The “Seven Deadly Sins” of a Peacemaker
Peacemaking is an art””but increasingly we can apply sound measurements to rate a mediator’s efforts. In the run-up to the long-awaited announcement of the U.S. policy on Sudan, I will use a paper by Lakhdar Brahimi and Salman Ahmed, “In Pursuit of Sustainable Peace: The Seven Deadly Sins of Mediation,” to outline some of the measurements we may use to assess the new U.S. policy. My premise is that the U.S. is interested in peace, and that the warring parties are Sudanese, so that the U.S. role is either as mediator or in support of mediation. If the U.S. intends imposing its own political framework on Sudan, then that would call for a different set of measurements.
The “seven deadly sins” catalogued by Brahimi and Ahmed are as follows.
First is ignorance“”the “original sin” of mediators. A mediator must understand the different and competing explanations for the cause of the conflict and have a “political map” of all those involved. No outside mediator can ever know as much about the conflict as the belligerents themselves, and it takes time to learn enough to operate effectively, impeded by the fact that the parties to the conflict will do their best to mislead the mediator into selectively adopting their version of events.
By this stage, the U.S. has an excellent mapping of all the conflicts in Sudan–though all sides are active in trying to present their favored slant on what is going on. From what I have seen, the Special Envoy has a grasp of the big picture””and knows where to turn to get the details.
Second is arrogance“”the sin of failing to admit “I don’t know enough”. Mediators may depend upon “the fifty people in the country who are most fluent in English” (or indeed French) and fail to seek out those who are difficult to approach and harder to understand. It is naí¯ve and arrogant, Brahimi and Ahmed aver, to “rely exclusively on the views of those who flatter us and appear to most resemble ourselves.” The arrogant mediator may believe that the core problem is so simple that it needs no further analysis, or think that he or she has seen it all before and that prior experience may allow taking short cuts.
Arrogance is a particular temptation for U.S. policymakers, who may believe that the U.S. is so powerful it doesn’t need to be concerned with too many facts. A U.S. envoy may feel that knowing whether a party is “for us or against us” is all that’s necessary””or whether someone is “one of the good guys.” But after U.S. intentions and efforts have been frustrated so many times in Sudan over the years, that kind of arrogance has long since been drummed out of anyone actively engaged in policy. Fortunately the current administration has so far proven resistant to arrogance.
Number three is partiality. This is not a question of being balanced–one side may bear more responsibility for reaching a settlement than the other. Impartiality is mainly about possessing the credibility that allows one to tell the leaders of one side of a conflict that they have got something wrong, and they have to accept something they don’t want to accept. It is essential for a mediator to enjoy the credibility that comes when all parties believe in his or her impartiality and honesty. One trap that mediators fall into is to deliver tough messages early on, before establishing the reputation of an honest broker among all the belligerents. A common version of this deadly sin is to take that reputation for granted.
So far, U.S. envoy General Gration has taken particular pains to avoid this sin. He recognized at the outset that the parties that need to make peace are the Sudanese, and it was his standing in Sudan that counted, not his scorecard among the commentators back home. This predictably earned him the wrath of some activists who wanted him to make some strong anti-Khartoum pronouncements on day one.
The fourth deadly sin is impotence. Brahimi and Ahmed write that the international mediator “is entirely dependant on the relevant members of the international community to make the negotiated option more attractive to the parties relative to the [military] alternatives. Thus an honest broker can be an irrelevant broker if he or she does not manage his or her relations with the relevant members of the international community.” Hence the potent mediator must take account of the interests of the most powerful international players, and ensure that they contribute positively to the mediation process or at worst do not block it.
As the world’s sole superpower, the U.S. might be assumed to be immune to this sin””but there are many other powerful stakeholders that need to be on board for any process to work. A multilateral approach to Sudan is essential. It may sound morally upright for a special envoy to growl about aggressive military action, but if it doesn’t enjoy multilateral support, it’s an irrelevant exercise in grandstanding.
Next is haste. An effective mediator, according to Brahimi and Ahmed, “will need to consult with hundreds of actors, over and over again… [and]…this may require several months of effort. No matter how sound the proposals of an international mediator might be, they risk being rejected if they have not emanated from a process that enjoys the confidence of all the parties to the conflict and is considered legitimate in the eyes of the population at large. The process matters and it takes time.” The authors point is that there can be a rapid peace conference but it may need to build upon months or years of preparatory work. The key point here is therefore not so much time taken by the mediator but the effective use of time in a proper consultative process. A slothful mediator who confuses slow speed with a maturing process is as guilty of haste as one who rushes towards agreement.
For U.S. policy at today’s juncture in Sudan, this is tricky. Rapid action is needed to ensure that the final two years of the CPA can be navigated without a return to violent conflict. There are some major challenges of sequencing and timing ahead.
Sin six is inflexibility. This is the failure to adapt the political map and mediation strategy to changing realities including the unfolding events on the ground and the changing international context. Brahimi and Ahmed give examples of how new opportunities may arise for effective mediation, or old frameworks may become redundant. The effective mediator needs to be able to seize the moment. “Inflexibility to course adjustments in response to major changes in the political map or on the international scene can lead a peace process down a dead-end or away from new avenues to take it forward.”
Over recent weeks, the biggest domestic challenge for U.S. policy has been to recognize that realities in Darfur have changed enormously since 2003-04. I would be appalled if the anti-Khartoum lobbies in Washington DC succeed in locking U.S. policy into a public position that there is “ongoing genocide” in Darfur–exit U.S. influence stage left.
The last is false promises. Brahimi and Ahmed suggest a “few basic messages” which a mediator should stress: “progress will be slow; mistakes will be made; setbacks will occur; periodic review and course correction will be required; technical problems can be resolved through technical solutions, but political problems need political solutions; painful compromises and concessions will be expected of everyone; there is no shortcut to sustainable peace in the aftermath of war; it will take several years if not decades to rebuild a war-torn state and achieve reconciliation; this is just the beginning of the process.” False promises are the converse: especially raising the false expectation that a peace support operation will be a short cut to peace, reconciliation and recovery. Empty threats are just as sinful.
This speaks for itself. Only the Sudanese can make peace among themselves. The U.S. can help or hinder that process, but cannot drive it. The U.S. doesn’t need a vision for peace in Sudan. It needs a vision for how it can help the Sudanese to achieve peace.
Given the propensity for outside engagement in complex conflicts to make things worse, if Special Envoy Gration can “do no harm”, by avoiding each of these seven deadly sins, then he will have achieved a lot.
Alex: this is useful but the real target for the Brahimi/Ahmed paper seems to be a conflict mediator himself, not a special envoy. Shouldn’t this critique actually be directed to Messrs. Eliasson, Salim and Bassole? Regards, Jibreel
I second Jibreel’s request. Please give us your scorecard for Abuja (you were there after all) and for Sirte and Doha. Sudanese are keen to know what is really going on behind the curtain in Doha, because what we hear in the media makes no sense at all.
There is no sin on this list of which M. BassolÃ© is not guilty. His performance is extraordinary to behold. One can speculate only that the single character reference sought by the UN was from his Head of State President Blaise CampaorÃ©, a man who for sure understands the meaning of original sin better than most.
You and several others have made insinuations against the person of Minister BassolÃ© in these columns but remain to back them up with corroborated facts which might allow for a balanced verdict to be made. Bureaucratic rivalries and internal infighting will without a shred of doubt be the certain death of any peace initiative. According to my experience Minister BassolÃ© has not been peturbed by the catcalls and naysayers and has stuck to his guns confident that the proof of his approach will be found not in the verdict of opnionated contributors to this blog but in his success in delivering the goods at the end of the day. Just because he has cut the self-proclaimed experts out of the informational loop does not mean that he is not doing the job he has been asked to do and which peace in Darfur requires . The intimations about his political past should not be taken as disqualifications for his current job because it is only by sticking to unpopular positions and persisting on a set course while fair weather friends carp and criticize that the mediator will succeed in his task, which means that the personal qualities needed for this singleminded strategy will for sure be found only in someone who has a personal background in security. What I am saying is, give the fellow a chance and leave him to do his job.
Dear all, these comments add up to a challenge, which I will respond to shortly. May I also hope that someone will write in support of Joint Chief Mediator Djibrill BassolÃ© who is not so obviously pseudonymous? Alex
A note to all commentators: I have closed this post for further comments but will resume the discussion on these themes later.