As an estate resident and practising mediator questions always crossed my mind. At what point should I suggest mediation as a way of resolving conflict? Could I offer myself as a mediator? Was it appropriate for me to watch conflict escalate to the level it had reached? What would fellow mediators do, if they were in my place? What would estate residents think, if they discovered I could help but did not? Should I directly reach out to the feuding parties? Should I ask the general estate residents to consider mediation? Would the parties consider me a neutral? Would the estate residents consider me a neutral?
I live in an estate having approximately sixty houses, each in its own compound. Accessed through two sets of gates manned by smartly dressed security staff, the estate looks like an island of peace and security in the neighbourhood. A closer look however depicts a different story. From workers receiving late and poor pay, to residents choking from the smell of uncollected garbage and taps that haven’t had water in weeks, the estate is a classic example of good from far but far from good.
Initially, the houses were manned by a property agent ensuring that security, cleanliness and general management was excellent. Eventually, as a result of defaulting residents, who made it difficult to sustain paying a property agent, volunteers took up running of the estate affairs and seeing that basic services were available. Almost each year, the volunteers hand over to another group of volunteers facing disgruntlement from residents and feeling unappreciated for their effort.
This year, the intrigues surrounding handing-over to a new set of volunteers has been epic. Many times, a single question or comment would trigger an avalanche of responses eliciting strong emotions in the estate whatsapp group.
Finally, I wrote to the estate residents explaining what mediation is, explaining that it was worth exploring and indicating that I was willing to lead the process at no cost. The only direct response thanked me for offering to arbitrate. I explained that arbitration was a different process altogether and that mediation was most ideal given the situation and circumstances. With no further questions or comments concerning mediation from residents, I held my peace unwilling to stir dust in my own compound. What is the role of a mediator when conflict brews in their own backyard?
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