Personal and Institutional Relations in Handling Land and Natural Resource Conflicts in Indonesia

30 April 2023

CRU found that one of the factors influencing efforts to address land and natural resource conflicts in Indonesia is the quality of the relationship between the conflict management organization and the parties to the conflict and the government agencies that have authority over the conflict being addressed. Often, conflict resolution efforts are set in motion when constructive interactions are established between stakeholders. Agreement between the parties is often difficult to realize due to the lack of connection between the parties and the conflict resolution agency, especially with government agencies whose support is needed, for example, for conflicts that stem from the authority of certain government agencies. In such cases, conflict resolution institutions need government support that is built either through personal relationships with certain officials or through institutional relationships.

This article attempts to discuss both personal and institutional relationships as they relate to conflict resolution efforts. Although they may seem different, we have learned from experience that they are inseparable and both are needed in preparing for and implementing conflict resolution processes.

Personal relationships are usually characterized by fluid and informal interactions between individuals, while formal or institutional relationships are those that are built procedurally and formally. In the conflict resolution process, in addition to relationships with the conflicting parties, personal relationships with government officials are often built to “open doors” and build trust and communication, especially in cases related to the authority of certain government institutions. Personal relationships built by conflict resolution organizations with government officials can help open lines of communication with their hierarchy, which in turn can support an effective conflict resolution process. Meanwhile, personal relationships built by mediators with conflicting parties help to reduce tension and build trust so that communication channels are established to increase mutual understanding of the conflict being addressed.

Such is the importance of personal relationships that they cannot be ignored. However, it should be noted that the support gained from personal relationships is often that of an individual and does not automatically represent the position or institution to which the individual belongs. Likewise, personal relationships and support cannot be used as a basis for long-term conflict resolution. There is always the possibility that personal relationships will be constrained due to, for example, staff turnover, position changes, and even retirement. Therefore, in the long-term interest of ensuring the implementation of peace agreements, personal relationships need to be formalized into institutional relationships, for example through executive decrees, regulations or policies.

However, building institutional relationships and commitments has many challenges. If conflict resolution efforts are initiated through institutional relationships, bureaucratic procedures are often constraining and time-consuming. Therefore, a common strategy is to seek informal communication channels through social networks and then build personal relationships with relevant officials. It is hoped that if needed later, these personal and informal relationships can be the start of developing institutional relationships. However, there are times when an official realizes the bureaucratic complexities involved in formalizing his or her support, and tends to avoid bureaucratic channels to formalize his or her support. On the other hand, conflict parties often place too high an expectation on the personal relationship between the conflict management organization and officials in government institutions. And when institutional support is not forthcoming, the parties are disappointed with the conflict resolution process, and this can even undermine the parties’ trust in the conflict resolution process.

This poses a challenge for mediators and conflict resolution institutions. Mediators need to maintain motivation and at the same time manage the parties’ expectations regarding the relationship or institutional support. One of the things that can be done is for the parties to realize that while personal support can motivate them, the quality of personal support also needs to be taken into consideration in negotiating an agreement between them. Parties need to realize that, even if they have received personal support from government agency officials, they need to seek appropriate institutional support, such as executive decisions, legislation, and other support. And because it is needed especially at the implementation stage of the agreement, it is important to recognize that such efforts will not last long.