Comment: Interactive Problem-Solving Interventions as Instrument of Conflict Transformation: Prospects and Challenges

Author:Frew Demeke Alemu
Position:Frew Demeke Alemu (LLB, LLM in International Human Rights Law from Lund University, Sweden , MPP in Public Policy and International Conflict Management from Willy Bardt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt, Germany); Director of the Research and Resource Centre at the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Email: freyoss@yahoo.com
Pages:430-447
SUMMARY

Even though wars between states were historically the major forms of conflict, civil strife based on questions of identity, ethnicity, religion and other similar grounds has become the order of the day after the end of the Second World War. The complexity of mostly overlapping, social, economic, cultural, political and religious factors in these conflicts makes them difficult to deal with. This... (see full summary)

 
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Interactive Problem-Solving Interventions
as Instrument of Conflict Transformation:
Prospects and Challenges
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v10i2.6
Frew Demeke Alemu
Abstract
Even though wars between states were historically the major forms of conflict, civil
strife based on questions of identity, ethnicity, religion and other similar grounds
has become the order of the day after the end of the Second World War. The
complexity of mostly overlapping, social, economic, cultural, political and religious
factors in these conflicts makes them difficult to deal with. This structural and
conceptual metamorphosis in the international conflict paradigm has required the
international community to rethink the traditional and formal conflict management
and third party intervention techniques and instruments such as negotiation and
mediation. In the course of achieving these goals, conflict scholars have focused on
multiple but concurrent multi-track diplomacy instruments. Track II of this multi-
track diplomacy and its conflict transformation instruments are based on the
concerted efforts of unofficial actors to establish unofficial communication
channels and facilitate the relations between the conflicting parties. One of the most
commonly used instruments of Track II diplomacy is interactive problem-solving.
The primary (but not the only) instrument of interactive problem-solving is a
problem-solving workshop. This interdisciplinary comment deals with pertinent
issues of relevance with regard to the nature and effectiveness of this conflict
transformation instrument. In doing so, it makes a practical effectiveness
assessment test against one of such methods, i.e., the Kumi method.
Key terms
Conflict, conflict transformation, multi-track diplomacy, Track II diplomacy,
interactive problem-solving, problem-solving workshop, Kumi Method
Frew Demeke Alemu (LLB, LLM in International Human Rights Law from Lund
University, Sweden , MPP in Public Policy and International Conflict Management from
Willy Bardt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt, Germany); Director of the
Research and Resource Centre at the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
Email: freyoss@yahoo.com
I
INTERDISCIPLINARY COMMENT 431
Introduction
The face of international conflicts has significantly changed after the Second
World War and this has forced the international community to revisit the status
quo of conflict management approaches. The traditional conflict management
mechanisms that need revisiting include legal methods, peacekeeping, mediation
and negotiation. Given the prevalence of inter-state, intra-ethnic and identity
based conflicts, it has become an imperative to adopt a more comprehensive and
robust third-party conflict intervention techniques.1 These mechanisms are
designed in a way that enables the international community to deal with the root
causes of the prevailing intra-state, ethnic and identity based conflicts by putting
the domestic actors at the center of the conflict resolution process.2 One of such
mechanisms is interactive problem-solving intervention which emphasizes on
the close interaction of the conflicting parties through a bottom-up approach.
Some argue that this instrument of conflict intervention is a very effective
tool in addressing the root causes of a conflict through facilitating a forum of
open and honest dialogue among the members of the different conflicting
parties, while others contend that the real impact of such effort is limited to the
doors of the conference venue as it involves only a limited number of
participants who cannot guarantee the dissemination of the outcomes to the rest
of the society. Furthermore, the critiques point to the difficulty of measuring the
impact of such efforts in the community and the temporal longevity of impact as
the major drawbacks of this intervention method. Hence, this comment
evaluates the relevance and effectiveness of this conflict resolution method in
solving inter-group conflicts by referring to a modern case study where such
method was used.
The first section of the comment is a brief elaboration on the evolution of
third-party intervention. The second section briefly discusses Track-II diplomacy
in light of interactive problem-solving method, and it highlights the theoretical
basis of problem-solving method. The third section deals with problem-solving
workshop as a specific method of interactive problem-solving, followed by the
last section which briefly presents the Kumi method of interactive problem-
solving as an empirical case study.
1 Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson (2012), Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First
Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches, (University of Michigan Press), p. 8.
2 Ibid.

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