After a recent military coup attempt, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has recently returned to Lesotho, where talks thus far between Mr Thabane and his rival, Mothetjoa Metsing have not been successful. Interestingly, these talks have been led by President Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa which, along with the US and the UN, has condemned the military action. It is exactly this sort of situation that brings light to the interesting topic of choosing a mediator for a successful negotiation, when human nature is so nuanced and complex, and yet the mediator must remain a neutral anchor in an otherwise heated discussion.
It might be obvious from the word alone that the mediator plays a central role in a mediation. As the cornerstone of a mediated negotiation, this person must be neutral, calm, and must develop a relationship of sorts with both parties involved. With emotions possibly flying high between parties, it is imperative that the mediator maintain a level of cool that allows the two opposing parties to let their guards down in order to convey their emotions and needs in order to conduct a successful mediation.
It is therefore interesting to consider the position of the South African President as a mediator between Mr Thabane and Mr Metsing. As noted above, South Africa was one of the countries that publicly condemned the coup, a military revolt that took place on the part of Mr Metsing. In this case, one must wonder whether the President of South Africa can really claim to be a neutral mediator. Commercial mediators should ideally have nothing invested in the situation, and should not case prior judgement about the actions of the opposing parties. According to news sources, President Zuma went into his one-day attempt at brokering peace with the intention of persuading Mr Thabane to recall the parliament and to resolve the recent crisis of army leadership. However given the dire situation, this might be considered a situation of Realpolitik that could not be fairly compared with more standard corporate negotiations in terms of choosing a mediator.
In this case, given the complexity of the political situation, it is apparent that choosing a mediator was a difficult task at best. In fact, this situation might be one that truly showcases the need to definitively list and rank the necessary qualities of a mediator in relation to the situation at hand. The different qualities of a mediator and their position in terms of importance might be based on the experience and background of the individual or based on their personal qualities and style of conduct. Nonetheless, the value of having a third-party communicator between opposing parties is inarguably invaluable in coming to a mutually beneficial decision when facing a heated situation. Hopefully the current attempt at mediation in Lesotho will lead to a more long-term solution that will benefit all concerned, not least the people of Lesotho.
By Leah Oppenheimer