Some Ethical Dimensions of Conflict Resolution

Ethical Dimensions of Conflict Resolution
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Conflict may be defined as the lack of harmonious existence between two or more individuals, two or more ethnic groups, nation, states, etc. This is the cessation of peace where it had previously existed.

Key factors for the cessation of peace (which brings about conflicts) are: injustice or perceived sense of injustice, unfair distribution of benefits or perceived unfair distribution of benefits and betrayal of trust or perceived betrayal of justice. From this, it appears that we can sum-up the cause of conflicts as when individuals or groups or parties think that they are being exploited or perceive that they would be exploited. For instance, if Taiwo and Kehinde have a business arrangement in which Kehinde, maybe, because of his better exposure takes undue advantage of Taiwo. On Taiwo’s realization that he has been unfairly treated (taken advantage of), he becomes angry and this might generate into conflict between them.

On the other hand, Kehinde might not necessarily be better exposed than Taiwo. It might just be that Taiwo trusted Kehinde because of their long standing friendship. If Kehinde betrays Taiwo’s trust, such betrayal might not only ruin their friendship, it might actually degenerate into a conflict between them.

Another example could be, if one community feels or perceives that another community has taken unfair advantage of it (that is exploited it), this might lead to conflict between the two communities. It then implies that reasons for conflicts at whatever level resolve around individuals or group of individuals feeling (real or perceived) that they have been unfairly treated or unduly taken advantage of.

Being taken undue or unfair advantage of is synonymous with exploitative transactions. This is because exploitation is an act involving at least two agents, whose interaction is sometimes characterised by imbalance of power, sometimes including significantly different levels of knowledge, to disproportionately further their own interests. Exploitation, of course, is an outcome of unjust human relations where the more powerful inflict injustice on the less powerful to disproportionately further the interests of the former. At this point, let us very briefly discuss the concept of justice.

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The idea of justice can be stratified into three:
Firstly, justice is a social norm, that is, a directive for guiding men in their actions toward one another.
The second note is that justice is affirming in the sense that, judging an action to be just manifests approval of that action.
Thirdly, justice is obligatory, in that, judging a certain course of action to be just, entails that a person in the like situation ought to do the same thing. The third idea of justice is more encompassing, as it brings within it elements of the first and second.

However, the problem with this idea of justice is that because a person considers an action to be just does not necessarily mean he or she would perform the same act in similar circumstances. This of course has the possibility to generate conflicts. Besides, while the idea of justice may be regarded as an objective concept which could be applied in any culture, justice is not an abstract item in the sky, as its application is usually amongst people. This means an idea of justice cannot be extricated from the culture where it needs to be put to use.

This also means an idea of justice should be useful in conflict resolution between humans. How effective would the African notion of justice be in resolving conflicts amongst Africans? First we need to know what African notion of justice entails.

In order to appreciate the African concept of justice, it is useful to succinctly indicate the general perception of what make up the general notion of traditional African morality.

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Morality in African tradition thought is essentially interpersonal and social, with a basis in human well-being. For the African is, traditionally, his brother’s keeper and concerned about his well-being. African morality is founded on rational reflection as it pertains to the welfare of every member of the community.

This means that African idea of justice could be tied to African notion of morality. In order words, justice is when one is fair to another within the framework of the community. When this happens the need for one to exploit another which could potentially generate conflicts would almost be non-existent in African communities. Where one exploits another which generates conflicts, it appears the use of African ethics might be helpful in resolving conflicts. The detail of this would be discussed under the section on African ethics. For now let us see what constitutes exploitation and its connection to conflict creation.

Exploitation and Conflicts

From the above, it appears that the core reason for conflicts is when a party takes undue advantage of or is perceived to take undue advantage of another. As already mentioned earlier, taking undue advantage of one party by another party is synonymous with exploitation. This is because an act of exploitation emanates from transactions between two parties leading to conflicts. But it is possible for exploitation to involve more than two parties, that is, when am exploiter (X) goes through someone else (Y) to take advantage of the circumstances of the exploitee (Z). This mode of exploitation is referred to as “mediated exploitation”.

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Another act of exploitation that could degenerate into conflicts is when there is a disproportion in benefit accruing from an arrangement.
However, it is important for us to explain that acts of exploitation need not necessarily be harmful (though it could sometimes be) for it to lead to conflicts. Thus, to exploit a person involves the harmful, merely instrumental utilisation of him or his capacities, for one’s own advantage, or for the sake of one’s own ends.

Similarly, persons are exploited if (1) others secure a benefit by (2) using them as a tool or resource so as (3) to cause them serious harm. This clearly shows why and how exploitative situations generate conflicts as such situations further the interest of one over another, and in some cases such exploitative situations could cause harm. Of course, threats of harm or real harm to persons, group of persons or communities inevitably lead to situations of conflict.

Why it is important for us to explain how the concept of exploitation is the foundation and core of all conflicts (except for conflicts within oneself and perhaps those generated at the emotional level, such as betrayal of trust) is that all other reasons for the generation of conflicts could be subsumed into the exploitation of one person, group of persons or community by another person, group of persons or community. It is for this reason that ethical theories have been put in place to resolve conflicts.

I will write about the ethical theories for conflict resolution in my next post. Anticipate!

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