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Table of Contents


The Concept of Conflict and Conflict Management


The Phenomenon of Conflict in Africa


Civil Society and Conflicts Management







Conflict is the incompability of goals and values between two or more parties in a relationship, combined with the attempt to control each other and antagonistic feelings towards each other. It is a state of discord caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests.1 It exist whenever incompatible activities occur. An activity that is incompatible with another is one that prevents, blocks or interferes with the occurrence or effectiveness of the second activity.

The incompabitlity or differences may exist in reality or may only be perceived by the parties involved. Nonetheless, the opposing actions and the hostile emotions are very real hallmark between people in all kind of human relationship and in al social settings. As a result of the wide range of potential differences between people, the absence of conflict usually signals the absence of meaningful interaction2. A conflict can be as small as a perceived disagreement or as large as war. It can originate in the person, between two or more people or between two or more groups. Conflict by itself is neither good nor bad but the manner in which conflict is handled determines whether it is constructive or destructive.

A conflict is different from competition and cooperation because in competitive situations, the two or more individuals or parties have mutually inconsistent goals as either party tries to reach its goals, it undermine the attempt of the others to reach theirs. Therefore, competitive situations will by their nature cause conflict. Conflict can also occur in cooperative situation, in which two or more individuals or parties have consistent goals because the manner in which one party tries to reach its goal may undermine the other individual or party.3

A clash of interests, values, action or directions often sparks a conflict and conflict is also seen as the existence of the clash. The world ‘conflict’ is applicable from the instant the clash occurs. Even when it is described as a potential conflict, it is implying that there is already conflict of direction even though a clash has not occurred. As a result, conflict can occur whenever there is interaction. Leo Otoide describe this situation in the international system thus:

When states interact there is competition for power and prestige and in the process, the international system elicits a picture of perpetual conflict, of survival of the fittest, where the desire for power and influence determines the attitudes of states and the course of events.4

Conflict occurs in different levels. The first is interpersonal conflict. Interpersonal conflict is when two people have incompatible needs; goals, or approaches in their relationship.5 Communication breakdown is often an important source of interpersonal conflict and learning communication skills is valuable in preventing and resolving such difficulties. At the same time, very real differences occur between people that cannot be resolved by any amount of improved communication. Personality conflict refers to very strong differences in motives, values or styles in dealing with people that are not resolvable. For instance, if both parties in a relationship have a high need for power and both want to be dominant in the relationship, there is no way for both to be satisfied, and a power struggle ensures common tactics used in interpersonal power struggles includes the exaggerated used of reward and punishments, deception and evasion, threats and emotional blackmail and flattery or integration. Unresolved power conflict usually recycles and escalates to the point of relationship breakdown and termination.6

The next level of conflict is intergroup conflict. It occurs between collections of people such as ethnic or racial groups. It can also be a conflict between departments or levels of decision making in the same organizations. Another common source of inter-group conflict is the competition for scarce resources between groups in a nation or between union and management staff of the same organization.7 One characteristics of intergroup conflict is that group members tend to develop stereotypes beliefs of the opposing group. They also tends to blame them for their problems and lastly, tends to practice discrimination against them.8 These classic symptom of intergroup conflict is especially tenced and prone to escalation and intractability when group identities are threatened.9

Another level of conflict is multi-party conflict. It occurs in society when different interest groups and organizations have varying priorities over resource management and control as well as policy development. These complex conflict typically involve a combination of economic, value and power sources. This complexity is often beyond the reach of traditional authoritative or adversarial procedures, and more collaborative approaches to building consensus are required for solution.10

The last level of conflict is supranational conflicts. These are conflicts that involves states or in which one of the parties is a state. There are three common types of supranational conflicts, they include conflict involving maritime boundaries, dispute involving land and investor-state conflict also known as investment treaty dispute.

In resolving supranational conflict, it is important to bear in mind that unlike other conflicts, it is likely to arise out of a treaty. For example a maritime delimitation disputes may be govern by the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS III) or an investor-state dispute which is guided by the international settlement of the investment dispute convention. The court is also to apply international conventions, international customs and the general principles of laws recognized by the nations or parties in question.11

Regardless of the level of conflict, there are different approaches to deal with the incompabilities that exist between the parties. If conflicts are managed creatively, solutions that are mutually satisfactory to both parties are attainable. It may involve a new distribution of resources or forms of influence than before. Creative outcome are more probable when the parties are inter-dependent, that is each having some degree of independence or autonomy from which to influence one another, rather than one party being primarily dependent on the other.12 Given inter-dependence, three general strategies have been identified that one parties make take towards dealing with their conflict. These include win-lose, lose-lose, and win-win.

The win-lose approach is a strategy that forced the other side to capitulate. Sometimes, this is done through socially acceptable mechanisms such as majority vote, the authority of the leader, or the determination of a judge. Sometimes, it involves secret strategies, threat, innuendo – whatever works is acceptable that is Mechanuallian principle in which the end justify the means. The value outcome is to have a victor who is superior and vanquished who withdraw in shame.13

The lose-lose strategy is exemplified by smoothing over conflict or by reaching the simplest of compromises. In neither case is the creative potential of productive resolution realized or explored. This is base on the notion that disagreement is inevitable and thus is the better to split the differences or smooth over difficulties in a painless a way as possible. Each party gets some of what it want.

The win-win approach is a conscious and systematic attempt to maximize the goals of both parties  through collaborative problem solving. The conflict is seen as a problem to be solved rather that war to be won. This method focus on one problem from the perspective of both parties and the needs as well as constraints of both parities rather short term accommodations. Communication is open and direct rather than selective and calculating. Attitudes and behaviours are directed toward an increase of trust and acceptance rather than an escalation or suspicion and hostilities.14

There are two methods of conflict resolution – the authoritative and the alternative methods.

The first approach under the authoritative methods of conflict resolution is the use of power. The stronger side promotes its interest by force regardless of interests of the other parties. There is another case of use of power in conflict resolution. In this case, some issues are won by one side while other issues are won by one other sides, both parties make no agreement but push through their interest forcefully regardless of interest of each other.15

Decision made by authority is another strategic under the authoritative methods of conflict resolution. In this system, an authority interferes in a conflict and makes a decision based on his judgement of what is the best solution for the conflicting parties.16 In many cases such solution also satisfy the interest of that authority. This is different from arbitrage. The role of the arbiter is to work as an independent third party, who hear both conflicting sides, finds legally correct solution based on valid legislation and then communicate such decisions to the disputants.17 Lastly under the authoritative methods of conflict resolution is the decision of a court. Under this, a judge or jury decide a solution to a conflict based on evidence supplied by attorneys representing both conflicting sides of the issue. The judge or jury then interpret the law and use it as a basis for their decision which both parities will be forced to respect, the jury is composed of either laymen or professional judges.

First, under the alternative methods of conflict resolution is facilitation.18 In this process, a facilitator works as an impartial third party person who helps two conflicting parties direct their discussion in order to reach an agreement satisfactory to both side according to previously agreed rules. The Latin world facilatare means to ease. Therefore, the role of a facilitator is to provide both side with such methods and guidelines for discussion which will ease their communication. In mediation, the mediator is a third party and primarily a facilitator who seeks to established or restore communication between feuding parties. The mediator strives to bring the parties face to face to negotiate and this constitutes a vital objective of his endeavous, the mediator must have good influence, credibility and good standing with the parties. Above all, he must have good diplomatic skill.19

Another method of conflict resolution is conciliation which is similar to mediation except for the legal distinction that the third party is a commission or an international body whose aid has been sought in finding a solution satisfactory to the disputants.

Arbitration is a step further tan a fact finding mission since it involves the practical examination of the issues involved in a crisis and the decision is binding on the parties. Often a tribunal is set up to examine the issues and make recommendation to a superior body.20

Adjudication or judicial settlement is a process of submitting to an international covert for decision. Unlike arbitration, the covert is subjected to no preliminary litigations upon its procedures, evidence to be considered or legal principles to be applied except those stated at the statute by which it was created.21


  1. Jacob Satra et al (eds.), The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, Vol. 4., New York: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2002, p. 398.



  1. Ron Fisher, “Sources of Conflict and Methods of Conflict Resolution” retrieved from http://en.wikipedia. org/wili/conflict


  1. Ibid, p.


  1. Deutsh Micheal, The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Process, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1973, p. 17.


  1. Fisher, “Sources of Conflict and Methods of Conflict Resolution”, p. 6.


  1. Leo E. Otoide, “The Art of Bargaining and Negotiation in the International System” in Fred I. A. Omu and Leo E. Otoide (eds) Themes in International Studies and Diplomacy, Benin City, Mindex Publishing 2002, p. 229.


  1. Okpeh Ochayi Okpeh, Jr., “Conceptual and Theoretical Issues Arising from Studies in Inter-Group Relations in Nigeria in the 20th Century” in Olayemi Akinwunmi et al (eds.) Inter-Group Relations in Nigeria During the 19th and 20th Centuries, Ibadan, Aboki Publishers, p. 6.


  1. Fisher, “Sources of Conflict and Methods of Conflict Resolution”, p. 6.


  1. Ibid.


  1. Ibid, p. 7.


  1. Ibid, p. 10.


  1. Michael, The Resolution of Conflict, p. 20.


  1. Anthony, Connerty, Manual of International Dispute Resolution, UK. Commonwealth Secretariat, 2006, p. 13.


  1. A LeRoy Bannertt, International Organizations, 3rd, New Jersey, Prentice Hall Inc., 1983, p. 103.


  1. Connerty, Manual of International Dispute Resolution, p. 19.


  1. Otoide, “The Art of Bargaining and Negotiatiion in the International System”, p. 236.


  1. Gerald R. Berridge, Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, New York Palgrove Publishers Ltd., 2002, p. 27.


  1. Ibid.


  1. Margaret Aderinsola Vogt, “The Management of Conflict in Africa” in M. A. Vogt and L. S. Aminu (eds), Peacekeeping as a Security Strategic in Africa: Chad and Liberia, a Case Studies, Enugu: Forth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd., 196, p. 36.


  1. Ibid, p. 37.


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