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Saturday, May 06, 2006
From Kaieteur News

Editorial

Channels of Communication

One of the most obvious obstacles in the path of peace in Guyana has been the problem of communication among our political elite – especially those from our two major political parties. Over the last few years we have had a series of stop-go “dialogues” and “constructive engagements” that engendered great expectations in the minds of our people that they could possibly be seeing the beginning of real communication that would lead to durable agreements. It was not to be, and we remain mired in crisis.

Third parties are often effective at re-establishing channels of communication, and maybe we need to go down this route once again. After all, in 1998, the intervention of CARICOM into our intractable conflict did lead to some progress. The third party may in fact become the channel of communication between parties exploring conciliation at this time – if the words of President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Robert Corbin are to be taken at face value that they are seeking a united approach to our conflict, but are yet unable to have meaningful exchanges. If two parties will not speak to each other directly, maybe they can speak through the third party.

We can define communication as the transfer of information. In this context communication channels can be understood simply as the modes or pathways through which two parties might communicate. We have seen the technology of communication improving exponentially in the last few decades. Unfortunately, however, just because communication is easy to accomplish does not mean that it is done, or that the result is an increase in understanding.

Thus, we must distinguish between communication channels and the messages that use them. In intractable conflicts communication problems can arise from poorly communicated ideas, which result in misunderstandings and/or from poor channels of communication. This was one of the problems confronted during the last effort by CARICOM.

Often, during an intractable conflict, there is very little communication between the involved parties, and there is also little sharing of information, intents, and beliefs. The nature of intractable conflict by definition precludes the possibility that people are actively seeking conciliation. Prior to a conflict reaching that point, however, the parties might find themselves in a period of increased tensions – which from all signs we have already entered. There are two possible reactions to this situation.

On the one hand, we might see actors increase communication in an attempt to prevent the outbreak of hostility. Unfortunately the major parties have not seen it fit to go down this road yet. However, we have seen several groups drafting “Peace Pacts” and conducting bilateral meetings, multi-stakeholder meetings, etc. in an effort of getting the two sides to exchange information about their fears, hopes and plans.

On the other hand, communication channels between actors may degrade during the crisis, increasing the likelihood of further escalation and possibly violence. If actors ignore available channels of communication, withhold information, or use increasingly divisive forms of communication, communication channels will tend to break down. Game theorists refer to this as Deadlock. After the breakdown of talks between President Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Corbin on the Constitutional concerns centring on the delayed General Elections, many feared we had reached this point. As opposed to Prisoner's Dilemma, where there is an equilibrium point that two parties can agree on, Deadlock occurs when at least one party cannot agree to any solution.

One of the first goals in ameliorating intractable conflicts is to re-establish channels of communication. Third parties are often effective at re-establishing channels of communication -- they may in fact become THE channel of communication between parties exploring conciliation. A third party can carry messages back and forth, and explore ideas for settlement that the two parties could not discuss face-to-face. Third parties have the added benefit of being able to manage the dialogue such that intent and meaning can be communicated without hostile interpretations.

Haven't we reached the point in our conflict where third party intervention (once again) may be necessary?

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