Conflict Management and Resolution

The current stalemate has thrown Kenya into a political, economic and social quagmire. The conflict been witnessed today is of proportions never seen before since independence. Brothers are rising up against brothers, sisters against sisters, faithful against faithful and friends against friends. Two churches in Kibera have been burnt, 35 people mostly women and children locked up and burnt alive inside a church, 10 others burnt inside their homes as they fled from the violence encircling them, more than 850 dead (and counting) and over 350 000 displaced.

The business community estimates that thus far we have lost over 60 billion shillings and run at the risk of losing 260 billion shillings if the current situation persists till June. This figure to me seems overly conservative since it only takes into account revenue lost due to forfeited production and the inability to access markets to either sell goods or services.

The cost of reconstruction has not been accessed. With almost 300m of rail uprooted, schools and public offices torched to the ground, roads damaged by burning debris, uprooted telephone and electric posts and cost of extending government programmes adversely affected by this conflict the figures is set to rise. The cost of forfeited expenditure on development activities and lost investment opportunities may never be fully known but will indeed affect projected levels of government income and expected growth rates, even for years to come.

The conflict need not spiral out of control. It can be managed. Conflict management does not necessarily entail a resolution of conflict but a cessation of all hostilities by the main protagonists and curbing of negative effects on the citizenry of the nation. Conflict management does not resign itself to political settlement, which may never be forthcoming, but to the social fabric of society most adversely affected and concerned. It draws its concept from the ability of the main protagonists to agree to disagree but halt any further activities that may be considered acts of aggression by the opposing camp. It is in this space that the citizenry takes charge of humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict, undertakes civic education, psychological assistance to those traumatized, prevent rapes and murders and also ensures that essential activities such as learning, healthcare access, trade and commerce carry on unhindered.

It is precisely because the common citizenry will do what is right for the people that politicians will not give room for conflict management. It serves the interests of the people not their own. It is also because of this that the civil society must take neutral stands. It must never be seen to be supporting either side at any given time. To do so undermines the principle of conflict management and betrays the people they purport to serve. This is because it lengthens the period in which they are supposed to reach the afflicted. It is on these principles that the Red Cross and Medecins San Frontiers took up neutral stands, to help people not propagate political ideology.

Conflict resolution gives closure to open wounds. It tackles underlying issues that due to ignorance or lack of political goodwill were left to grow to explosive magnitudes. Resolution takes backstage to management in a conflict. It must however be addressed lest it gives rise to another conflict. It is important to note that management gives a conducive atmosphere in which resolution takes place thus it is a matter of putting the horse before the cart and not vice versa. The cart must be there all the same.

One should approach negotiations with an open mind. Emotions must be kept at bay. One should accept that the interests of his group do not outweigh the interests of the nation or the mode of interaction with the opposing camp. The opposing camps will interact either through pens or swords thus the interests of any group fall behind the mode of interaction between the two groups. The civil society has four weeks to get its act together.

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