Mediation of the 2008 post-election conflict in Kenya: Was it a case of mediator personality?
( Note on how to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post, ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight )
In 2008 Koffi Annan and a panel of other eminent personalities under the auspices of the African Union mediated the Kenyan conflict between two major political parties stemming from a bungled presidential election by the Electoral body. Before the arrival of the panel, other personalities and organizations had made unsuccessful attempts but which were nonetheless crucial in laying the groundwork for the work of the panel. At the end of the grueling, tension pact and riveting Forty-One-day of mediation efforts, white smoke billowed, and the country could breathe again. The success of the mediation has been widely credited to the personality/status of Koffi Annan.
The available literature on the successes and failures of international mediation efforts identifies key fundamental contextual and process variables which impact or influence outcomes of mediation efforts in light of which questions abound whether or not the success of the process could be solely attributable to the personality of Koffi Annan who was the Chief Mediator.
This paper aims to interrogate the process and critically analyze the factors that impact on the successes and failures of international mediation and how they apply to the instant case. Chapter 2, of the paper, is a narration of the background of the conflict that includes its historical background, its immediate and underlying causes. Chapter 3, addresses the conflict intervention, management or resolution method that was used. The chapter briefly explains the meaning of mediation and the initial attempts that that took place before the Koffi led panel arrived. Chapter 4, on the other hand, addresses the question of the personality of the mediator with regards to the successes or otherwise of mediation efforts. The chapter incisively discusses the fundamental characteristics of impartiality, leverage and status and how they impact on mediation efforts. Chapter 5, then looks at the other key factors other than personality and more specifically their contribution to the success of the instant case. The paper concludes that even though personality was key to the Kenyan case, it was not the only factor.
The Republic of Kenya is a Sovereign State found in the East Coast of the continent of Africa. It is a Multi-Party democracy with a National assembly and the president as the head of the Government. The Kenyan population of approximately 48 million people as at January 2017 comprises of almost 42 different ethnic communities with as many languages. English and Kiswahili are, however, the official languages. The British colonized the country between 1888 to 1962 and eventually gaining independence on 12th December 1963. During the British rule, the wealthy Britons and other European farmers settled in interior central highlands (central Kenya). The Highlands were the homes of the Gema community comprising of the dominant Kikuyu ethnic group, the Meru and Embu. The settlers displaced the local community from their land to small pockets of unproductive land christened the reserves. It is that occupation which led to the first revolution by local to reclaim their land.
Upon gaining independence Kenya elected Jomo Kenyatta as its first President in 1963, and he ruled the country until his demise in August 1978. The Kenyatta’s reign contrary to the legitimate expectation of the Kenyan people was marred with massive corruption, nepotism, illegal detentions, arrests, and assassinations of opponents. Most notably, the ruling elites illegally acquired and allocated themselves vast chunks of land in the Central, Rift Valley, and Coast Provinces aroused great anger among landless Kenyans.
The reign of the 2nd President Daniel Arap Moi between 1978 and 2002 was not any better. In June 1982, to consolidate his powers, the Moi Government sponsored a bill which saw the enactment of the law which made Kenya a one-party state until 1992 when the law was repealed, and Kenya returned to the multi-party democracy. The reign of Moi oversaw the collapse of democratic space, the economy, education, et al. Just like the previous administration; there were cases of massive corruption by the elites in the Government, detention without trials, suppressions, nepotism and exclusivity in sharing of national resources, unjust electoral laws among others. The dawn of multi-party democracy saw the disintegration of the country into ethnic groupings, the political parties that emerged were organized along regional and ethnic lines with the major parties being controlled by The Central and The Western Regions. The multi-party democracy saw the emergence and rise of electoral violence in 1992, 1997, 2002, and climaxing in 2007.
Central to this paper is the conflict arising from the general elections of 2007. The general elections in Kenya is an all-inclusive one which comprises Presidential, Parliamentary, and Civic of elections. The elections in 2007 was a contest comprising of more than 108 parties vying 210 parliamentary seats, and three significant candidates gunning for the Presidential through the ODM represented by Raila Odinga, PNU represented by the incumbent Mwai Kibaki, and ODM-Kenya represented by former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka. There were also other insignificant parties and candidates who participated. As was always the case, due to the enormous numbers of parties and candidates participating in all cadres of seats the elections were replete with logistical nightmares, irregularities, and illegalities. In the article A Choice for Peace? The Story of Forty-One Days of Mediation in Kenya Lindenmayer and Kaye remarks:
When the presidential election results announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) indicated both a rapid disintegration of Odinga’s significant lead and a 2.5 percent margin between the two leading candidates, Odinga and Kibaki, suspicions of tampering were high—not least because the opposition had won ninety-nine seats at the parliamentary level to the PNU’s forty-three.
As a result of the dramatic disintegration of Odinga’s lead and eventual loss to Mwai Kibaki violence spontaneously broke out in several parts of the country pitting pro-government and opposition supporters and escalated to levels never experienced before in Kenya’s history. By the end of it all, there were reports of widespread looting, massacre, arson, sexual violence, beatings, intimidation, and threats. It was estimated that over 1,000 people had died and about 600,000 people were internally displaced from six out of the eight provinces with disastrous consequences for the economy, especially due to the hard-hit tourist industry the violence not only took the ethnic dimension, but was also motivated by other factors such as poverty, unemployment, and at some point even common criminals took advantage of the situation to advance their cause as the situation was verging on a catastrophic level, the panel of eminent African personalities and commenced the nail-biting mediation process that would last forty-one days.
The method of the resolution of the conflict
Kenya has for years has been known as one of the safe havens of the African continent, and as such when the conflict of such magnitude as the one it experienced broke out, the effects reverberated and was felt across the continent and also attracted the attention of the international community. The conflict needed a resolution in the earliest time possible to avoid escalating to the level of genocide that was experienced in Rwanda in 1994.
The intervention, management or resolution method that appears to have been favored by a majority of the players was mediation. Kleinberg defines mediation as a form of conflict management in which a third party assists two or more contending parties to find a solution without resorting to force. The UN Guidance for Effective Mediation refers to mediation on similar terms as Kleinberg that:
“Mediation is a process whereby a third party assists two or more parties, with their consent, to prevent, manage or resolve a conflict by helping them to develop mutually acceptable agreements. Further that it is a voluntary endeavor in which the consent of the parties is critical for a viable process and a durable outcome.”
The initial attempts at mediation were made by several personalities whose efforts yielded very little, and there is nothing much to write home about them. Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the first to arrive at the scene at a time when the scale of the crisis was still unclear, and the warring parties were still spurring with accusations of all manners flying left right and center: his efforts failed. .Lindenmayer and Kaye correctly remark that Desmond Tutu’s intervention could not have changed the fact that the moment for engagement was simply unripe. Conflict ripeness is one of the most important factors to consider before embarking on a mediation process, and a mediator must of necessity assess whether the conflict is ripe or not. Among the many ways of knowing whether the conflict is ripe for mediation is when the conflict is at a level:
“when antagonists recognize that they are in a mutually hurting stalemate and can sense that a way out is possible. Both sides become aware they cannot defeat the enemy outright and that continued violence not only will be costly and ineffective but will risk weakening their situation.”
Perhaps a better explanation of the meaning of conflict ripeness is that offered by Kleinberg in her article Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation. Conflict per Kleiboer “is assumed that conflicts pass through a life cycle that encompasses several distinguishable phases, and that certain stages are more amenable to outside intervention than other “. Even though there are conflicting views as to how to recognize the moment or what would constitute ripeness, but analyst has developed certain theories that may provide at least some rough guidelines: they include such theories as conflict following logic of time and the other which repudiates the logic of clock time and instead focus on “social” or “event” time.
The efforts by Desmond Tutu subjected to any of the tests above show that timing the intervention was mistimed from whichever angle one chose to look at them, either from the context of clock time logic, or social or event time. The parties had not come to the realization of the magnitude of the conflict and were still holding firmly to their positions, and no events had taken place that could affect their perceptions and attitudes to think otherwise: the efforts were bound to fail.
The other personalities whose efforts followed that of Desmond Tutu, were the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazier, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, four former heads of state, Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa, Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano, Botswana’s Katumile Masire, and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, their efforts, however, did not yield any positive outcome. The arrival of the many personalities created uncertainty and resulted in multiple and parallel uncoordinated mediations: these efforts too were doomed for various reasons including lack of understanding of the conflict, mediator unpreparedness,
The best shot at the resolution of the conflict was the African Union(AU)sanctioned mediation effort led by the former Un Secretary General Koffi Annan. At the end of tension pact and riveting Forty-One-day mediation effort, white smoke billowed, and the country could breathe again. The success of the mediation has been widely credited to the personality/status of Koffi Annan. Lindenmayer and Kaye describe Koffi Annan as being loaded with years of mediation experience, an internationally renowned figure with moral authority and a robust political reputation, combining extensive political experience and unique negotiating skills with the ability to bring a wide pool of contacts to the negotiating table. The begging the question perhaps would then be what entails mediator personality/status, how does it impact on the mediation process, and lastly whether the success of the instant conflict could be attributed solely to the personality/status of the chief mediator.
The personality factor
The outcomes of mediation efforts according to available literature depend on several factors that may apply singularly or jointly depending on the circumstances of each case. The common factors that impact on mediation outcome are numerous, but this paper will identify and discuss a few of them listed hereunder. Firstly, characteristics of the disputes including conflict ripeness, level of intensity and nature of the dispute. Secondly, the parties and their relationship which includes identification of parties and cohesiveness among others. Thirdly, the characteristics of the mediator which includes leverage and status among others. Fourth is the international context. The success mediation Kenya 2008 is synonymous with the name Koffi Annan and all and sundry attributes that success to him.
Meaning of Mediator personality
Personality refers to the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. The Cambridge Dictionaries on the other hand, defines personality as “the special combination of qualities in a person that makes that person different from others, as shown by the way the person behaves, feels, and thinks”. Within the context of mediation, the term personality also assumes the same meaning as those of the general usage; it means the characteristics or qualities of the mediator.
The qualities and characteristics of a mediator are numerous, and the list is inexhaustible. The Advanced mediation skill offers guidelines of some qualities that would make for a good mediator which includes fairness, impartiality, independence, patience, firmness, tact/diplomacy, commitment and discipline among others. The key characteristics of a mediator which most writers including Kleiboer recognizes and consider important in the existing literature are impartiality, leverage and status.
Mediator Impartiality or neutrality is an exciting concept but also very confusing to scholars and practitioners.
Impartiality / neutrality
Mediator Impartiality or neutrality which are treated interchangeably is an exciting concept but also very confusing to scholars and practitioners alike. Whereas impartiality denotes the state of “the absence of bias or preference in favor of one or more negotiators, their interests, or the specific solutions that they are advocating, neutrality, on the other hand, denotes the absence of any relationship whether past or current between the mediator and the parties. To the extent that neutral mediators take no sides, they are said to behave. Kleiboer offers a summarised and clear description of both thus:
“impartiality seems to imply an unbiased stance of the mediator toward the disputants during the mediation process, whereas neutrality refers to the fact that there does not exist any strong positive or negative relationship between a mediator and the parties before the mediation occurs.”
There are different schools of thought on the impact of impartiality on mediation outcomes, with others claiming that it is critical in the success of a mediation process, while others claim that a mediator need not be impartial for the success of a process. On the other hand, there are those who believe that acceptability is dependent on mediator bias than anything else. The latter groups’ position seems to be in tandem with the theory espoused in Advanced Mediation Skills, Course C: Course Book that neutrality is an illusion as there is no such thing as a detached or objective observer. Within the context of impartiality and neutrality and closely related to them are several factors which if present or otherwise will influence the mediation outcomes. For instance, the impartiality or neutrality may instill confidence, which will, in turn, result in acceptability and then success. On the other hand, is the bias of the mediator towards one of the disputants which may have an influence on either side depending on what they believe the mediator’s strong ties with the opposite party may achieve.
Koffi Annan arrived in Kenya as an impartial and neutral individual without any preference or bias position, or any known or perceived relationship with any of the feuding parties or their principals and was readily accepted by both, unlike the other personalities who came ahead of him. The first mediators to enter into the fray were coming at the instance of particular parties in what Lindenmayer and Kaye say appeared to create the possibility of “mediator shopping” for the most favorable outcome. The attempts by President Museveni of Uganda, for instance, could easily be said to have flopped because of the perception of partiality or lack of neutrality by one of the parties since the other side invited him. Museveni’s behavior at especially of holding a meeting with the President alone at state house did not help his cause. Frazer’s effort on the hand was less appealing to both parties since her equal apportionment of blame to both sides was most likely perceived as a sign of bias on her part. The most glaring sign from both sides of the acceptability, trust, and confidence on Koffi Annan were when one side rejected the attempts to appoint Cyril Ramaphosa based on his perceived links with the opposition, forcing Annan to state the withdrawal of his name for chair.
If the reasoning on the Advanced Mediation Skills, Course C: Course Book is anything to go by, however, then, the most important characteristics that influence mediation outcomes are the mediator’s ability to choose the appropriate response to the conflict regarding the roles that are more likely to lead to any of the three values of justice, freedom, and empowerment. The ability in this regard is, therefore, that is to be a process and value advocate. Other than the apparent neutrality and impartiality, however, going by the overall manner in which Koffi Annan managed the process from the onset to the end it is clear beyond peradventure that his focus was more on the fairness and integrity of the process and values. The success of the Kenya mediation 2008 was, therefore, a resultant of the impartiality and advocacy characteristics in the chief mediator.
Though a very elusive component of mediation, it is one of the characteristics of a mediator that impacts of the mediation outcomes. Leverage per Touval and Zartman refers to the mediator’s power or ability to provide additional attractiveness to the parties that naturally leads them to agreement. They argue that mediators generally have two ways of getting disputants out of stalemate namely, either by providing communications and ideas so attractive that they “naturally” lead the parties to an agreement or by adding arguments and inducements that make unattractive proposals look attractive. Kleinberg on her part defines leverage as the mediator’s ability to put pressure on one or both of the conflicting parties to accept a proposed settlement. Kleiboers definition is in all fours with Zartman’s explanation of the three sources of mediator leverage which comes:
irst, from the parties’ need for a solution that the mediator can provide; second, from the parties’ susceptibility to shifting weight that the mediator can apply; and third, from the parties’ interest in side payments that the mediator can either offer (“carrots”) or withhold (“sticks”).’’
Within the context of leverage, there are different schools of thought on its effectiveness on outcomes of the mediation process. There are those of the view that having power and influence is key to the success of mediation process to the extent that disputants will be swayed one way or another especially if the mediator has the power to either release or withdraw resources. Then there are those of the view that lack of power or influence is key to the extent that Such a lack of power provides a mediator with possibilities “to permit an open and relaxed relationship between human disputants. It can be cogently argued then that the leverage appropriate depends on the circumstance of each case, but the different school is in consensus that either too much of power and influence or the complete lack of it is not desirous.
The statement that the appointment of Koffi Annan was nothing less than an inspired choice explains it all. According to Lindenmayer and Kaye, Koffi as a person carried with him loads of mediation
Given the above analysis, it thus necessarily follows that Koffi Annan efforts bore fruits because of the reasons that follow. Firstly, because they all needed a solution whether it be that President Mwai Kibaki’s election would be validated through the process, or the opposition’s contention that their election was stolen and they recognized that he had the capability and capacity to help bring a solution. Secondly, secondly because of his experience, moral authority, and political reputation, the parties were susceptible to the shifting weight that he could apply. Lastly, because he had the ability through his connections to satisfy the interest of the parties, a case in point is the US Government’s promise to donate funds for reconstruction and peacebuilding.
Equally crucial to the success or otherwise of mediation processes is the element of the status of the mediator status. The ordinary meaning of status found in the dictionaries revolves around the level of respect or importance a person or organization attracts, rank or position or standing in a setup or society. Status per Kleinberg refers to one’s personal or organizational reputation, track records, and specialized expertise. In mediation, the mediator status is generally categorized into either institutional or positional status. The categorization is derived from the identity or standing mediator’s organization, or the mediators own standing within his constituency. Just like leverage, there are different schools of thought on the impact of mediator status on the success of mediation processes. One group argues that the higher the status of the mediator the greater the chances of success while the other argues that the success depends on the extent of equilibrium between mediator and representatives, in other terms, a mediator’s relative status.
The fact of Koffi Annan’s status in the last couple of decades within the realm of international conflict resolution is not any news, and he carried with him both the institutional and positional reputation into the mediation table. Firstly, the African Union on whose behalf he was mediating is a reputable organization of high standing, legitimacy, and leverage not only within the African continent but also internationally. Secondly, Koffi’s UN career both as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and as Secretary-General, meant that he was coming to the negotiating table with unquestionable status cut above his peers and was therefore in a position, though he had retired, to commit both the UN, the AU, and the international community to back up his activities.
From the analysis above, it can be assertively argued that the success of the Kenya mediation 2008 was mainly due to the personality of the Chief Mediator to wit: his impartiality, advocacy for process and value, leverage and status.
Other actors & factors
It is an undisputed fact as alluded to in the preceding chapter that mediator personality plays a vital role in determining the outcome of a mediation process. Sight, however, should not be lost of several other factors that includes: firstly, the characteristics of the disputes such as conflict ripeness, levels of intensity and nature of dispute, secondly the parties and their relationship which includes identification or parties and cohesiveness among others, the international context, and lastly the process variables. The United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation, for instance, identifies such factors as preparedness; consent; impartiality; inclusivity; national ownership; international law and normative frameworks; coherence, coordination,
In the cause of the Mediation Kenya 2008, numerous discernable factors could have contributed to the success of the process alongside the personality of the Chief Mediator. The detailed discourse over these factors will perhaps form the subject of another paper, but, it is worth recognizing albeit in passing their role in the success of the instant mediation.
The Kenyan conflict had and was likely results in devastating consequences both internally, and regionally and internationally: the international context in which it was taking place would, therefore, play a significant role in its outcome. Kleiboer in Understanding the Successes and Failures of International Mediation say: “In particular, the impact of other parties and other conflicts taking place simultaneously with the are very relevant”. The panel of mediators involved the International Community and of their participation had tremendous effects. For instance, Ban Ki Moon’s reassurance that the UN was ready to increase its support for the process as needed reaffirmed the integrity and legitimacy of both the Kenyan conflict process and acted as a caution to the parties of the consequences of failures to commit to the same. The blatant threats issued by Condoleezza Rice, that failure was not an option; and that the future of the relationship of the US with both sides and their legitimacy depended on their cooperation to achieve this political solution cannot be underestimated as far as the outcome of this process was concerned.
The other factor was the use of experts at some of the crucial stages especially when the panel wanted to at times to depoliticize discussions, to merely keep them focused, or to prove that what felt like uncharted territory had actually been tried and tested successfully, elsewhere. Lindenmayer and Kaye say that One way of the ways attempting to bring the parties out of destructive patterns of mutual accusation was to by the panel were drawn on the knowledge of experts in the field, thereby attempting to turn a politic question into a technical one. Among the experts they called were the personnel from Department of Political Affairs (DPA), from the Electoral Division of the (DPA) and Gernot Erler, Minister of State of the Federal Republic of Germany, to share his experience of coalition government.
There was also adequate preparation by the panel before the process commenced. According to the United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation preparedness entails the development of strategies for different phases and:
“It also allows the mediator to guide and monitor the mediation process, help strengthen (where necessary) the negotiating capacity of the conflict parties and other stakeholders, assist them in reaching agreements, and galvanize support (including among international actors) for implementation”.
The article says that Koffi Annan arrived when all the preparations had been done. Before arrived, he had laid a solid foundation for what would become one of the central components of his strategy: a single mediation, as well as the full, undivided support of the international community. The panel too had roped in the Civil Society, the Religious Community, and the media fraternity to make the process an inclusive process that would carry the nation along with it. At the same time, they set up a fully functional secretariat with experts. The preparations were to prove very valuable in the process.
Other elements which contributed to the success were the valuable skills employed by the mediators, the internal cohesiveness of the disputants, the consent of the parties, the fact that conflicting parties were easily identifiable (only two), the timing of the entry of the panel when it was clear to all and sundry that the conflict was ripe for mediation. In the end, Lindenmayer and Kaye summarize the factors that enabled the successful completion of the process into seven points that attribute the success to the activities of the mediator.
The Kenyan post-election conflict was a unique one and captured the attention of the whole world for several reasons and had had to be resolved sooner or later. Whereas, the electoral malpractice arising from the bungled presidential election appeared to have been the cause, it later transpired that there were deep-rooted problems bedeviling the country such as land grievances, nepotism, discrimination, corruption, high-handedness of the current and previous administrations which were the underlying causes: the bungled elections were merely a trigger. Literally, everybody whether they be Regional or International Leaders, and Organizations made attempts to resolve the conflict in one way or the other. The favored method of resolving the conflicts appeared to have been by way of mediation. Mediation is one of the most popular third-party conflict management strategies that the disputants consider. Because of its characteristic as a voluntary and non-binding process, disputants tend to be more attracted to it than other methods.
At the end of a grueling, tension pact and riveting Forty-One-day of mediation effort, when white smoke billowed, and the country could breathe again all credit went to the Chief Mediator Koffi Annan. It would appear that the success of the mediation was credited to Koffi Annan because before his arrival, the attempts by several others of almost equal status including sitting and former presidents, African Union Leaders, high ranking US officials and other eminent personalities attempts had come to naught. Whether the above contention is correct or not has been a subject of mooted discussions and hence the necessity to try to find out whether the success could be attributed solely to the personality of Koffi Annan.
As noted in chapter 4 above, the outcomes of mediation efforts according to available literature depend on several factors including the characteristics of the disputes; the parties and their relationship, the characteristics of the mediator, the international context, and lastly, the mediator activities. Hence the begging the question of whether mediator personality alone is enough to influence the outcome of a mediation process.
Could it be said that Desmond Tutu’s attempts failed because of lack of requisites personality to handle the Kenyan dispute, the answer is definitely in the negative? Desmond Tutu would have fitted the billing of a suitable mediator save for the fact that his intervention was utterly mistimed. He arrived on the scene before the disputants came to the realization of the magnitude of the conflict and were still holding firmly to their positions and no events had taken place that could affect their perceptions and attitudes to think otherwise. The initial attempt by the then AU leader and Ghanaian present John Kufuor befell the same fate despite his very impressive credentials. It is worth noting that even Benjamin Mkapa’s initial intervention came to naught for the same reasons of unripeness.
The other attempts by such leaders as the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazier, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, four former heads of state, Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa, Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano, Botswana’s Katumile Masire, and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, never yielded much for various reasons. Among the reasons for the failures included uncertainty created by multiple, parallel, and uncoordinated mediations on the one hand, and lack of understanding of the conflict, mediator unpreparedness on the other hand. Of course, there were also elements of lack of essential mediator characteristics.
Lindenmayer and Kaye aptly remarked that the selection of Koffi Annan was an inspired choice as he carried with him loads of mediation experience, was an internationally renowned figure with moral authority and a robust political reputation, combined with extensive political experience and unique negotiating skills with the ability to bring a wide pool of contacts to the negotiating table. The overall package that Koffi brought along with him transcends the element of personality and encompasses even the process variables qualities, his personality, however, was the main contributor to the success. Worth mentioning are also the other factors discussed in chapter 5 that includes the supportive external environment, use of experts, preparation, consent of the parties and inclusivity among others.
While it is undoubtedly clear that Koffi’s personality was the most prominent instrument and the most critical factor on the success of the Mediation Kenya 2008, the success or failure of a mediation process, however, ultimately depends on the conglomeration of many other factors, and the willingness of the conflict parties to accept and commit the process.
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