By Abubakar Harding
A three-day Multi-Stakeholder Consultation and Training on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ARD) for Political Parties in West Africa was held by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), commencing on Tuesday 12th July 2022 at the Atlantic Lumley Hotel on Lumley Beach Road in Freetown.
The event was funded by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
West Africa remains one of the most volatile regions on the continent due to the frequent incidents of violence and political instability in the region, especially since the late 1990s.
Although the causes of violent occurrences are multifaceted in nature, some are election-related and linked to weak political structures, politicized State institutions and contentious democratic transitions.
Furthermore, the extremely competitive character of party politics has also posed a threat to regional stability, in part because elections are perceived as a “winner-take-all” event, with political interests aligned along ethnic, religious and provincial lines than ideological grounds.
It was against that backdrop that WANEP, through its Democracy and Governance program, to foster an architecture for dispute resolution that electoral systems and structures, in order to mitigate election related disputes and violence in West Africa, organized the training for 25 representatives of political parties, the Political Parties Registration Commission, the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, Civil Society Organizations, state and non-state institutions, Election Management Bodies (EMBs), National Centers for Response Mechanism and other stakeholders.
Also, growing impunity and delays in the court system’s response to address electoral violence and crimes can serve as motivation for disputants and victims to use unlawful means to seek revenge.
In light of that, there is a risk that electoral violence will become cyclical, resulting in retaliatory attacks after each election.
To address those issues, it is critical to establish informal election-related grievance redress methods and court-annexed mediation procedures.
Another justification for the intervention is premised on the existing capacity gaps in political party structures to address election-relation disputes to minimize intra and inter party related violence.
There is over-reliance on litigation to resolve those disputes within and between political parties.
This suggests limited options of resolution mechanisms to address election-related conflicts.
Moreover, there is the need to strengthen mediation mechanisms in political party structures to resolve disputes. In that regard, ensuring that ADR is used effectively in election-related disputes is crucial.
The training will enhance political parties and EMBs’ mediation capacity to resolve grievances and election-related disputes. It was also intended to create or expand existing infrastructure in the target countries to effectively managing disputes surrounding elections and other democratic processes.
The overarching objective of the training was to enhance the capacity of election stakeholders, especially political parties to develop sustainable dispute resolution structures to manage disputes and minimize election related disputes and violence with the specific objectives to enhance the knowledge and skills of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for political party stakeholders in targeted countries; strengthen the institutional capacity of EMBs on resolution mechanisms, enhance engagement with political parties before and after elections and strengthening multi-stakeholder cooperation for electoral dispute resolution in targeted countries.
The expected results of the training are that knowledge and skills of election stakeholders in ADR mechanisms at Track 1 and 2 levels are enhanced and a roadmap that provides joint strategies for electoral disputes is developed.
The training was also designed to adopt a Participatory Learning Approach (PLA) including interactive sessions, group work, scenarios and case studies of ADR with emphasis on electoral dispute management.
Earlier in her welcome statement, the National Network Coordinator of WANAP Sierra Leone, Dr. Isata Mahoi underscored that the training is to reduce violence and conflicts among political parties as well as promote peace, unity and national cohesion among them revealing that Sierra Leone is at the crossroads citing the June 2023 elections and concluded that the training is part of WANEP’s commitment to bring all the stakeholders together to interact and amicably resolve issues.
In his opening statement, Shamu Deen Yusuf, Technical Advisor, Electoral Affairs, the ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture and Operations Project co-financed by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) revealed that they are pleased to partner with WANEP to strengthen the capacity of the participants observing that elections are often characterized by violence and that such interventions would help mitigate disputes and violence.
The other facilitator was Oninyere Onyemenam, External Consultant to WANEP.
Other topics discussed were Understanding Typologies of Responses to Conflict and the ADR Spectrum; Principles of Strategic Negotiation; Dialogue and Mediation Skills; Principals and Practice; Cultural Dilemmas in Negotiation and Mediation and Monitoring Mediation and Dialogue Outcome/Agreement.
A question and answer session and group work climaxed the highly-interactive training.