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Experience file Dossier : Conflict Transformation

Grenoble, May 2009

Power and negociation

Perverse effects of leverage international community.

Keywords: | | | | | | Searching peace. Acting in favor of peace in a situation of war. | | | Somalia

As an employee of Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Adan Mohamed has been involved in looking for a peaceful solution for the Somali conflict between Islamist groups, warlords and the Transitional Federal Government (in 2006). He draws attention to the fact that international actors are not considered neutral in peace processes and can endanger the legitimacy of local peace initiatives.

Willingness of parties to negotiate depends on leverage of the external third parties. A regional mediation initiative was sidelined by the United Nations effort in the beginning of the 1990’s because regional powers do not have the same leverage over the conflict parties as the more powerful states in the international community. Conflict parties are usually more ready to accept an initiative from bigger powers as they presume that their cause is “just” and that they will be able to persuade the third party that it has an interest in supporting this “just” cause.

International presence also gives a platform for conflict parties to present their cause to an international audience. International actors must take this into account in their choices of regional/international intervention, and in their assessment of the willingness of conflict parties to participate in negotiations. Conflict parties in general and non-state parties in particular will give more consideration to and are readier to accept bigger powers’ initiatives for peace negotiations than those of smaller states, such as Eritrea or Ethiopia. One of the reasons for this dynamic is that meetings organized by big powers are often accompanied by publicity and media presence. Non-state conflict parties, as all the Somali parties were, do not usually have access to such facilities and may see an opportunity in such occasions to address their cause to a wider public. The presence of the media can also be seen as an opportunity for the leaders of conflict parties to enhance their prestige.

These two dimensions of the peace initiatives attempted in Somalia certainly played a role in the decision of conflict parties to abandon the effort of the Horn Committee in 1992 and to turn to the parallel initiatives of the UN and the US in preparation of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF). While the approach used by the Horn initiative was more promising to attain durable peace.


This experience is relevant for numerous other conflicts, like for example the negociations with warlords in Sudan in 2005. To start negociations without the necessary conditions to create peace gives warlords the opportunity to increase their legitimacy in the eyes of their constituencies as a result of media attention. Peace negociations are locally viewed as opportunities to stay in hotels and have luxurious per diems. When parties to the conflict fill their agendas with peace talks, without the necessary conditions to make peace, we should wonder about their sense.


  • 1. The shared experience is an outcome of TNU’s Online Course on Conflict transformation.

  • 2. Authors of the file are Claske Dijkema and Alexia Stainer.

  • 3. Above experience has also be adapted into a case study in the online course on “Post-conflict politics: state and society relations”. For more information, have a look at or contact Modus Operandi directly at or