Tag: <span>Nigeria</span>

David W. Augsburger. Conflict Mediation Book Reviews

David W. Augsburger. Conflict Mediation Across Cultures : Pathways…

Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash.

(Louisville KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992, 310pp).

John Paul Lederach tells the story of one of his intercultural mediation workshops in Panama where: 

someone said that mediators were like guides leading people through complexities. The image stuck. By the end of the week, we almost never spoke of mediators but rather of guides.”

 Mercury was the classic Greek messenger between humans and gods;  and often served as a guide in quarrels. But Mercury has been taken over as the symbol of doctors. Today;  it would be difficult to remould him as the god of conflict transformation. Another guide;  who is still in active service is Fa – the messenger divinity in the Nago-Yuroba culture of Benin and Nigeria. Fa has taken root under other names in the African-related cultures of Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti. Politicians regularly consult the priests of Fa  when taking difficult decisions. The priest interprets the will of the gods by analysing a complex series of myths;  which gives hints as to desirable outcomes.

David Augsburger’s book is a treasure house of examples drawn from many cultures for conflict transformation;  which he defines as the task:

to reopen the future for the parties to the dispute in ways that empower them to move back into responsible relationships.”

The Confucian Model.

 David W. Augsburger looks at different cultures;  to see what they can teach concerning conflict transformation. In all cultures;  there are pathways for handling disputes;  processes for coping with power differentials;  roles for mediators and means of achieving mutually satisfactory settlements. Thus;  in the Japanese tradition;  there is a tendency to resolve conflicts by the use of patience;  forbearance and the passage of time;  by “letting the dispute flow to the ocean.” The objective is to settle the dispute in such a way as to restore friendly relations;  to regain a sense of harmony.

Chinese culture also stresses harmony as the prime cultural virtue. Conflict avoidance is a basic orientation in Chinese social processes;  rooted in the Confucian model of society;  based on the maintenance of harmony in interpersonal relations. However;  there is a particular danger inherent in this mode of dealing with conflicts;  based on face-saving. It can lead to confrontation avoidance;  but not to a genuine resolution of conflicts.

No Real Conflict Transformation is Possible.

As Augsburger points out “The more harmony-oriented that a group is;  the more conflict-sensitive the group will be; the more committed the group to practicing the cultural value of harmony, the more intensely conflict will be internalized,” through the absence of verbal aggression, absence of direct expression of feelings, the avoidance of confrontation.

Yet despite the mutual appreciation of harmony as a cultural virtue;  there was a long war between Japan and China;  which has left scars until today. Thus;  an understanding of the forms;  which conflict takes in each society does not insure that conflicts will be transformed without violence. However;  it is safe to say that without an understanding of the deep cultural roots of the ways in which conflict is expressed;  no real conflict transformation is possible.

A conflict is always a privileged moment for the study of a society – or of oneself. As Johan Galtung has said

It is precisely during periods in our lives when we are exposed to a conflict that really challenges us, and that we finally are able to master, that we feel most alive.”

Johan Galtung

Prof. Johan Galtung: David Lisbona from Haifa, Israel, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Concept of Metamorphosis.

 David Augsburgter was one of the first to stress the need for the concept of conflict transformation;  in the place of the terms conflict management or conflict resolution. Transformation requires a metamorphosis in each of three aspects: transforming attitudes, transforming current behaviour, and transforming the way the conflict is structured.

The concept of metamorphosis is taken from Western and Chinese alchemy;  and Augsburger’s study encourages us to look at Carl Gustav Jung’s long efforts to interpret the Western and Chinese alchemical tradition;  for their insights into psychological transformation. As Augsburger is a Professor of Pastoral Care in a Protestant theological seminary;  he also draws upon Christian thought.

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav: ETH Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The word pathways of the subtitle is a good characterization of the book. There are many ideas, stories, and examples drawn from diverse cultures. Each reader will explore different ways. I believe that each will be rewarded by what is found.

René Wadlow, President of Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Tigray Appeals

Ethiopia’s Tigray, a New Biafra?.

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash.

By Rene Wadlow.

On 4 March 2021; at the United Nations, Mark Lowcock; the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; warned that a campaign of destruction is taking place in Ethiopia’s Tigray  Provence; saying that nearly five million of the six million population of the Provence, needed food assistance.  For the first time; a high U.N. official highlighted the role of the Eritrean Defense Forces fighting along side of the Ethiopian central government’s forces were committing crimes of war.  He indicated that as the Tigray fighting enters its fourth month;

there are “multiple credible and widely corroborated reports from Tigray of widespread atrocities, involving mass killings, rapes, and the abductions of civilians.”

The fighting in Tigray began at the time of the harvest of agricultural production. Much of the harvest has been destroyed as well as farm markets.  Thus; there is wide-spread hunger.  The question which;  we must ask is if famine is a consequence of the fighting;  or a deliberate policy to starve the Tigray resistance – starvation as an arm of war.  The famine situation in Tigray today brings to mind the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-1970.

The International Committee of the Red Cross.

During the Biafra war; I was a member of a working group of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.  The armed conflict was the first in Africa; in which only an African State was involved; no colonial party used to the European laws of war. The International Committee of the Red Cross faced a new socio-cultural context; in which to try for the respect of humanitarian law.

We find many of the same elements in the lead up to the fighting in Tigray: a change in power in the central government;  an effort of the new administration to centralize the administration; demands for autonomy or independence based on ethnic criteria; a flow of refugees toward other provinces of the country; the influence of neighboring or other States in the conflict. The Nigeria-Biafra war dragged on for 30 months; and at least one million lives were taken.

Blocking food aid to Biafra became a deliberate policy. Starvation became not a consequence of war; but an arm of war.  The policy of starvation is remembered and still colors politics in Nigeria. (1)


To Uphold Human Dignity.

The fighting in Tigray becomes more complex by the day as Ethiopian Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, ethnic militias from the Amhara region face Tigrayan forces. There is a buildup of Sudanese government forces on the Ethiopian-Sudan border; and there are growing ethnic conflicts; in the Benishangul-Gumuz region; as Tigrans flee into Sudan.  Reporting on the war is very limited.  Communications are deliberately cut; and journalists unwelcome and under heavy government pressure.  Starvation as a government war policy is denied. One would not expect otherwise.

However; we know little of the military planning of the central Ethiopian government. For the moment; all efforts for mediation proposed by the United Nations or the Organization of African Unity have been refused by the Ethiopian central government; and the former officials of the Tigray province have fled.  For the moment; we on the outside can only watch.

We need to do more to uphold human dignity.



1) See: Ifi Amadiume and Abdullah An-Na’im (Eds)  The Politics of Memory: Truth, Healing and Social Justice; (London: Zed Books, 2000, 207 pp.)

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.