At their best, national dialogues hold the promise of adding critical momentum in the drive to transform conflict inclusively. This report examines dialogues in six countries—the Central African Republic, Kenya, Lebanon, Senegal, Tunisia, and Yemen. These diverse processes show the possibilities for fostering dialogue, forging agreements, and driving toward peace; and the report offers extensive guidance on the possibilities and practicalities for those considering convening a national dialogue.

Clerics vote during a press conference held in Sana’a, Yemen, on September 26, 2013, in response to issues raised in Yemen’s national dialogue. (Hani Mohammed/AP)
Clerics vote during a press conference held in Sana’a, Yemen, on September 26, 2013, in response to issues raised in Yemen’s national dialogue. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

Summary

The proliferation of national dialogues in the early 2010s prompted the United States Institute of Peace to explore diverse experiences—in the Central African Republic, Kenya, Lebanon, Senegal, Tunisia, and Yemen—to draw lessons for practitioners and policy-makers from those case studies to design future dialogues that most effectively advance peacebuilding. 

A national dialogue can be a useful approach along the path toward sustainable peace. In line with the foundational principles of peacebuilding, the shape, form, and structure of any national dialogue need to be tailored to the specific context. The temptation is to look to national dialogues as the transformative step in a peace agreement. Expectations are high: achieve inclusion; broaden participation; advance justice; and resolve fundamental issues of identity, forms of governance, constitutional priorities, and political reform. National dialogues, however, are not a panacea. They are best conceived as part of a broader continuum of mutually reinforcing local, subnational, and national efforts that foster dialogue, forge agreements, and drive toward peace. 

In all national dialogues, the decisions made during the preparatory phase set the tone for the process and affect its ultimate legitimacy in the eyes of political forces and the public. A clear mandate for the dialogue, whether derived formally or informally, from a national process or an international process, can help buffer interference and maintain momentum. The selection of a convener—whether an individual, group, or organization—also affects public perceptions of the dialogue. Although national conveners can increase ownership and buy-in to a process, bias is a risk, particularly when a dialogue is convened by a sitting leader. 

National dialogues with hundreds of delegates and broad agendas offer the possibility of bringing traditionally underrepresented groups to the table for a conversation and problem-solving about the drivers of conflict in a country. At the same time, these broad processes may become bogged down by disagreement or complex structures or produce an untenable number of recommendations. Smaller dialogues can allow for more in-depth conversations, particularly around sensitive issues, but may reinforce existing power structures. 

Dialogues are far more likely to engender meaningful change when they are backed by a credible coalition that can work toward implementation of the dialogue through law or policy. A clear implementation plan prior to the dialogue’s inception is also critical to provide strategic momentum beyond the final conference or report. International partners can play an important role in keeping attention and resources focused on implementation. In earlier phases, international engagement needs to be measured to encourage genuine national ownership.

About the Report

In response to requests for advice and support from international organizations and policymakers in countries considering national dialogues, the United States Institute of Peace presents this report examining six markedly different dialogues in the Central African Republic, Kenya, Lebanon, Senegal, Tunisia, and Yemen. Through the case studies, comparisons of the processes, explanations of lessons learned, and sets of detailed questions, it offers guidance and tools for practitioners and policymakers.

About the Editors

Elizabeth Murray is a senior program officer in the Africa program at USIP, where she manages programming in the Central Africa region. Susan Stigant is the director of Africa programs at USIP, where she leads programming in the Greater Horn of Africa, on the Red Sea, and with the African Union and regional partners.

Related Publications

What Is Indigenous Foreign Policy? Lessons from Australia and New Zealand

What Is Indigenous Foreign Policy? Lessons from Australia and New Zealand

Thursday, May 26, 2022

By: Nicole Cochran;  Brian Harding

In early May, the Solomon Islands — the second largest recipient of Australian aid — signed a security agreement with China, raising concerns about the potential for the creation of a Chinese military base a short distance from Australia’s shores. Coming mere weeks before Australian elections, this announcement was widely seen by Australians as a failure of their foreign policy and helped turn national security into a high priority for the elections.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Dissent and Dialogue: The Role of Mediation in Nonviolent Uprisings

Dissent and Dialogue: The Role of Mediation in Nonviolent Uprisings

Monday, April 11, 2022

By: Isak Svensson;  Daan van de Rijzen

While both mediation and nonviolent resistance have been the subject of significant scholarly work, the connection of the two fields has received less attention. Using newly collected data on nonviolent uprisings Africa from the Mediation in Nonviolent Campaigns data set, this report explores several questions: When does mediation occur in the context of nonviolent campaigns? Who tends to mediate? What are the challenges, and what are the outcomes? The study offers overall takeaways, policy conclusions, and recommendations for future research.

Type: Special Report

Mediation, Negotiation & DialogueNonviolent Action

Afghan Taliban Views on Legitimate Islamic Governance

Afghan Taliban Views on Legitimate Islamic Governance

Monday, February 28, 2022

By: Clark B. Lombardi;  Andrew F. March

Since their return to power in August 2021, Taliban leaders have not yet articulated a clear vision of how they plan to structure the Afghan state. Some observers have expressed guarded optimism that the Taliban can be persuaded to move away from the more authoritarian and illiberal aspects of their first regime. This report is intended to help these negotiators—whether from the international community or Afghan civil society—find possible compromises between the Taliban’s vision of “true” Islamic governance and liberal democracy and respect for human rights.

Type: Peaceworks

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Dialogues nationaux sur la consolidation de la paix et les transitions créativité et pensée adaptative

Dialogues nationaux sur la consolidation de la paix et les transitions créativité et pensée adaptative

Monday, December 13, 2021

By: Elizabeth Murray;  Susan Stigant

Dans le meilleur des cas, les processus de dialogue national promettent d’apporter un élan décisif à la transformation inclusive du conflit. Ce rapport examine les dialogues dans six pays: la République Centrafricaine, le Kenya, le Liban, le Sénégal, la Tunisie et le Yémen. Ces divers processus montrent les possibilités de favoriser le dialogue, de forger des accords et de progresser vers la paix; et le rapport offre des conseils détaillés sur les possibilités et les aspects pratiques pour ceux qui envisagent d'organiser un dialogue national.

Type: Peaceworks

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications