‘Having regard to the many difficulties and unknown factors….....’ The Bougainville memorandum that might have been written
‘Aliko and Ambai’: In loving memory of Lilly Samuel, 1990-2017

Thoughts on effective conflict management


“Man is not disturbed by events, but by the view he takes of them” - Epictetus (ancient philosopher)

KUNDIAWA - We humans are beset by so many pressing social problems: psychological disturbances, alcohol and drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, sex crime, juvenile delinquency, polygamy, prostitution, witchcraft, gambling, and many more.

New challenges keep emerging without any known solutions - individual problems, family problems and inter-clan and group conflicts which we must try to solve.

Our knowledge, skills and means of finding root causes and determining solutions is culture, kin and politically based.

Individual and community empowerment to take ownership of problems is an effective means to solve problems rather than referring matters to police, courts and outsiders to solve things for us, which often does not help much.

We know the nature and causes of our problems and mostly know the answers yet many people want others to solve things for them. We do not do enough to explore within ourselves the powers, gifts, wisdom and insights we have to find answers to our own problems.

We will never solve problems if we keep referring them to others to solve for us.

Situations like land disputes, domestic violence, drunken fights and polygamous wives fighting produce fear and irrational thoughts and aggressive behaviour begins to escalate. We resort to violence to solve problems and of course it does not work; all it does is create resentment, pain and wounds far greater than the original problem itself.

Fighting is often used as a norm to resolve a conflict but violence produces counter-violence.

People usually fight over issues related to substantive differences centred on methods, goals or values. It may be a dispute over land, politics, women, drugs and much else. But we know tribal warfare does not solve problems or benefit anybody, it only destroys human life and property.

We feel the need to fight to show others we are big, strong and important.  Some people may feel neglected or isolated and resort to violent behaviour.

Taking revenge, or payback, is not helpful when they apply within a community where people know each other well through common boundaries, blood ties or social and marriage relations. After all, we will need to deal with these people again or remain enemies for life. It’s a question worth asking.

It does not help when people in the community are not cooperating to solve problems. That’s when the finger-pointing starts. One clan blames another clan and doesn’t feel responsible. When we kept denying problems, don’t want to admit them or take responsibility, we will never solve them.

Too often when a specific problem occurs, it is generalised to become a communal problem. The individual who causes the problem needs to take full blame. For example, in a rape case the whole community gets the blame and the person who commits the crime goes is free after compensation is paid. He is not even referred to police for arrest and criminal trial.

People can be afraid to say what they really think. People need to express their true feelings and thoughts whether good or bad. The other side needs to listen and to admit mistakes. Brave people admit mistakes and allow forgiveness.

Each individual, clan or group must be strongly motivated to work for acceptable solutions. We should be ready to implement peace. We should encourage cooperation rather than competition.

We have to listen and accept that opposing clan or tribe statements are legitimate descriptions of their positions and feelings. If we do not believe what other people say, communication and cooperation will not work. We have to respect the rights of other people and understand that what they say is equally important to what we say.

The first and most important thing in conflict management is to figure out how we can make informed decisions that will bring lasting peace, managing for both groups to become winners.

Peace negotiation can be done by mediators, police and community leaders who try to move each group to agree to a workable solution. Negotiations conclude when both parties promise to give up their conflict and hostility through a traditional peace ceremony (brukim suga) and signing peace agreement witnessed by government, church and community authorities.

In most cases this works.

Effective communication in conflict situations requires a lot of effort to encourage people to share opinions and ideas that enable them to release tension and anxiety.

Effective conflict management must help everyone feel more confident about sharing differences with others. Once differences are shared, we can search for ways to come to agreements that have the greatest advantage for most people.

Dealing with problems will not transform anything until we restore the human beings who create the problems. This remains the base of any conflict management.


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Paul Oates

Old Chinese proverb suggests: 'War doesn't decide who is right but only who is left'.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Wise words Philip.

As you highlight,tribal fighting is pointless, all it does is allow young men to expend testosterone.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone say, "it's the government's fault" or "the government must fix it" I'd be very wealthy.

Brave people take responsibility for their own actions.

Brave people also help others.

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