FEATURE ARTICLE

Augustine C. OhanweSunday, April 20, 2008
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AFRICA: OMENALA APPROACH TO ITS CONFLICT RESOLUTION

n the wake of the recent alleged electoral irregularities in Kenya, bottled-up ethnic animosities found a fertile ground and eventually conspired with the tension generated by the flawed election. The resultant affect was that Kenya was thrown into a Hobbesian jungle. Clubs, machetes, and guns gained ascedancy over reason. Slums. Streets and valleys became littered with fatalities and casualties creating a visual eyesore of disaster pornography. Kenya, the economic hub of East Africa became a dangerous and scary place.


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Employing his socio-politico know-how and his diplomatic acumen the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan navigated the murky terrain of Kenya's political landscape and brought the country out from the marshes and bogs.He reversed the ugly political state thereby halting the potential nightmare scenario the situation could have unleashed. The use of prominient elders statesmen and women from the continent in conflict resolutions, arbitrations, mediations etc is what this writer calls Omenala Approach.

Distinguished African elder statesmen and women with antenna of knowledge and true grasp of the political culture and structural dimension of conflict situations in Africa should be deemed as qualified (as Kofi Annan is) to play important roles in helping to draw up parameters for conflict mediation and reconciliation. Afican Union and its sub-regional components should glean from Kenya's success story and employ the same method elsewhere within the continent.

The fact that these Africans possess huge cultural understanding plus the knowledge of the continent's conflict dynamics, inherently place them in a more advantageous position than say, their western counterparts as mediators in Africa's conflict. One noticeable irony with western mediators in African conflicts is that the same external power that supplied the warring factions with weapon with which they kill themselves will later pose a a mediator. The mere fact that they shipped weapon to the conflicting factions do put a question mark to their intention to negotiate or mediate in such conflict situation. If I might add, it also weakens their moral fibres.

Apart from supplying arms to the conflicting parties, western mediators tends to cloud the issues involved in African conflict. This lack of adequate knowledge of the structure of the conflict plus the political culture of most African states pose a severe handicap and always dwarf all their well intentioned initiatives.

A further complication that might derail western initiatives in mediation and negotiation processes revolves around impartiality. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, when asked about the UN intervention in Rwanda said, "Outside forces do not solve problems we have in Africa. They come in with little understanding of the situation or they take side in the conflict." Their motive, according to Kagame "is that they want to influence the outcome to the benefit of this or that faction instead of the overall interest of the nation involved."

Again divergent culture is likely to affect perception and interpretations of realities on the ground. Prejudice and other forms of behaviour do put enormous barrier to the chances of achieving constructive and positive results in any conflict environment where mediation and negotiation are to be tackled. These cultural variables or differences constitute a huge huddle. African mediators succeed among other things because of their use of pure persuation and quiet diplomacy though sometimes the use of threat.

SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY (SADC) and Zimbabwe

Kofi Annan's success story could be made to replicate in Zimbabwe but should be accomplished by SADC under the leading role of President Mbeki of South Africa. What external powers particularly, the western world do not know about President Robert Mugabe is that he toughens his stance in the face of bellicose remarks or stick and carrot threats.He becomes much more hardened when such expressions emanate from sources he regards as "external meddlers in my internal affairs."

In order to approach Mugabe diplomatically, one must be a past-Master in Mugabecraft. President Mbeki and members of SADC understand Mugabe hence they prefer to tread cautiously, using patience and quiet diplomacy in their attempt to enter into a diplomatic tango on the slippery floor of Zimbabwe's volatile political landscape. This writer wouldn't suggest that Kofi Annan be sent to dialogue with Mugabe, rather Zimbabwe's neighbours hold the political magic wand. This statement is made not to underestimate Kofi Annan. He possesses well refined diplomatic arsenal but when we profile president Mugabe thoroughly well, one would agree with me that Mugabe will be more comfortable with delegates from SADC.

SADC is capable of handling Mugabe. It is pertinent to revisit some of the past SADC's success stories where persuation and quiet diplomacy had yielded positive results. SADC had used preventive diplomacy to avert a smouldering conflict that could have had a domino effect within the sub-region. In August 1994, King Letsie III of Lesotho ousted the democratically elected government of Mokhehle. South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe intervened diplomaticaly and restored the ousted head of state, thereby preventing a major conflict.

Two month later a threatning political situation reared its ugly head in Mozambique and SADC faced the challenge. In the Mozambican post-conflict polls, the rebel leader, Alfonso Dhlakama cried "foul" as a pretext for pulling his Renamo Party out of the election before it actually began on October 1994. His move not to participate in the election at the 11th hour raised an ominous signal. The political tempersture in Mozambique became high tilting towards a rekindling of the conflict. In response to the pregnant political situation, eight Southern African states held a summit meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe to reverse the emerging threat. They unanimously reached a decision to send troops to Mozambique should any political party refuse to cooperate with the election or accept the result. The collective threat of SADC worked. The election was conducted peacefully.

A few of this SADC's track record has shown that it isn't a lame duck . What SADC should consider seriously is to approach the top notch of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Zimbabwe and to dialogue with them to soft-pedal in their verbal threats and to choose appropriate political jargon and posture while addressing the prevailing political situation in their country.

Finally, should the MDC win after the ongoing recount of votes it must assure the international community that it will not inaugurate the politics of revenge as Samuel Doe of Liberia did when he came to power. Mugabe and his top advisers should feel free and safe and not to be targeted for political harassment. On the other hand should the recount swings in favour of Mugabe it is hoped the MDC should abide by the resullt if it is proved beyond doubt that the result of the recount was free and fair.

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