The Role of a Credible Conflict Mediator and why the Church and ZCID are Off-side

By Chris Zumani Zimba


kofi+annanIn the 1990s decade alone, approximately 5.5 million people were killed in almost 100 armed conflicts worldwide (Henry Kissinger, 1974: 643). But some of these conflicts could have been prevented or avoided if stakeholders had engaged and resolved their differences. Thus, conflict prevention is imperative and includes numerous activities such as conflict avoidance and conflict resolution, with techniques such as mediation, peace-keeping, peacemaking, confidence-building measures, and track-two diplomacy. In the case of Zambia’s 2019 famous National Political Dialogue, the issue at hand is mediation as a technical of conflict prevention between the ruling PF and the opposition UPND with their respective supporting allies. This National Dialogue is a commendable mediation tool designed to resolve, manage, or contain political disputes before they occur or become violent.

In law and Political Science, mediation aims to promote the same values and goals with arbitration and is chiefly used as a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) outside the Court system and Adjudication processes where ‘a neutral and impartial third party, the mediator, is invited and mutually approved to facilitate dialogue in a structured multi-stage process to help conflict parties reach a conclusive and mutually satisfactory agreement of their own’. In this article, I decided to discuss the meaning, traits and role of a credible mediator in light of the National Dialogue and access if Zambia Center for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) and the Three Church Mother Bodies as trusted mediators, based on their conduct and language so far do qualify to continue being trusted with this national assignment or not.

The Conceptual Meaning of a Credible Mediator

Just to emphasize, a mediator is generally defined as ‘a mutually agreed upon third party deemed respected, trusted and neutral who assists and guides the disputing parties by helping them to understand and focus on the important conflict and dialogue issues needed to reach a resolution that is decided and determined by the negotiation parties themselves’. In Africa, the career and professional life of Ghana and UN’s late Koffi Anan could be said to be an ideal living definition of a credible mediator. By being invited and mutually accepted during the Siavonga meeting of political party secretary generals in July 2018 to jointly facilitate and chair the National Dialogue, ZCID and the Three Church Mother Bodies became ‘joint mediators’ to help in guiding parties resolve Zambia’s pending political and legal disputes.

ZCID and the Church in the mirror of the ‘Traits and Role of a credible Mediator’

To be deemed credible either at international, regional, national, state, provincial or local level, there are universal traits, protocols and standards set and approved by the United Nations (UN) that anyone playing the role of a conflict mediator must meet and follow. These include the following:

  1. Conduct mediation on the premises of being a mutually agreed upon third party deemed respected, trusted and neutral in the eyes of the conflict parties throughout the dialogue process: By unilaterally launching it coupled with what transpired at the launch, the church were found offside this requirement as the key conflict parties were not in agreement and many were not in attendance. This launch was a mediation error.
  2. Conduct the mediation in accordance with the mutually agreed upon agenda, procedures and code of conduct during the mediation process: In the Zambian case, the National Dialogue was launched without any mutually agreed upon agenda, composition, procedures, structure and duration. As this requirement was not met, it means that the launched church led mediation may be chaotic or problematic than we imagine.
  3. Live by the provisions of the code of conduct and set guidelines for mediators drawn and approved by the disputing parties: So far, we know that ZCID and the church never drew any code of conduct for themselves as joint mediators that was approved by disputing parties. But the clergy went ahead to launch the National Dialogue; this is both shocking and laughable. This code of conduct govern mediators throughout the dialogue process so that the conflict parties are protected; as humans, mediators can be bought, intimidated, error or compromised. Even FIFA has clear code of conduct for soccer referees in order to protect the game we all love-football. For example, without a code of conduct for themselves, there is chaos as everyone from the mediators is speaking to the media i.e. Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) Board Chairperson, Bishop Paul Mususu, ZCID spokesperson Jackson Silavwe, Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) secretary general Fr Cleophas Lungu or Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) Secretary General, Fr Emmanuel Chikoya.
  4. Ensure never to dictate or impose anything in the mediation process at any stage: During the launch, when Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) Board Chairperson, Bishop Paul Mususu said “the three church mother bodies have vowed to see to it that the National Dialogue process is concluded in the soonest possible time even when other concerned parties shun away from the process”, it was clear that the church had departed from this benchmark as a mediator.
  5. Conduct a mediation in a fair and unbiased manner: A credible mediator who is fair and unbiased cannot vow like Bbishop Mususu said above to bulldoze and determine the dialogue process on their own as ‘it is not their dialogue’. They are supposed to be neutral, fair, unbiased and low-toned throughout the process.
  6. Encourage all or key participants to actively participate in the dialogue process: In mediation, it is the role of the mediator to make sure that all key parties to the dispute feel comfortable, respected, important and actively participate. In line with number 4 and 5 above, this is one existing mediation pothole and technical puzzle for the church in this process.
  7. Decline or withdraw from a mediation if the mediator cannot remain impartial: For ZCID, they acted honest to remain secretariat and accept inviting the church to chair the process as they were not deemed impartial since the dialogue was about them and their members. However, I doubt if the three church mother bodies acted neutral or impartial to unilaterally launch the National Dialogue without their joint mediator in ZCID and key conflict parties in the ruling PF and its supporting allies.
  8. Avoid a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest during and after a mediation: From the media statements of ZCID and the church in the recent past, they both seem to have serious conflict of interest in the national dialogue; ZCID siding with the ruling PF while the church is sweetly kissing with the opposition alliance led by UPND. This is a moral challenge for these mediators.
  9. Offer creative approaches and innovative solutions while maintaining an unbiased perspective: At the speed, conduct and language of the church or ZCID, they have abandoned this important requirement and role as mediators as they have left and lost some key parties to the dialogue. The church as mediators vowed to move and end the dialogue process with or without all conflict parties onboard-very strange indeed.
  10. Make reasonable inquires to determine any potential conflicts among the parties: In the July 2018 Siavonga meeting of political party secretary generals, ZCID seem to have been walking this tenet. So did the church in the November, 2018 church led meeting between President Lungu and HH. Very commendable gestures for our mediators.
  11. Maintain the confidentiality of a mediation: To far, so good. Both the church and ZCID seem to have maintained respect and confidentiality of the process especially for the key conflict parties in PF and UPND. The November, 2018 church led meeting between President Lungu and HH speaks to this fact.


In summary, we have established that mediation is a dynamic, structured, interactive process where a neutral third party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques. Since we have seen that mediation is a “party-centered” process in that it is focused primarily upon the needs, rights, and interests of the parties, you are now the right judges to tell if ZCID and the church are on the right track for the National Dialogue so far. For me, they are both generally offside and now playing political rugby and physical boxing instead of brainstorming chess or soft tennis. Unless they re-start everything jointly and properly, they deserve to be red carded from this national assignment as mediators since they don’t meet the minimum requirements from their conduct, language and attitude.

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Radio, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:20hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles. Sometimes, he lectures Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS) outside his usual commitments.


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