"Managing Complexity, Breaking Deadlocks and Building Consensus "
A Background Paper for the Third Conference on National Dialogues, April 5-6, 2017
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of National Dialogues, as seen from a planning and facilitation perspective, is its bewildering complexity. In Burma the Panglong conference that met for the first time in January 2016 consisted of 900 representatives from the government and army; ethnic minorities and 18 armed groups; and more than 90 democratic parties/groups. In Yemen, the National Dialogue Conference had 565 representatives, representing political parties and movements, ethnic representatives, women and youth, 50% to represent the South and 30% women. Not only is the sheer size of such meetings intimidating, but more so the range of political interests, the depth of distrust, the seeming irreconcilability of competing interests and issues, and the fragility of the arrangement that must hold all together.
It is accepted that, given the homegrown quality of National Dialogues, there will and should be no one-size-fits all answer to the above questions. There seems to be an almost naïve assumption that dialogue will be successful if only protagonists can be brought into the same room (or hall). This is not the case, as the list of National Dialogues that did not have any lasting impact is considered, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Togo, Yemen, Bahrain, Swaziland, Sudan – to name but a few.
The following dynamics regarding planning for and managing National Dialogues deserve ongoing attention:
1. Many National Dialogues fail because of political capture. This happens when the ruling party or external actors seek to control the outcome of the process by exerting undue pressure on who to include, the formulation of the agenda, and the procedures adopted. What options are available for facilitators when faced with political capture? What rules of engagement need to be in place to ensure a level playing field?
2. The inclusion of the military, armed or highly radicalized groups that may resort again to armed resistance or violent disruptions, is a particularly complex and important issue. It is important to understand the drivers and root causes behind radicalization, but also how to engage in dialogue with radicalized groups given circumstances of international policies and sanctions. It is equally important to understand the dynamics of changing the “instruments” of dealing with existential conflicts (from military tools to dialogue tools). This is an acute dilemma faced by facilitators of dialogue. Ongoing reflection and research is very critical.
3. The process of fostering confidence in dialogue as a viable option needs much attention. Military actors in particular must be convinced to move their conflict from the battlefield to the dialogue table. It implies the existence of a “table” that inspires confidence and promises better alternatives to military strategies. But what precisely does confidence-building entail? What does confidence-building mean in a context of terror attacks, drones and clandestine or open external support for military options? Is a “mutually hurting stalemate” indeed a precondition for successful talks?
4. Interference in or pressure by external actors add to the stress placed on National Dialogues. The management of external actors therefore poses considerable challenges to the facilitators of National Dialogues. At the same time, few National Dialogues could take place without some form of external support, whether political, technical or financial. It is important to develop a better understanding of risks associated with undue external interference, but also of international indifference. It may also imply the development of codes of conduct for INGOs who seek to provide support, but without consideration of what is already in place and without respect for the principles of collaboration and national ownership.
5. Essential elements that need to be agreed on in the initial dialogue framework agreement that precedes the start of the National Dialogue, include: criteria for inclusive participation; mandating of dialogue structure and outcome, and establishing formal links to constitutional, governance and change instruments; inclusive political managing structure(s) and accountability mechanisms; decision-making procedures; core principles and values; agreement on its purpose, objectives and what it is intended to change and agree on – developing an inclusive broad agenda framework; appointment of a multi-partial, non-stakeholder-driven secretariat and management; financial and administrative responsibilities; etc.
“Self-mediation” procedures and design elements in National Dialogues
One of the many consistent patterns in failed or weak formal National Dialogue processes is the absence or under-development of deliberate, integrated and coherent designs of “self-mediation” components and procedures. We will outline a few here for discussion:
a. The strategic process, dialogue roadmap and facilitation strategy that is implemented has been shown to have a determining impact on the outcome of dialogue processes. There are various matters in need of ongoing discussions and joint learning in this respect, including:
• The most appropriate and contextual infrastructure for the talks, including the formation of management and facilitation task teams, the structure of the table (or conference room), facilitation strategies, committees, expert panels, and procedural rules.
• Consistent and structured practices regarding the generation of options (research, consultations, comparative studies, stakeholder proposals, hidden messages, technical committees, drafting committees, etc.)
• The procedures, techniques and structures for decision-making, deadlock-breaking and consensus building (One Text, technical experts, options generation, indabas, dialogue circles and trees, interactive multi-track processes, etc.).
• Decision-making arrangements (full consensus, sufficient consensus, voting for consensus, 2/3 majority, or a scale or combination of options).
b. The role of shared knowledge creation to enable dialogue participants to operate from a basis of credible and jointly owned knowledge is increasingly recognized. Attention to this aspect would include:
• identify information gaps;
• Structured and systematic ongoing mapping of stakeholder proposals, positions, interests; their common ground and differences (to feed into the facilitation strategy design and One-Text decision-making process)
• enable joint knowledge creation and “fact discovery”;
• move from “facts and perceptions”, to “facts and facts” — acknowledging and seeing each other’s realities;
• technical information and common understanding of conceptual frameworks and systems;
• jointly developing inclusive agenda frames that acknowledge the needs, hopes, brokenness and expectations from all sides;
• Ongoing joint conflict assessment and facilitation strategy development by Secretariat, Facilitation Task Groups, Technical Committees and Consensus-building bodies.
c. The National Dialogue should also enable people’s voices to be heard. This includes linking tracks 1, 2 and 3; welcoming and respecting submissions from the public; and ensuring a constructive media policy.
Working towards a working definition of formal National Dialogues – evolving common understandings from past two conferences:
Following the discussions and reports from the Helsinki National Dialogue Conferences in 2014 and 2015, some shared understandings have emerged that we cover in this section. There remain, however, significant areas that needs joint reflection and research to capture the extent of these instruments’ extraordinary complexity. The recent publication of the Berghof/Swisspeace handbook for practitioners, the HD publication for third parties support, and the ongoing development of the Peace and Dialogue Platform have all contributed significantly to the evolving body of knowledge emerging from these processes.
In order to define formal National Dialogues a number of distinctions were made during the past conferences. First, a National Dialogue is a highly inclusive process involving, as far as is possible, the complete spectrum of political diversity in a society. It is therefore to be distinguished from processes, often conducted by external mediators, that engage only with armed actors or the most prominent protagonists.
Second, the objective with National Dialogues is to arrive at a new constitutional dispensation or a fundamental re-organisation of the political and statutory landscape. It can therefore be distinguished from, for example, international mediation interventions that have the intention to achieve a very specific political or military settlement (such as, for example, SADC’s mediation of the crisis in Madagascar) that do not necessarily require a substantive revision of the constitutional foundation of a society.
Third, these dialogues, as in Myanmar, South Africa, Yemen and Lebanon, have a formal character, meaning that they are set up in order to impact on the statutory landscape and that have, therefore, to feed into formal legal procedures. They are therefore to be distinguished from informal or Track Two dialogue processes.
Fourth, formal National Dialogue processes, especially those that have been successful, may not be restricted to a once-off event, but may evolve through different formats and conclude in a constituent assembly. In both South Africa and Nepal the National Dialogue took a decade to produce a new constitution, relying on different iterations of the dialogue platform across this period. In some countries, such as Lebanon, a National Dialogue platform has been established to pursue ongoing dialogue in the aftermath of a political settlement.
Fifth, and very important, National Dialogues are homegrown and self-managed processes. In Myanmar 5 stakeholder groups from more than 90 parties, government, army and armed groups designed their own dialogue frameworks. Collectively, they spent the last two years negotiating the final dialogue and change instruments. While national stakeholders may accept external support in some or other form, a National Dialogue is not mediated by external actors nor designed to meet international interests or concerns. It is, first and foremost, a national attempt at solving its own contradictions. Part from its formal constitutional role, the National Dialogue also becomes a shared space for reconciliation and to develop common visions for their future.
A working definition of a National Dialogue is, therefore, that it is a formally mandated process of political dialogue that is inclusive, self-mediated and aimed at forging broad consensus in a highly diverse and polarized society on the values, principles and rules that should govern peaceful co-existence. A National Dialogue may take place at various stages of a peacemaking process and need not take place in the same format. It is therefore an open, adaptive process that should be defined by its broad objective and thrust and not by the particular format it takes.
The questions and considerations for this session include:
- what are the planning, management, facilitation, shared knowledge and procedural measures that must be in place in order to manage the complexity of National Dialogues?
- what are the key structural and “self-mediation” elements that needs to be built-into formal National Dialogues to enable consensus-building, common understanding of issues, and deadlock-breaking?
- National Dialogues as third-party instruments for mediation; and National Dialogues as sovereign “self-mediation” instruments;
- comparing negotiation, mediation and dialogue across tracks.
Burma's Historic National Dialogue
Update from Yangon
September 30, 2016
After 50 plus years of conflict between Myanmar/Burma's central government and many of its ethnic minorities, the newly elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (the "NLD") hopes to fulfill the promise of the country's fledgling peace process. Earlier this month, 700 representatives of the country’s ethnic parties, armed groups, the Myanmar Army, and the Burmese government concluded the second round of the Union Peace Conference. This historic conference and the ongoing political dialogue processes taking place nationally and regionally within Burma is mandated to resolve the ethnic conflict and design the structure of the new “Democratic Federal Union”. The gathering highlighted new challenges to the peace process, as Burma's ethnic alliances continued to splinter. Though substantial progress has been made over the last three years, the NLD government must navigate a political transition that has entered a more complicated and challenging phase.
The increasing complexity of Burma's political transition has deep historical roots, as well as more recent origins. Prior to the inauguration of National League of Democracy government, the government of former General Thein Sein had entered into a national ceasefire negotiation with the country’s ethnic armed groups, many of whom had negotiated separate, individual bi-lateral ceasefires with the government previously. Despite broad agreement on core principles by nearly all parties, ultimately only eight groups signed the "nationwide ceasefire agreement" with the government. Others opted out, some indicating that they preferred to wait for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to assume leadership of the country before proceeding. However in the months since the NLD government took office, no new signatories have been added, and in several areas of the country occupied or controlled by the non-signatories to the ceasefire, violence has flared up, most recently resulting in the dislocation of thousands of civilians along the country’s border with Thailand.
How to move the peace process forward at both the national and state/regional level at this juncture is the central challenge. Both the nationwide ceasefire agreement and subsequent talks laid out plans for a national dialogue process, of which the recently concluded session of Union Peace Conference is one part. With the changing environment, these plans are being revised, but it is anticipated that Burma's national dialogue process will continue for at least three to five years at both the national and sub-national levels. Its fundamental purpose is to provide a forum for a more consensus driven redrawing of a federal Burmese State. Bringing all parties to the table is critical. In the initial session of the Union Peace Conference held last January (before the NLD assumed leadership of the government), only those ethnic armed groups who were signatories to the ceasefire attended as full members. In this month’s sessions, after much government outreach and support from international governments, including China, nearly all ethnic armed groups attended in some capacity.
However the Union Peace Conference showed that the envisioned participation of Burma’s many ethnic armed groups and political parties in the current national process will not be as a unified entity. Indeed some walked out of the Union Peace Conference. Three likely blocs are emerging; each with distinct views on how to engage in the future process and varying ideas of what a new Burmese State should look like. These blocs include: the signatories to the original ceasefire (comprising some of the largest ethnic armed groups, including the Karen National Union and others); a second bloc representing those non-signatories to the original process who are nonetheless willing to engage with the NLD government, including the Kachin, Mon, and Kayah ethnic groups; and a third set of parties, representing ethnic armed groups, such as the United Wa State Army (an ethnic armed group located in territory bordering China), who are more reticent to join in the process. Balancing these interests, those of the military which still holds 25% of the seats in Parliament, and those of her own constituents in the National League of Democracy, will be a massive challenge for Aung San Suu Kyi, in her capacity as State Counselor. Much support has been given to date, but even more will be needed if this transition is to be successful.
Photos: Aung San Suu Kyi addressing Union Peace Conference and delegates at the Union Peace Conference courtesy of KNU Headquarters.
In the days following the tragic suicide bombings in Beirut and the horrific attacks in Paris in mid-November, peacebuilders from 12 countries met in Helsinki to share and jointly reflect on their peace and dialogue initiatives. The common thread was their creation of safe spaces and safety nets – known as “Common Spaces.” These spaces serve multiple purposes, from hosting confidential dialogues among leaders in deeply divided societies to supporting formal negotiations in peace and constitutional reform processes. With the emergence of these sustained dialogue initiatives following long periods of civil war or during intractable conflicts, we are witnessing the creation of groundbreaking joint mechanisms that simultaneously help catalyze, accompany and support fundamental political and social change processes in divided societies.
The Burmese “Framework for Political Dialogue” (FPD) was finally agreed upon yesterday, December 16th, by the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) in the country’s capital. The Framework was handed over to the President who will publicize the Framework and call for a political dialogue in mid-January 2016. The UPDJC will be mandated to hold the upcoming political dialogue with the participation of 700 representatives from the government, parliament, defense services, ethnic armed organizations, political parties, ethnic leaders and special invitees.
The final framework was drawn from the 5 frameworks developed by the main stakeholders over the past three years – military, NLD, political parties and ethnic armed groups. Over the past 8 months the representatives from each of these groups developed a common framework draft that formed the basis of this agreement. The meeting in January will be an initial meeting to comply with the provisions of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed on 15th October this year. The formal dialogue process will start in late 2016 with the aim to develop a new constitutional framework guaranteeing equality to all the diverse ethnic groups, addressing the shortcomings in the current 2008 constitution and addressing the deep-rooted causes of conflict of the past 6 decades.
This info-graphic captures some of the dialogue and mediation mechanisms in the anatomy of an overall change process. It is a diagram to facilitate discussion on developing open frameworks for shared understanding of complex and evolving processes. It is not simply a linear continuum, but rather a complex, multi-layered and -dimensional process in which the different stages, presented below, can recur or take place simultaneously. The change process includes the non-linear processes prior and following the national dialogue. Various forms of mediation shown as third-party mediation, self-mediation structures, inside mediation and local/national peace structures, augment the change process at critical points. The process is also continuously reinforced by multitrack dialogue in various sectors and processes displayed below functioning as safety net mechanisms and support dialogues to break the political deadlocks.
PRIO conducted a seminar on "the many facets of dialogue processes – with regards to Tunisia as well as elsewhere." The seminar focused on the following points:
The key contributors were Hannes Siebert, Ghazi Gherairi, and the chair was Kristian Berg Harpviken, PRIO Director.
The event was conducted at PRIO, Oslo.
By Hannes Siebert
Published on the PRIO Blog
In the last century, peace was far more likely the product of victory on the battlefield than a negotiated settlement. From 1940 until 2002, the world witnessed more than 370 state-based conflicts. At any point in time over the last decade, the world hosted nearly 30 armed conflicts simultaneously — many of them “check book wars,” with external powers funding and supplying arms to different internal factions in order to enhance their access to the beleaguered state’s resources.
In this “post-post-colonial” era we are witnessing the post-colonial government incarnations of the colonial “strong man” being replaced by new democratic forces. These new movements are re-defining democracy; they are innovating new forms of representative government; and many are re-considering the nation-state concept. As each of these countries attempts to cut the umbilical cords from their former colonial powers, we see a reduction in external foreign mediation and an increase in mass people’s movements and national dialogues as tools of political transformation. With these significant phenomena, local and national peacemakers and concerned parties work together to resolve their conflict through the creation of joint “self-mediation” instruments, different types of national dialogues and various forms of supporting peace infrastructures that emerge out of these local contexts.
National Dialogues have become a common part of many post-conflict and post-crisis transition processes. These broad-based stakeholder dialogues are usually mandated to define key aspects of the political or constitutional future of a country and are commonly the center-piece of post crisis transitions. In countries with multiple political, non-state and governing stakeholders – varying between 7 and 94 in number – national dialogues are emerging as the only mechanism that can manage and facilitate large complex political transformations and change processes. Some are supported by the United Nations and regional organisations, but most formally mandated National Dialogues have been designed, managed and implemented by the national stakeholders themselves – such as in South Africa, Nepal, Tunisia, Lebanon and Burma.
The composition and management of National Dialogues present extraordinary complex challenges in terms of constructing and managing dialogue between multiple delegations representing a variety of social formations. Their development and design is determined by the dynamics of the past conflict, the depth of the broken relations between groups, the multiple layers of inequality and loss of human dignity, and the failures of existing constitutional and governing instruments.
If one takes a closer look at the change narratives or agenda of their committees and structures, these mandated dialogue structures not only provided new constitutional frameworks, addressing the root causes of the conflict or constitutional failures; they served a much broader function. They also served as spaces and instruments for reconciliation, developing joint visions between former enemies, and slowly evolving an understanding of the needs, perceptions and perspectives of the “other”.
As change and “self-mediation” processes, National Dialogues have been highly undervalued, mainly because they are often insulated from the outside (and less susceptible to international intervention), and also because they usually take an extraordinary amount of time and effort. National Dialogues are also less directed towards the conclusion of agreements (only) than is international mediation. Rather, they aim at establishing an environment for long-term stability, improved relations between state, community and non-state actors, and open communication between all of a society’s major actors on issues that divide them or are of common national interest. The strength of National Dialogues is that they establish a consistent structure deeply rooted in that society that becomes the mechanism to address and agree on fundamental structural change.
Presentation on the One Text Initiative at The Second Conference on Non-Formal Dialogue Processes and National Dialogues
The Second Conference on Non-Formal Dialogue Processes and National Dialogues: Experiences from countries in transition
16 November – 18 November 2015
The House of the Estates (Säätytalo), Helsinki
Building capacity for self- mediation, deadlock-breaking, consensus-building and people’s participatory processes into the change mechanisms
Founder Chairman & Executive Director/CEO
Dr. Thusitha Tennakoon
One-Text Initiative (OTI), Sri Lanka
2014 and 2015 have brought greater attention to the emerging role of national dialogues as transitional mechanisms for countries in conflict to chart their political futures. The first large scale international conference on "National Dialogues and Mediation Processes" was hosted by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs from March 30 - April 2 in 2014. This past October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. And On November 15th of this year, the second annual conference, titled "Non-Formal Dialogue Processes and National Dialogues" will be convened again in Helsinki, with the sponsorship of the Finnish Foreign Ministry and numerous partners.
Following last year's conference, a report entitled "National Dialogue and Internal Mediation Processes: Perspectives on Theory and Practice" was issued by the Finnish Foreign Ministry. The publication provides an overview of dialogue processes in conflict transformation, examines the role of external actors and presents case studies from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Also in May of this year, the UK based Conciliation Resources ACCORD series published ACCORD Issue No. 25 "Legitimacy and Peace Processes: From Coercion to Consent."
The Peace Appeal Foundation's co-founder and Senior Technical Adviser, Hannes Siebert, authored "National Dialogue and Legitimate Change" which framed essays on dialogue processes in the Basque region, Myanmar/Burma and Yemen. With discussions and expressions of interest in launching broadly inclusive national dialogues in countries across the globe, including Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Libya and Ukraine, the Finnish Foreign Ministry will host a second conference on the topic in 2015.