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Conflict in Paradise

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A University of St Joseph’s scholar has spoken about the current political conflict in the newly democratic Republic of the Maldives and says “things have to cool a bit” before peace can be established following last month’s coup d’état.
Dr. Barry Bannister made the comments during a speech on March 21 entitled “Resolving Conflict & Building Peace, with reference to the Republic of the Maldives”.
Though as an independent consultant he listed a line of recommendations on the political level for the aim of resolving conflict in the Maldives, Dr. Bannister’s ideas go back to his philosophical conviction that “If our heart is at war, we have brought about this condition ourselves. The way for a heart to be at peace is not a matter of negotiation, self-protection or indeed anything we are capable to doing; it is instead a matter of ceasing to do what has caused this way-of-being.”
The Maldives has been a Republic since the 1950s and has recently undergone major democratic reforms, which include the introduction of a multi-party political system of government, the implementation of a new Constitution and the creation of independent institutions. Dr. Bannister said he was surprised when he learned of the coup d’état of February. On this occasion former Vice-president Mohamed Waheed replaced Mohamed Nasheed who had been elected president in November 2008 after defeating Mohamed Gayyoom who had held office for the 30 years prior to 2008.
Dr. Barry Bannister has been a Visiting Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the University of St Joseph, since 2007. He is an Independent Consultant in Public Sector Reform, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, HRD and Monitoring and Evaluation to organizations including the World Bank, the US Department of State, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, as well as the governments of Malaysia, Hong, Slovakia and the Maldives. His most recent assignment was as a UNDP Consultant to the Government of the Republic of the Maldives as part of its civil service reform and democratization project.
In his speech Dr. Bannister examined the sources of conflict, the potential for the resolution of this conflict – and the hope of transformation and peace building in the medium term. As one of the “challenges to peace” Dr. Bannister pointed to the fact that the Maldives are composed of 1,190 islands, only 196 of which are inhabited by a total population of 305,000 people. Therefore, he said the divided topography along with a very small population “create a sense of separatism”. He also pointed to the close kinship connections as a complicating factor for public administration. With seven different existing political parties in the Maldives, Dr. Bannister explained, “it amounts to a separatist mindset and to divided communities” among the population. Furthermore, he said, “a lack of consultation and coordination both within the executive and in relation to independent institutions such as the Civil Service Commission, the President’s Office, the Human Rights Commission, the Auditor General’s Office and the Anti-Corruption Commission compound the problems faced by the new government.”
Dr. Bannister has presented a proposal for conflict resolution to the now President Mohamed Waheed, which included a “Mediator Training Program” for the Civil Service Commission which assumed responsibility in 2008 for the civil service. He said the Maldives’s President agreed on the proposed training program, which comprises a two-day introduction to conflict resolution, a five-day workshop designed to train selected individuals as community mediators, as well as an internship for student-mediators of three months.
According to his UNDP report about the conflict resolution, Dr. Bannister expressed that “there is a need for a change in attitude – to being engaged productively and harmoniously with each other, at the individual and at the political level as well, especially interactions between political appointees and the civil service. The public sector needs to be de-politicized and politicians and civil servants both need to understand that the civil servant’s role is to enact policies, regardless of whether they support particular policies or not.” He concluded with a citation of Gandhi, “Democracy requires a change of heart” and thus assumed that “the goal of working harmoniously together for the good of the country will take time. This does not happen quickly, as it is based on a culture of mutual respect and understanding between elected and appointed officials at the policy-making level and those tasked with their implementation.


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