The past few weeks have seen breakthroughs in efforts to end two of the world’s most violent conflicts. Earlier this week (6 February), the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and armed groups signed a peace deal after holding direct negotiations since 24 January 2019. And on 13 December 2018, the warring parties in Yemen reached agreement on a ceasefire covering the port city of Hudaydah. Naturally, the inking of these deals garnered considerable public attention. Generally less well known is how, practically, parties at odds — in CAR, Yemen and other places — are brought together, or the terms under which they engage, around the negotiating table. We asked members of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’ (DPPA) Standby Team of Mediation Experts about the “design” of mediation processes and why that step is so important for achieving peace.
Simon Yazgi (specialist on security arrangements) Mediation process design is the essential step of charting a path to maximize your success of getting an agreement. It starts with understanding where you are at present, often through conflict analysis; where you want to go, that is to say the desired outcome of the process and then, through the process design stage, to map out how you intend to get there. A well-planned process will take into account identified or expected obstacles and work around them but should not be so rigid as to be stalled by unexpected obstacles or detours, or unable to avail itself of any fortuitous shortcuts that may appear.
For example, the Colombian peace process with the FARC was a very structured process, which was facilitated as opposed to mediated and there was an agreement of all parties on basic ground rules. The process included a timetable of when the parties would convene and a venue that was made available for the duration of the talks. All of this gave the process a strong degree of predictability and structure. The talks also included a decision to ‘talk whilst fighting’, because there was no ceasefire declared in advance of the talks. This is always a difficult option to manage as incidents on the ground will affect the talks, but I believe that having a well-designed process, with clear and mutually accepted steps and goals and a strong degree of predictability helped to anchor the parties in the process. Consequently, they were able to remain focused on moving forward and reaching an agreement, even when incidents occurred that may have derailed less well-structured talks.
Miriam Coronel Ferrer (process design specialist) Process design in mediation involves thinking ahead of what would need to be done to reach a goal and how to get there. It is more about the infrastructure support, procedures and modalities that enable fruitful discussions. It is also important to keep in mind that process infrastructure and practices may need to be modified, enhanced or re-strategized as the mediation takes its course.
In the negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (from 1997 – 2014) in order to keep the talks from stalling, different modalities evolved, such as the creation of Technical Working Groups to break the very big group of the plenary into smaller, easier to manage groups, and to address the nuts and bolts of the substantive agenda. Another effective formula was the “one-plus-one meeting equals three” which meant a quiet, private meeting between the two chairs of the panel and the facilitator in a closed room where misunderstanding or some confidential security concerns were addressed. During stalled moments, breaks were called, and the members of the International Contact Group separately engaged the parties, helping to sort out controversies. This was a long process. It took 17 years and five different presidents to reach the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014. Throughout the contentious negotiation period, the different modalities were utilized where and when deemed appropriate to the situation. Certain modalities became standard operating procedure, and others were part of the toolkit that came in handy from time to time. And if there was no appropriate tool, one was invented.
Cate Buchanan (process design, gender and inclusion specialist) – In recent years there has been a growing emphasis on professionalizing mediation support and cataloguing the essence and essentials of process design. There are several reasons for this. In part, peace processes are more complex and complicated than ever before, and innovative careful approaches are critical. The emphasis on process design is also influenced by the growing concern to find meaningful ways to involve those outside the ‘room’ – civil society, women, religious and ethnic minorities, young people.
Amidst all the interests and competing demands in a peace process, decisions are made about the way in which talks, or negotiations will be conducted. Process design specialists can bring ‘fresh eyes’ and help think through approaches that might be relevant and suitable for the context, cultures and identity groups involved; cognizant of the type of conflict and intensity of violence as well as past experiences with dialogue and negotiations. Process design specialists can draw on a wide body of evidence about strategies (successful and otherwise) for dialogue, negotiation, facilitation and mediation.
Priscilla Hayner (process design specialist) -- ‘Process design’ is an almost invisible but always essential element of mediation. If all goes well, an outsider might not be aware of any of it, and those involved in the conflict benefit from it in spades, but without ever hearing the words ‘design’ or ‘process’. We naturally think of mediation as mostly working out substantive issues — claims for autonomy, rights of minorities, economic and structural changes to the state, and specific aspects such as justice for past crimes or the need to change the constitution. Or in some cases, there is a dispute over exactly where the border stands between two countries. All of these are important and often extremely difficult to resolve. How do the disputing parties get to the table? Where will they meet? What issues should they discuss first? What role will the mediator or facilitator play? All of these aspects, and more, are generally referred to as ‘process design’ — the many questions pertaining to the how, where, and who that must be thought through in advance. This will allow the discussion on the content – the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the conflict - to receive the attention it deserves.
Issaka Souaré (process design specialist) -- I was deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 to support the African Union-appointed facilitator in the organization of a national political dialogue in the country. When I arrived, there was no clarity as to who was to participate and the specific subjects to be discussed in order to overcome the crisis born out of the sitting president’s constitutional tenure nearing its end, yet elections not being able to be organized in time. In a three-day pre-dialogue meeting, a road map was created, where participants were identified along four broad categories (ruling coalition, opposition parties, civil society and notable personalities) and the number of delegates for each category was agreed upon. Agreement was also reached on a percentage of women participants in the core delegations, as well as on the issues to be discussed. The agenda items were then organized so that it wouldn’t start out with the thorniest issues. Furthermore, the facilitation model was clearly laid out, with a lead facilitator and links to other actors in an international support group. Agreement was reached to have plenary meetings as well as thematic group discussions and how the two circles linked up. Consensus was also reached on a number of ground rules, including communication with the media and general public. Additionally, a suggested timeline was agreed upon and the selection of the venue was discussed. Determining all of these elements is ‘process design’.
Emmanuel Habuka Bombande (process design specialist) – In April 2017, Foreign Ministers of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) adopted the Roadmap of Libreville providing a guidepost for dialogue between the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 armed groups. A process design for CAR evolved from this political commitment, setting out and elaborating on the fine details on how, when and where to engage with key actors and what processes would lead to direct dialogue between the armed groups and the government. Two rounds of meetings, one-on-one with the leaders of the armed groups and several meetings with officials of the Government of CAR informed the design of the dialogue process. Key objectives during these meetings were building confidence, arriving at commitments for preliminary ceasefires, identifying grievances of leaders of armed groups, discussing possible ground rules, a code of conduct, capacity needs, inclusion and security arrangements.
In a third phase, consultations with women’s groups were held to input into the process, a retreat for the Panel of Facilitators (comprised of one facilitator per ECCAS member state) to prepare them for dialogue and separate meetings to prepare the armed groups and the government were organized. Additionally, the expertise of international organizations was brought in to provide ancillary services such as training. The design process also outlined a timetable of activities all geared at ensuring a successful dialogue. They included meetings with former leaders of CAR in exile, Presidents Francois Bozize and Michel Djotodia. The African Initiative also met with some leaders of the Central African region including President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Idriss Déby of Chad. Regardless of the challenges, the direct dialogue between the Government and armed groups has now taken place in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
A good process design should include a monitoring arrangement for the implementation of the outcomes or peace agreement. A monitoring mechanism such as in the Ouagadougou Political Accords on Cote d’Ivoire adds quality to the agreement. The agreement itself must have clarity on how it will be implemented, and the monitoring mechanism ensures that implementation is happening. Each party to the agreement must have clear commitments on what is to be implemented, when and how. Finally, process design in the implementation of an agreement should indicate the overall time frame and the periodicity of evaluation of implementation. This allows the monitoring mechanism to function by holding the parties to their commitments.
Christina Murray (expert on constitutions) -- Many conflict resolution processes involve constitutional change – and often citizens demand a constitution-making process as part of a peace process. Successfully adopting a new constitution with political and citizen buy-in can truly be a step forward for countries moving out of conflict. Constitutions can help nation-building and affirm commitments to inclusivity and good governance. Namibia, South Africa and Kenya’s constitutions did just this, helping these countries move out of conflict.
More often, constitution-making is difficult, particularly against high expectations. Kenya’s long drawn out process is a good example: after a hugely ambitious start, it faced numerous challenges. The announcement of the election results in December 2007 led to violence across the country that only ended after intense mediation by an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) team led by Kofi Annan. The peace accord put constitution-making firmly back on the agenda. Kenyans paid close attention to the process by which a new constitution was to be drafted and developed one that carefully balanced political interests, technical expertise and public engagement. At the same time, sobered by the events in early 2008, the most active stakeholders (politicians, civil society, churches, etc.) tempered their expectations. Finally, in 2010 a new constitution was put in place. The Kenyan example shows that constitution-making needs to be properly integrated and linked to the decision-making about political arrangements.
Title picture: Pictured: Men holding up Central African Republic flag in Khartoum, Sudan, during peace talks on 5 February 2019. Photo: MINUSCA