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Conflict Resolution And Transformation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5387 words Published: 8th May 2017

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Conflict resolution and transformation are issues which have become very topical in debates and discussions on Zimbabwe. This is not only because Zimbabwe is characterised by many conflicts, but much more so due to the realization that in most cases the conflicts have negative impacts the a nation’s socio-economic and political development. Thus conflict resolution and peace building processes have become very essential in solving the problem of conflicts in the country. This chapter intends to examine the grassroots conflict resolution and peace building processes in Zimbabwe with a focus on Tongogara district as case study. It will also seek to explore the context, in which traditional leaders operate, the processes that link them to the people as well as how other scholars view them in terms of their effectiveness.

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Saunders (2000) defined literature review as a search and evaluation of the available literature in a given subject or area. Reviewing related literature helps the researcher gain insight on what other researchers have done and establishes existing gaps which the research seeks to ultimately fill. Punch (1998) considers the review of related literature as a researcher’s roadmap in the quest to convert tentative research problems to a detailed and concise plan of action. Lincoln (2005) augments the same notion by suggesting that it is of importance to be guided by related literature as this will equip the researcher with requisite skills to evaluate various viewpoints basing on the work that other researchers have done.

The literature reviewed in this chapter seeks to analyse the role of traditional leaders in conflict transformation, the concept of conflict transformation, the common conflicts experienced at grassroots level and more importantly the approaches that are used by the traditional authorities in transforming conflicts. It further seeks to examine the theoretical and scholarly perspectives on the effectiveness of community processes that are employed in conflict management and peace building.

2.1 Background to conflict theory

The period from 1970 to the present, has witnessed a remarkable interest in studies in conflict management and transformation. This was motivated by a number of factors which include ideological changes in the international system, the independence of most African states and the rise of many civil wars in Africa and the rise of new actors in conflict resolution paradigm. Interestingly however, most of the literature produced focuses mainly on the documentation of conflicts, their nature, and types of resolution that can be achieved neglecting the area of conflict prevention, resolution, transformation and management; hence the need to research on the practical ways that can help in the achievement of sustainable peace especially at grassroot level. Gaps have also been noticed in terms of the level at which conflict analysis is taking place as many scholars tend to place conflict resolution and transformation at the high level of governance not considering that many causes of conflict are deeply rooted in the grassroots and require the grassroots level actors to act on them to achieve sustainable peace and development.

Sandy (2004) places emphasis on the conditions that are necessary for the transformation of conflicts. He argues that any attempt to articulate the nature of conflict and conflict resolution, must address those conditions, which are favourable for its emergence. He mentioned participation, engagement, freedom, justice and human rights as pre requisites for the achievement of conflict transformation. Sandy (2004) also mentioned the need for Community building and democratization as important strategies in conflict resolution and transformation .However Sandy does not unpack on how the democratization and community building can be used to achieve conflict transformation at the lowest level of governance where there are traditional leaders and councillors as key actors in governance. This therefore leaves out players like the grass root leaders and other influential people in the communities who are also important in peace building. The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution (2010) focuses on definitions of peace and conflict, bringing the different kinds of peace that are there and the pre-requisites for conflict transformation and peace , the mechanisms of achieving this peace is however often overlooked. This therefore leaves a gap in terms of literature that explores practical ways of resolving conflicts and peace building,

Rumel (2004) looks at alternative concepts of conflict resolution and the principles underlying those concepts. He mentions peace, as being a state of mind, that is, if the mind is at rest, then it follows that there will be peace and vice versa. Rumel (2004) views the human mind, as major contributor to conflict as he points out that, for as long as one has unsatisfied desires he/she won’t be at harmony with the others. He brings out an important aspect in conflict transformation when he states that a human being needs to be satisfied with oneself and the outcome of any resolution exercise that maybe employed.

Harris and Reilly (2005), emphasize the need to build a strong grassroots background as critical in addressing deeply rooted conflicts. They emphasise on the importance of addressing the root causes of conflicts through the involvement of parties involved in the conflicts. Their focus is however more inclined to ethnic conflicts and tribal conflicts, as they believe these conflicts are more a result of identity than anything else. This work is important, as it looks some of the practical ways in conflict resolution that are needed to achieve peace more so at grassroots level as most ethnic and tribal conflict are noticed at lower levels of administration like the districts and the villages.

Most of the literature on conflict turns a blind eye on the role of grassroots actors in conflict transformation as usually their focus is large scale level, this often does not bring sustainability and progressive development, moreover this also leads to the extinction or decline in relevance of the grassroots approaches that are being used in the rural communities in developing countries.

2.2 The concept of Conflict transformation

Conflict transformation is the term that has come into common usage over the years from the early 1980s, as a concept and a process that encompasses various aspects of conflict prevention, peace building, supporting local capacities for peace and transformational development. Conflict transformation arose as an alternative to the dominant paradigms of conflict resolution. As advocated by Lederach (1995), conflict transformation was conceptualized to provide a comprehensive framework for addressing conflict throughout its phases, that is from the initial stages of indirect conflict, to full-scale direct conflict to lastly, its resolution. Conflict transformation seeks to address questions often neglected on conflict resolution; structural violence, culture and cultural identity and the role individuals can play in diminishing conflict intensity and duration (Miall et al 1999). However, conflict transformation has also been articulated as an extension of current practices incorporated in peace-building (Miall et al 1999). This distinction does not however, affect the primary goals and objectives of a transformational approach.

A number of conflicts theorists like Lederach (1998) advocate for the pursuit of conflict transformation as opposed to conflict resolution and conflict management, this according to Lederach (2000) is because conflict transformation reflects a better understanding of the nature of conflict itself. Conflict resolution implies that conflict is bad hence something bad should be ended thus conflict can be “resolved “permanently though mediation and other intervention processes, conflict management on the other hand correctly assumes that conflicts are long term processes that people can be directed or controlled as though they were physical objects (Lederach 2000). Furthermore Conflict transformation as put by Lederach does not suggest that we simply eliminate or control conflicts but rather work with its dialectic nature, this takes into cognisance the fact that conflict is social and naturally created by humans who are involved in relationships, it changes (transforms) these events, people, relationships that created the initial conflict. The cause and effect relationships thus goes both ways from the people and relationships to the conflict and then back to the people and the relationships (Vayrnen 1991), thus in this sense conflict transformation describes a natural occurrence.

Conflict Transformation also involves transforming the way conflicts are expressed, it may be expressed competitively, aggressively or violently or it may be expressed through nonviolent advocacy, coalition or attempted cooperation (Lederach 1998) .The Centre for Conflict Dynamics(CCD 2009) views conflict transformation as a process by which conflicts such as ethnic conflicts are transformed into peaceful outcomes , it is therefore a process of engaging with and transforming the relationship, interests, discourses and if necessary the very constitution of society that support the continuation of violent conflict. In support of this view by CCD (2009), The Search for Common Ground (SFCG 2010) sees conflict transformation as initiatives that are often characterised by long time horizons and interventions at multiple levels, aimed at changing perceptions and improving relationships and addressing the roots of the conflict including inequality and social justice.

Conflict transformation theory recognises the need to transform the conflict at a number of levels. Vayrnen (1991) identifies five transformations that need to occur in order to have a positive shift in the conflict. These are context transformation, structural transformation, actor transformation, issue transformation and individual / group transformation. This approach to conflict transformation acknowledges the multi-dimensional nature of conflict.

2.2.1 Principles of conflict transformation

Burton 1996 identifies several principles to which he argues form the backbone of a conflict transformation process.

Conflict should not be regarded as an isolated event that can be resolved or managed but as an integral part of society’s on-going evolution and development.

Conflicts should not be understood sorely as inherently negative and destructive occurrence but rather as a potentially positive and productive force of change if harnessed constructively.

Conflict transformation goes beyond merely seeking to contain and manage conflict, instead seeking to transform root causes of a particular conflict.

Conflict transformation is a long term gradual and complex process requiring sustained engagement and interaction.

Conflict transformation is not just an approach and set of techniques but a way of thinking about and understanding conflict itself.

Conflict transformation is particularly intended for intractable conflicts, with deep rooted issues.

2.3 Background to Traditional Leadership in Zimbabwe

Ranger (1996) poses that the institution of traditional leadership has been around in Africa from time immemorial, traditional leaders are according to ranger the politicians of the pre-colonial age. At independence in 1980, Chieftainship was retained as a symbol of traditional values but the chiefs themselves were stripped of all their administrative and judicial functions. The chiefs and headman even lost their tax collecting functions as well as some administrative customary functions. District Councils assumed the administrative functions previously performed by traditional rulers whilst community courts took over the judicial functions.

Ncube (2011) posts that the failure by the new government to incorporate and co-opt traditional institutions into formal state institutions in the first decades of independence lies at the heart of the confusion surrounding local administration in the communal areas after independence, this confusion was characterised by lack of clarity on the roles and functions between the Traditional institutions of Chiefs, Headman and Village Heads and the elected leadership of Village Development Committees (VIDCOs) and Ward Development Committees WADCOs in land matters. This precipitated a crisis of communal leadership in the communal areas of Zimbabwe whereby the legitimacy of the traditional institutions began to be questioned .Ncube (2011) further states that the powers of the traditional leaders were becoming defunct in many areas of the country, some chiefs, headman and village heads required some of their defunct authority over land proceeded to clandestinely allocate land, this land allocation has become the common source of conflicts in Zimbabwe’s rural areas, thus the crisis of communal leadership sufficed itself in many land conflicts which occurred throughout the country

The Zimbabwe governance system like in most African countries is characterised by co-existence of hereditary chieftainship and a democratically elected leadership. Traditional leadership is active at all levels of governance in Zimbabwe from the national level to the village level. At the highest level of the institution is the Chief, at the middle of the hierarchy is the office of the Headman and at the lowest tier which is village level is the Village Head , These institutions are established by the Traditional Leaders Act which recognises the role of each office in community development and peace building. The institution of traditional leadership is also recognised by the constitution, unlike local government that is created by statutes of Parliament. There are however conflicting claims to legitimacy and uneasy co-existence between traditional and elected leadership. Traditional leadership and local government officials occasionally trade accusations of abuse of power, non-compliance with laws; customs and traditions, especially regarding allocation and management of resources such as land which forms the prevalent source of most conflicts in communal areas

The Headman has functions similar to those of the Chief on a delegated basis but he is also the chair of Ward Assembly meetings. Since the Village Head chairs both the VIDCO and Village Assembly, the VIDCOs survive on the hard work of the Village Head and in a number of cases the VIDCOs no longer operating with all VIDCO functions being performed by the Village Head whilst in some cases VIDCOs are only seen to be operating when land disputes and resource conflicts emanate (Moyo, 2006)

2.3.2 The rural Governance nucleus

The above diagram gives an explanation on the relationship in rural governance. The people form the core of governance and everything that is done at local level. The Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust (ACPDT 2010) explains that the authority in the rural areas rise with rank from the ordinary citizen or resident of a local area until it reaches the level of the rural district council. Which form the overall leadership in terms of development policies in Zimbabwean rural areas? the powers of the village heads are less than that of the headman as given in the traditional leaders Act cap 29.17(111) section 11, whilst those of the Headman are more than those of the Village heads but less than those of the chief in terms of the same Act (section 6 and 8; Traditional Leaders Act).

Matibenga (2010) Asserts that in conflict resolution, if a village head fails to solve a community conflict issue, they refer it to the headman and if a headman fails again that same issue is referred to the Chief, the Chief is the highest traditional authority in rural areas. Ncube (2011) however argues on the same line but stating differently that these hierarchies in the rural areas are the primary causes of conflicts in rural Zimbabwe, this is because there are conflicts between these traditional leaders themselves in terms of responsibilities as one can easily see that the Chief has no limits over his jurisdiction in the discharge of traditional authority, The chief has the power according to the Traditional Leaders Act and the Customary Law and Local Courts Act to deal with issues even those that can be adjudicated by the lower authority of traditional leadership as such this causes dissatisfaction amongst the headman and village heads, as a result if the lower authority try to adjudicated the same type of conflicts in future, their authority is easily undermined and as such this reduces their relevance in dealing with traditional matters. This duplication of duties has been going on well for quite some time and has thus undermined the co-existence of these traditional leaders and as such reduced the impact of the grassroots approaches to conflict transformation by the traditional authorities.

2.4 Aims of grassroots conflict resolution

2.4.1 Empowering the community

Kubasu (2008) observes that grassroots approaches to conflict resolution by traditional leaders seek to re-empower communities to make vital decisions and address the needs of their people as well as create an environment more conducive to lasting peace. This is because empowering the traditional leader is empowering the community as the community banks on its leadership for progress, opinion and development.

2.4.2 Restoration of Order and Relationships

From a traditional point of view, conflict is perceived as an unwelcome disturbance of the relationships within the community. Hence traditional conflict transformation aims at the restoration of order and harmony of the community. Cooperation between conflict parties in the future has to be guaranteed. Traditional conflict management is thus geared towards the future (Mare. 2004). Consequently, the issue is not punishment of perpetrators for deeds done in the past, but restitution as a basis for reconciliation. Reconciliation is necessary for the restoration of social harmony of the community in general and of social relationships between conflict parties in particular. The aim as put by Kubasu (2008) is “not to punish, an action which would be viewed as harming the group a second time. The ultimate aim of conflict transformation thus is the restoration of relationships

Another immediate objective of such conflict resolution is to mend the broken or damaged relationship, and rectify wrongs, and restore justice (Moyo 2009). This is to ensure the full integration of parties into their societies again (Bob-Manuel: 2006), and to adopt the mood of co-operation for progressive development.

2.4.3 Transforming societies

Other long term aims are based on building harmony in the community. It has been realised that tolerance is not maintained automatically, and should purposefully be aimed at and worked for. The Kpelle people of Liberia of West Africa are known for their ad hoc local meetings called “moots” or “community palavers”, where the conflicting parties arrive at mediated settlements through the use of experienced traditional leader (Bob-Manuel 2006). Bob-Manuel (2006) further tells that among the Ndendeuli of Tanzania, grasroot actors play active roles in conflict solving by suggesting an agreement and get as far as pressurising the parties into accepting it. Pressurising can be done through talking or singing: shaming and ridiculing. This special method can be used in contexts where it is acceptable and in instances where the cause of the dispute is self- evident.

2.5 The importance of Grassroots actors

Grassroots actors are well positioned to address matters of community building, and identity formation. This is so due to a number of reasons as noted by Wilson (2001). Firstly, grassroots actors are positioned within the communities that they are working. These places them in close proximity to each individual which builds trust, respect and confidence between those directly involved in the conflict. Wilson (2001) points out that the Volunteer conflict transformation project in the rural provinces of Rwanda was widely accepted because grassroots actors were integrated into the local planning processes which catered for developmental needs of the community.

Traditional approaches focus on the psycho-social and spiritual dimension of violent conflicts and their transformation. This dimension tends to be underestimated by actors who are brought up and think in the context of western enlightenment (Dore 1995). Conflict transformation and peace-building is not only about negotiations, political solutions and material reconstruction, but also about reconciliation and mental and spiritual healing. Traditional approaches have a lot to offer in this regard. They do not only deal with material issues, reason and talk, but also with the spiritual world, feelings and non-verbal communication. Thus Dore (1995) further highlights that reconciliation as the basis for the restoration of communal harmony and relationships is at the heart of customary conflict resolution.

“When dealing with conflicts based in a Third World or non-Western society, action or interference from external factors, such as International Non-Government Organisations, is often regarded as culturally insensitive or an act of Western imperialism” (Solomon and Mangqibisa 2000). This perception of outside interference affects the prospects of conflict transformation as external actors intervening in the conflict often have established methods of interaction that often disregard traditions of conflict resolution that are evident in conflict-ridden societies (Solomon and Mngqibisa 2000). Grassroots actors are however, often familiar with particularistic traditions of community-building. As these are more likely to be positively received by the people, traditional methods are more conducive to peace promotion and enduring stability and cooperation within the society.

Traditional approaches are holistic, comprising also social, economic, cultural and religious-spiritual dimensions. This is in accordance with the entirety of traditional lifestyles and world views in which the different spheres of societal life are hardly separated. (Kubasu 2008)The conflict parties can directly engage in negotiations on conflict termination and in the search for a solution, or a third party can be invited to mediate; in any case the process is public, and the participation in the process and the approval of results is voluntary. It is carried out by social groups in the interest of social groups (extended families, clans, village communities, tribes, brotherhoods, etc.); individuals are perceived as members of a group, they are accountable to that group, and the group is accountable for (the deeds of) each of its members.

Kubasu (2008) advances that grassroot action provides an invaluable contribution to the process and substance of conflict transformation. Through their position in the socio-political hierarchy, Traditional leaders are well placed to address issues of identity and may often initiate change in an environment generally un-conducive to larger scale attempts at conflict resolution. Whilst the activities engaged by grassroots actors is largely context specific, conflict transformation theorists and practitioners can look to the success of different grassroots initiatives to build upon the current literature.

2.5.1 Comparison between grassroots conflict transformation and Morden conflict resolution

Table 1(Adopted from Kubasu 2008)

Traditional conflict resolution values


Judgement handed down by the traditional leader whose throne is hereditary and his assessors selected on their merits

Judgement handed down by judges whose

office is conferred on them through formal


Peaceful resolution and recourse to justice

Frequent recourse to revenge and violence,

without waiting for justice

Concern to reconcile the parties in


Judgements are categorical. There is no

concern to bring together the parties to the

conflict, nor for any later outcome

The traditional leaders act out of a spirit

of honesty, impartiality and fairness

They offer their services voluntarily

Bureaucratic and (at times) corrupt mentality

Paid work

Justice by the people involving everyone

(everyone can come to listen and give

an opinion)at the dares or village circles

Justice is the province of a particular group

of people (those with formal qualifications)

Lengthy judicial process

Disputes settled quickly or over a period of time(transformative)

Moral and social sanctions

Physical punishment and material fines

Torture and imprisonment(does not create social harmony)

Divesting individuals of their functions

Being discredited in others’ eyes

Being marginalized

Paying fines

Once the penalty has been paid, no further

reference made to offences committed

2.5.2 Conflict Mapping and Analysis

Processes of conflict resolution in Africa are characterised by three dimensions which include the nature of conflicts, conflict resolution mechanisms and the outcome of such mechanisms. In understanding the nature of conflicts, first there is need to identify types of conflicts (Maruta and Mpofu: 2004). There have been different ways of identifying types of conflicts. One way is in terms of complexity. It has been observed that in Zimbabwe there are simple and complex types of conflicts (Alexander 1995). Most of the conflicts have been and continue to be complex. The second way is in terms of duration. In this context there are short lived and protracted conflicts. Protracted conflicts are the most common in rural Zimbabwe these include conflicts of resources especially land and well as ethnic or tribal issues .In the Midlands and Matabeleland were protracted conflicts and civil wars that came after independence .

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The third way is in terms of violence. There are conflicts which are violent and those which are non-violent. Some people have characterised the non-violent conflicts as latent or structured conflicts (Fisher 2007). However, most conflicts which have been studied and which have drawn greater attention are violent conflicts which have involved bloodshed. Although most conflict resolution measures have been taken on violent conflicts, there have also been situations when conflict resolution measures have been made on latent conflicts. For example the latent conflict between traditional leaders and elected councillors in the Zibabgwe district of Kwekwe gave rise to a process of peace negotiations under the auspices of the Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation (Mpangala, 2000). The fourth way of identifying types of conflicts is in terms of the scale of the conflict. In this context conflicts in rural areas have been categorised as either resource or political conflicts, with a few tribal and household conflicts

2.5.3 The effect of political involvement

Sometimes the role of traditional leaders as champions of conflict transformation and good governance is compromised by their involvement in politics, this motivates the people to challenge their legitimacy and the validity of their judgements, and as such this affects their leadership capabilities. The Newsday(2012) reported that the institution of the traditional leadership has come under spotlight following the government’s intention to bestow greater powers on the traditional leaders , the argument here is that the age old concept of traditional leaders remaining mere custodians of cultural values and interceding with the ancestors has been turned head on as a ruling government seeks to enhance their political expediency though influencing traditional leaders, Kubatana(2012) supports this by quoting President Mugabe’s speech when he said chiefs should no longer remain repositories of oral history

“You should be guardians of our national sovereignty and guard against those who delight in associating with our detractors and those who work in cahoots with the powers that seek to mislead our people”(Kubatana :2012)

Mararike (2011) observes that although there is need to improve the role and operations of chiefs , greater caution should be taken to prevent abuse of any authority guaranteed , traditional leaders are unable to operate effectively because of the dualism of using the Roman Dutch Law as the basis of our legal system and the traditional system hence there could be serious problems unless the traditional system of government is clearly separated from the political party system whereby traditional leaders are separated in a non-partisan way

Few traditional leaders have legal remaining to despise Morden forms of justice their judgement and authority can be easily contested and overlooked, the Chief Negomo vs. the Prime minister Tsvangirai issue is one such example of a situation where traditional leaders are oblivion to address community issues but go on to fight the politicians, however they end up with their decisions overlooked and their legitimacy questioned, Mararike (2011) further argues that the current crop of traditional leaders have no capacity , he argues that young ,educated and professional men should be appointed as chiefs otherwise the current crop would need support staff to dispense justice without biases among rural communities.

2.6 The Traditional Conflict Transformation approaches

During the years of traditional leadership in Africa various conflicts caused by different issues attracted various approaches to their resolution. Most conflicts and their resolution methods at that time were predominantly local. Conflicts were between individuals, villages, communities or tribes who lived in the same or adjoining areas. Those who intervened were often local elders and /or tribal leaders. When kingdoms developed about the 17th and 18th century in southern Africa, stronger and wider authority came into power, but the traditional methods of instigating and resolving conflicts had gone through very small changes and are now gradually starting their process of decline.

2.6.1 Mediation

Mediation is defined as an attempt to settle a dispute through an active participation of a third party(Mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result. The Harvard journal of Conflict Studies (Nov 2008) defines mediation as an act of reconciliation that is trying to unite and reach an agreement between conflicting parties.

The chiefs and headman are respected as trustworthy mediators all over Africa, because of their accumulated experience and wisdom as they are usually of an elderly age. Their role as mediators would depend on traditions, circumstances and personalities, accordingly of their society. These roles include: pressurising or manipulating conflicting parties to reach an agreement, making recommendations, giving assessment, conveying suggestions on behalf of a party. Behaviour used is facilitation, through clarifying information, promoting clear communication, interpreting standpoints, summarising discussions, emphasising relevant norms or rules, envisaging the situation if agreement is not reached, or repeating of the agreement already attained. The mediators can also remain passive, as they are there to represent important shared values. There is no predetermined model, so they are entitled to change their roles fr


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