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Mediating from the terraces

by Lesotho Times
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The latest outcome of the several political talks’ sessions held in South Africa which is in essence the carbon copy of what has been agreed earlier except the declaration of going to early elections as an option, can only exonerate this column for speaking strongly that any successful external facilitation of Lesotho political situation is that which combines external and internal processes.
The emerging question is the extent to which the proposed early election presents a solution to the problems? While this question is genuine, this column may not be able to go to it albeit indirectly but wants to make contribution to the mediation process in a manner that seeks to empower those who are hands on.

For any conflict situation to be effectively facilitated or mediated, there are basic requirements to be met. Some of these are recognition by the belligerent parties that they have reached a point where on their own they can no longer engage.

This may be due to circumstances, emotions or even what parties want to gain or fear to lose. This recognition should, however, be guided by a desire of the parties to move out of the situation. This forms a critical foundation for any mediated conflict.

By definition, conflict is an incompatibility of interests and manifests when the efforts of party A to achieve its goals prevent party B from achieving its own. Normally parties would engage on their own and negotiate but when they could no longer do it, the third party comes to help them remove the barriers preventing parties from negotiating to guide them to their solution.
The mediator is the person who first of all is either directly invited to help or accepted by all the parties. This is the person who commands some respect among the parties in conflict and is the person who is non-partisan and is emotionally detached from the situation.

In other words he or she has no direct personal or otherwise gain or lose as a result of how the conflict at hand is dealt with. A person who does not punish and accuse parties but encourages open and honest dialogue through word and practise fits well. The congruence between mediator’s instructions and approaches provides the skill that is necessary. Over and above the skill in facilitation, the mediator should have adequate appreciation of the conflict is handling, that is where the local knowledge is paramount. What is clear from this conceptualisation is that mediation is not just another task to be performed but is a specialised field. Though external mediation normally by states and interstate organisations is helpful in situations that locals cannot handle, it has proven very poor in building peace, in reaching to the bottom of the discontent and incompatibilities. Internal mediation efforts may not handle the conflict particularly when it has escalated and reached climax. This reveals the success secret of mediations that combine the external and internal efforts. SADC is better positioned to relate the story how, the local mediation process brought it back into the Lesotho situation over Post 2007 General Election discontent.

The current mediation that has been exclusively external perhaps by the choice of parties or facilitator or both has run for a while with a number of accords signed but later dishonoured.
In the light that the question why they have not been honoured may not be fairly responded to here and now, attention is drawn to the fact that normally interests in conflict are hidden behind positions parties take. In the ordinary situation agreement would indicate a movement from one position closer to another party. Whether that agreement is genuine or would be implemented depends not only on the letter but also the manner in which parties moved from their positions. If parties’ negotiation is based on positions and agreement is based purely on compromise, implementation and compliance normally becomes a challenge.

How have the several agreements made been reached, negotiation on the interests underlying positions or what? If Prime Minister advised prorogation under certain political context, does he agree to the opening because that particular context has changed or what? Is he really convinced that public denouncement of LCD-DC agreement is adequate enough to clear the political context precipitating the prorogation?

Have the processes been adequately and perhaps skilfully to go to the bottom? If the Deputy Prime Minister does his bit and sees Prime Minister not doing his, that creates a sense of mistrust. In desperation of being evaluated positively by the public parties of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister go public on face-saving and face-smashing utterances. Instead of bringing the belligerent parties closer, this approach drifts them further apart. Not only skill of facilitator is necessary here but appreciation of the nature of conflict as well. Today it is announced that leaders’ talks under SADC Troika facilitation take early election to seek citizen mandate as the route.

Though early election is a norm setter in political situations where political dynamics could have gone so rude and tough that it may no longer be clear whether voters’ will is still served by the actors, in Lesotho such a situation does not exist. It is true that Basotho should give direction on the resolution to their problems but an election does not guarantee that.

In fact it is the election results that put Lesotho into the coalition government that has since early this year shown signs of challenges.

Observing the situation, one is convinced that by definition Lesotho’s current political conflict can be defined as a manifestation of both the protracted conflict among coalition leaders and the intricacies of operationalisation of coalition government that is being played out in the constitutional framework.

This has not yet matured to the level commensurate with the full potentialities of the MMP electoral system, end of chapter on arrogant and dawn of politics of collaboration and the rapidly emerging political attitudes. It is therefore prudent to focus attention on the reform programme.

It is totally amazing that early elections could be seen as a solution instead of concentrating on what leaders themselves and not the people should do and so under SADC Troika facilitation.
Which problem does the early election respond to? Unless facilitators see wisdom in placing the reform programme in the context of facilitating fallout between or among coalition leaders, something which has never been done from the beginning, even the envisaged early election period would prove longest to the coalition government.

Contrary to the popularly held view that this coalition has collapsed and indeed even at the risk of being labelled insane, this column strongly believes that there are challenges but with careful mediation that does not look at coalition as the only actor but which takes opposition on board, the situation is manageable.

It can actually be utilised to make necessary reforms and level the ground for this or any other coalition that will come. Sooner elections without proper reforms and without giving politicians time to cool off by engaging in constructive legislative debate on reforms thus realising tensions may not be in the good interest of this nation.

Let the SADC Troika Facilitator orient himself with the local dynamics of the conflict he is handling, facilitate sessions for the coalition trio where positions would be engaged and teased out to reach to the underlying interests and facilitate the give and take process.

If key foundations for win-win settlement are reached here, the process should be extended to the formal party structures before a renewed deal which could be an addendum to the original coalition agreement is endorsed.
Any deal that aims at keeping this coalition in office either for shortened or full term starts with repairing and dealing with underlying issues among the trio.

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