Contextualizing a Western Mediation Model: “TIKIDOU?” (Spring 2015)

March 12, 2015

by Nathalie Al-Zyoud, Communities in Transition

Western mediation models are based on principles of voluntary participation, impartiality and confidentiality and assume that individuals are able to speak directly and in front of a stranger about issues of contention. So when I travelled to the Central African Republic (CAR) the question I had was: “Would these values resonate in a vastly different context?”

On assignment with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) as a Mediation Officer in CAR, I had the opportunity of coaching three trainers who were conducting a mediation training and I experienced first-hand how our western-style mediation framework would be received by a local audience.

The traditional decision-making processes in the Central African Republic is centered around a neighborhood chief or “chef de quartier,” supported by a council, which manages the daily affairs of the people in his community. Conflicts, whether inside a family, between neighbors and with other communities are typically dealt with through an arbitration process in which the parties explain their grievances and the chief renders a decision. CAR’s recent crisis has put these traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in jeopardy as chiefs have lost their legitimacy and decisions rendered are no longer accepted as before, especially when perceived as biased.

The conflict resolution process introduced by DRC offers new tools to local peace-makers. DRC contextualizes its training by integrating indigenous conflicts in its role-plays and exercises, however the mediation model it uses is based on an impartial third-party who does not judge or determine what is best for the parties, instead the mediator helps the parties find common-ground and develop their own solutions to the problems that brought them there.

To my surprise, the concept of impartiality resonated with so many in the classroom and was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. Used to decisions being rendered according to the understanding of the arbitrator, participants found that being offered a process where one is being listened to and empowered to make his or her own decisions about their future had immediate appeal.

Following-up a few weeks later to see if these skills had been integrated in the traditional grievance mechanisms of different communities, I found that many of the training participants quickly found applications for these new skills in their daily lives, at work, and were already getting referrals from their neighborhood chief to resolve community disputes. Sounds to me like this training was “Tikidou” (A ok!)