and formal; and extremely enforceable by law.
In light of the other methods of conflict mediation, it is worth noting that, mediation is different in structure and procedure with arbitration and litigation, because the two are more formal, and binding. While with negotiation, mediation is seen as an extension to the negotiation procedure (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2009:34). This is because, it is after the failure of negotiation or when co-operation between conflict parties towards amicable settlement of their dispute is in doubt, that the help of a third party is required (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001),
Function and Role of Mediation in Conflict Resolution
Mediation like other approaches aims to resolve conflicts. However, as the old adage has it, “There are many ways of skinning a rat.” So mediation is similar to some but again differs with others in structure and procedure.
Mediation is a process that can be applied to various types of conflict; either social, economic or political conflicts. Individuals, states, intra and interstates conflicts alike (Bergmann et al., 2018). In its pursuit of conflict resolution, mediation gives freedom and ownership of the entire process to the parties, because by procedure it is voluntarily, ductile and non-binding. Therefore, the conflicting parties can decide on who they want as their mediator, whether the process should be formal or informal, in private or in a public forum; and above all, the parties can be represented by delegates or in the case of international conflict, even the heads of states can be on the negotiation table (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001:61). Mediation brings in new things that break the impasse that might have been reached during negotiations. By introducing external knowledge, ideas and resources that were absent during negotiations (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2009)
Furthermore, mediation compared to methods like arbitration and litigation, is inexpensive and also an impromptu kind of conflict resolution, so it saves time (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2009). Finally, mediation is not adversarial but rather friendlier and offers confidentiality and neutrality (AMOH, 2007). When negotiations talks haven’t succeeded and conflict has been long and complex. Mediators come in to reopen communication between the parties and help the disputants bridge the gap, under nonaligned facilitation (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001).
In conflict resolution, I think there is no one sure way to go. It’s upon the actors to examine the mechanisms and identify the one suitable for a specific case, while considering the characteristics of the parties involved and the nature and context of the conflict (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2009). As much as features of mediation are so appealing, it has not been so successful in some situations like South Sudan’s and the Sudan’s. This is evident in the book and the title of the book “Southern Sudan: Too Many Agreements Dishonoured”, Alier (1990). However, owing to the fact that mediation outcomes are always the wishes of the parties to the conflict, it becomes the most preferable choice in conflict resolution and this gives it final resolution more sense of ownership by the parties and hence, sustainability (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001). Therefore, I humbly opine that, mediation should always be given a consideration when conflict arise.
- AMOH, G. (2007) ‘MEDIATION – The Preferred Alternative for Conflict Resolution’.
- Bercovitch, J. and Jackson, R. (2001) ‘Negotiation or mediation?: An exploration of factors affecting the choice of conflict management in international conflict’, Negotiation Journal, 17(1), pp. 59–77. doi: 10.1023/A:1010920107948.
- Bergmann, J. et al. (2018) ‘Introduction: The EU as International Mediator-Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives’, International Negotiation, 23(2), pp. 157–176. doi: 10.1163/15718069-23021158.
- Bercovitch, R. and R, Jackson (2009) Conflict Resolution in the 21st Century: Principles, Approaches and Methods. Ann Arbour. Michigan University Press. Chapter 3
- Alier, A. 1990, Southern Sudan: Too Many Agreements Dishonored, Ithaca Press, Exeter