Conflicts over dwindling resourcesreligious and identity extremism also continues.
The Nigerian government’s response has remained largely ineffective. The violence continues to increase and there has been charges of police brutality.
But we hope to find ways to reduce insecurity in this region.
In a study we ran with body of mercy, an international development and humanitarian agency, we examined whether training local leaders in mediation techniques would improve their ability to resolve local conflicts. The trainees included traditional chiefs, religious leaders, women and young people.
We found that training in mediation techniques improved local conflict resolution and reduced violence. Compared to leaders who did not receive training, trained leaders reported fewer violent events and a higher perception of safety. Moreover, the wider community did the same.
This has implications for peacebuilding programs aimed at preventing and stopping violence around the world.
Mediation of intermunicipal conflicts
In Plateau, Kogi and Benue states in Nigeria, community leaders are involved in resolving local conflicts over land, ethnic and family issues, as well as clashes between farmers and herders.
The question was whether we could improve the way they were already resolving disputes. We also explored whether this type of training would alter levels of violence and insecurity among those directly involved and in the wider community.
To train leaders to be more effective mediators, Mercy Corps used an approach called interest-based negotiation. The agency has used this method in many countries since 2004, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Mali. Reasoned negotiation encourages the parties to find mutually acceptable outcomes by meeting the interests of all parties.
In Nigeria, local leaders came together for three days of training.
To measure the effectiveness of the intervention, we compared leaders from 44 communities who received the training with leaders from 44 communities who did not. Additionally, to see if the training improved the safety of the community as a whole, we compared communities whose leaders received the training with those that did not.
We collected survey measures from leaders and community members in treatment and control areas before the program began and approximately one year after leadership training.
Leaders who received the training felt they had better conflict resolution skills, perceived less violent events, and felt there was greater safety in their communities. Trained leaders also said they talked more often to people from other groups. And they believed leaders of different groups wanted to prevent violence and would be more likely to stick to a deal.
This positive impact of the training extended to the whole community. In the year following the mediation training for leaders, 29% of the citizens of these communities declared having experienced a violent event. In comparison, 55% of citizens in communities where leaders had not received training said they had been victims of violence during this same period.
Almost 53% of respondents from comparison communities said they felt unsafe “often” or “always”, compared to only 32% of respondents from intervention communities.
Members of communities with trained leaders also reported interacting more with people from other communities. For example, they traded or socialized more frequently and traveled more freely than people in communities without trained leaders.
Communities may already trust local leaders more than government. Improving their mediation skills can mitigate violence and economic side effects. And the training is relatively inexpensive.
Training and mentoring 340 leaders over the course of a year cost approximately US$60,000. This cost is significantly lower than the cost of security forces, controlling migration routes, imposing fines and arresting people.
For example, to deal with growing insecurity across the country, Nigeria increased its security budget by $500 million, for a total of US$4.8 billion.
Useful approach in conflicts between farmers and herders and other community conflicts
These findings should inform the efforts of international donor governments, the Nigerian government and neighboring countries such as Mali, Benin and Niger, to address farmer-herder violence.
It shows how these countries can mitigate violence without reducing migration routes for pastoralists (a common policy), hinder economic activity or risk further violence.
This type of intervention is applicable not only to farmer-herder conflicts in West Africa, but also in other parts of Africa.
It could also be useful for addressing other types of intercommunal violence, whether based on religion, ethnicity or other identities. Divisions like these are seen in Ethiopia, mozambiqueand Coastal West Africafor example.
Preventing the escalation of violence between groups can also limit the ability of elites to use these divisions to mobilize support, as is the case in the south sudan civil war.
Training leaders in mediation is not a complete or instant solution. This will not solve all the violence that plagues these communities.
But targeted investments in local leaders and their mediation skills can help prevent the escalation of conflict, break cycles of violence that have continued for generations, and build more peaceful communities.
Emmanuel Ogbudu, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Mercy Corps Nigeria and Catlan Reardon, PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley are co-authors of this article and the research.
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