Negotiating self-determination

In negotiating self-determination agreements, there will be a need to mint new words to capture new arrangements. The traditional logic is to think of a big word like “autonomy”, “self-rule” or “self-determination” and then pattern the agreement to hew closely to these boxes of “concepts”. The task would then be to cut off or reject anything that does not belong to the box of “autonomy” or “self-rule”. I am reminded of the exercise that my niece, who is in Grade 1, is “forced” to do: select the one that is unlike the other. Well, this is might be harmless when one is in Grade 1 but the consequences are dire when this kind of thinking is extended to peace negotiations.

Do the reverse. First describe and agree on the arrangements, structures, processes that you want to happen and then name it. Design and creation is the first act. Naming is the second act.

When an agreement is made on the design and it is time to name it, the parties need not be limited to the usual words which are inadequate anyway – being formed in a state of relative ignorance or in a different context. The parties need to invent new words to capture the essence of new design.

Thus, in the future, instead of “autonomy” (which has a lot of unnecessary baggage) or “substate” (which evokes fear of being a heartbeat away from becoming an independent State) it will be a must for the parties to use new words, words like “co-governance”, “co-determination”, “self-reliance arrangements”, “parity government”, “mutual governance”, “shared governance”, “freedom arrangement”, “shared power-shared responsibilities”, etc.

Imagination is the only limit and the lack of it being the greater tragedy.

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