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UNDERSTANDING
CONFLICT
1.1 THE NATURE OF CONFLICT2
Conflict is a natural and necessary part of our lives. Whether at home with our families, at work with
colleagues or in negotiations betweengovernments, conflict pervades our relationships. The paradox of
conflict is that it is both the force that can tear relationships apart and the force that binds them together.
This dual nature ofconflict makes it an important concept to study and understand.
Conflict is an inevitable and necessary feature of domestic and international relations. The challenge
facing governments is not theelimination of conflict, but rather, how to effectively address conflict when it
arises. While most government officials in Africa are not frequently confronted by large-scale violence or
humanitariancrises, they are often involved in lesser but nevertheless serious conflicts over trade, refugees,
borders, water, defense, etc. Their government may be party to the conflict or called on to serve asmediator.
In either case, they require particular skills and techniques to tackle the issues in a constructive fashion.
Conflict can be managed negatively through avoidance at one extreme and the useor threat of force at the
other. Alternatively, conflict can be managed positively through negotiation, joint problem solving and
consensus building. These options help build and sustainconstructive bi- and multi-lateral relations.
Good conflict management is both a science and an art. We have all learned responses to confrontation,
threats, anger and unfair treatment. Some of our learnedresponses are constructive, but others can escalate
conflict and raise the level of danger. How we choose to handle a confrontation is largely based upon our
past experience in dealing with conflictand our confidence in addressing it. One can start to change
destructive responses to conflict by learning to assess the total impact of negative responses and acquiring
confidence in using the...
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