Africa Today 48.1 (2001) 152-154
[Access article in PDF]
Herding Cats reads like a well-written novel imbedded in a scholarly wrapper. The book examines the different varieties of third party mediation in violent conflict, seeking the common threads that run through these complex efforts. The result is a handbook, not a cookbook, which will reward the practitioner immensely for a thorough reading. Those pressed for time or drawn to theory will find the editors' framing chapters among the best available summaries of the art of third party intervention available [End Page 152] today. Regional experts will find themselves constantly either nodding in agreement with the retelling of events in the rich case study chapters or being startled into reviewing their models on what happened and why. The student who takes the easy way out, reading only the summary chapters and a case or two, will have missed the unique opportunity to actually enjoy the process of gaining a global perspective on mediation. The case studies are written in almost every instance in a clear, accessible style largely forgiving of a lack of detailed background in the region.
The discussion is organized into five parts. The first examines the conceptual framework of multiparty mediation today, looking at the topic from the cycle of conflict itself, but more tellingly from the practitioner's view. We in the African branch of the "business" are well practiced at placing a conflict on the scale of "ripeness" from the parties' point of view, but many of today's problems are not examined with a view to the mediation's "readiness," its ability to achieve the desired results. The endless cycle in the Congo today is a classic case in point. The next three sections place a series of well-crafted case studies (many of which are African-based) into groupings of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and implementation of conflict settlements. Each case, whether a success or a "magnificent" failure, contains well-drawn lessons learned. Each is rich enough to reward a second reading with additional insights and teaching points. In Angola, Margaret Anstee shows the Bicesse process to be flawed in implementation management and coordination; Paul Hare demonstrates that Lusaka failed even with good management and careful coordination.
The closing section places the cases into the paradigm of the current state of the art and practice of third-party mediation. One of the editors' key summary points is that the multiplication of mediators is less a matter of choice than an inevitability driven by the end of the Cold War and the rise in influence of nonstate actors. While the resulting complexity is not ipso facto a bad thing, the bonfire of vanities driven by mediatorial egos and personalities of wildly varying competencies often results in chaos rather than progress. However, when a skilled fireman, either an individual or a coalition of individuals and institutions, can control the bonfire for a common purpose, the results can be very much richer and more durable than anything the "lone mediator" can produce. The book makes a major contribution to the rather thin current theoretical literature on this topic.
The cases also examine what makes a good mediator. The editors look beyond resources and leverage to the status, legitimacy, and broader political ties of the mediators. The result highlights the often "hidden" value added that private citizens and nongovernmental agencies bring to the mediation process. In Mozambique, the Community of Sant'Egidio's human ties to the archbishop of Beira, and its ability to provide both physical and psychological space to the government and Renamo rebels, is revealed as critical in ways that an outsider to the process would not have imagined. The chapter on their ability to connect through the Italian Government in an "unofficial" way to the US and other parties to coordinate and mobilize [End Page 153] resources is a treatise on the art of the possible taken to new heights by so-called amateurs...