Local Councilors in Okere tipped on Practical Conflict Resolution Skills

Community conflicts are not a rarity in rural Africa. For example, it could be an inter-clan dispute of land boundaries. It can begin as a small quarrel over how long the land boundaries should extend and then it can easily escalate into fights and even deaths. Elsewhere, there may be scuffle overutilization and management of shared resources such as water points. A family/household might not be interested to contribute to the management of such resources and yet they would like to have similar rights of access to them. This can easily annoy other households who are contributing either money or labor or both to manage the resource. When not managed well, this can quite easily erupt and escalate into a community conflict with its devastating impacts on the people.

As community leaders, councilors should take time to understand their local communities and play key roles to ensure such community conflicts are prevented and in case they happen, a quick and amicable solution must be found. Moreover, councilors must invest time to understand the root causes of the conflict and where people are coming from because this is the first step in helping to prevent and mediate community conflicts.

What are the tactics, approaches, and strategies that can be adopted by councilors to resolve disputes between local people before they can escalate into disorder or even violence? In an attempt to find practical answers to these questions, Okere City partnered with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung to hold a two-day workshop focusing on conflict resolution. The overall objective of the workshop was to strengthen the capacity of LCI&II authorities in Okere Parish to effectively resolve community conflicts in their areas of jurisdiction. This workshop was intended to help councilors become conflict resolution experts. When any conflict emerges within the community, the area councilors and local leaders must have appropriate skills and knowledge to be able to provide a satisfactory response to the challenge. The workshop recognized that one of the major constitutionally mandated roles of local councilors is to resolve at the county and parish level to resolve problems or disputes referred to it by relevant sub-county or village councils as clearly articulated in Section 48 of the Local Government Act 1999.

The first session focused on identifying and preventing conflict. Here, it was noted that local leaders should always seek to understand and be aware that their communities contain different groups of people whose views, and the articulation of such views may frequently differ and quite often than not result in conflict. It may also be difficult to get different people to reach a consensus on some issues where opinions are deeply entrenched. Added to this, individuals and groups may hold different assumptions about problems, solutions, or potential courses of action and will seek different types of information to support their case or cause. This is not necessarily a problem, but the reality of living in a democratic society. After the session, participants were divided into two groups to conduct a role-play on a typical situation that would result in a community conflict.

The exercise enabled participants to gain practical insights on how to identify and prevent conflict as noted by David Onap, “The session and the practical exercise enabled me to appreciate that conflict doesn’t start as a big pie that falls from the sky. Rather, they start as simple discomforts, and when neglected are slowly magnified and can quickly escalate into big conflicts”

The session also outlined some of the conditions that could help to quickly resolve community conflicts, namely:

• Local councilors should listen first and talk and/or act later.

• Local councilors should value everyone’s contribution to a debate or discussion is respected and valued

• Local councilors should ensure that those in dispute are willing to amend their viewpoint in the light of others’ suggestions

• Local councilors should ensure that his/her questions are used positively to encourage others to elaborate on their thoughts

• Local councilors should work towards building on ideas and identifying areas of common ground from which to find solutions to the conflict.

For the rest of the first day, the workshop focused on topics such as; how to bring people together to solve a conflict and key considerations for ensuring a successful conflict resolution meeting.

But what happens if local leaders cannot solve a particular community conflict they are faced with? Firstly and within the legal framework of the Republic of Uganda, local councilors can form a special local court guided by the Local Council Courts Act 2006.

On the second day, participants were taken through the main Articles in the Act which among others, spells out processes and procedures for ensuring that the local courts play a key role in administering justice at the local level. Secondly, they can also deploy the services of a mediator. In some cases, there may well be situations where the nature of the dispute, the problems faced, or the personalities involved make your involvement inappropriate or inadvisable and it is advisable that a local community leader can enlist the services of an independent mediator. Mediation involves interviewing all interested parties individually before bringing representatives of the opposing groups together to move the situation forward and find a resolution. In most cases, a trained and experienced mediator is the key to success.