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What is the Difference between Conflicts and Disputes?



By Dr. Kariuki Muigua, PhD (Leading Environmental Law Scholar, Policy Advisor, Natural Resources Lawyer and Dispute Resolution Expert from Kenya), Winner of Kenya’s ADR Practitioner of the Year 2021, ADR Publisher of the Year 2021 and CIArb (Kenya) Lifetime Achievement Award 2021.*

There are numerous techniques for preventing conflicts, resolving conflicts, settling disputes, and transforming conflicts. However, the choice of mechanism chosen depends on whether one is dealing with conflicts or disputes, as both have different causes and underlying issues. This raises the question: What is the difference between conflicts and disputes?


Conflicts are concerns of non-negotiable ideals. The parties share these wants and ideals. Needs or values are inherent in all human beings and are at the foundation of conflict, whereas interests and issues are surface-level and are not at the root of conflict. They’re limitless. Conflicts develop as a result of the conflicting parties’ non-negotiable wants or values not being met. As a result, if all requirements are addressed, the outcome is nonzero-sum, resulting in integrative and innovative solutions rather than a zero-sum answer.

A conflict usually involves at least two parties that disagree over the allocation of material or symbolic resources or who believe their underlying cultural values and beliefs are irreconcilable. Conflicts may also arise as a result of society’s social and political makeup and structure, according to some theories. This supports the viewpoint that conflict must be addressed on two levels: psychologically to overcome ‘blocks’ to positive communication and ontologically to discover the ‘true’ causes of conflict.

Conflicts are usually resolved because they are about fundamental values, hence the term “conflict resolution.” Resolution is the mutual development of a valid relationship in which each party’s demands are met. It is the mutual construction of a conflict because conflict is dynamic, interactive, and ever-changing with different stages of escalation and deescalation such as formation, escalation, crisis, and endurance, improvement and deescalation, settlement or resolution, and finally reconstruction and reconciliation through political processes such as negotiation and mediation. As a result, conflict resolution is stated to probe into the roots or underlying causes of conflict and relationships, with the goal of resolving them completely.


When conflicts are not or cannot be adequately managed, disputes arise. It’s about an issue or a situation that interests you. Needs are not negotiable, divisible, or finite, while interests are. They aren’t negotiable due to their intrinsic nature. They are not transferable or divisible. Needs are also inexhaustible, which means that the more security I have, the less security you have. When two or more persons or groups believe their rights, interests, or aims are incompatible, they communicate their perspective to the other person or group, which can lead to a dispute.

Similarly, conflicts can arise from societal power imbalances, rights, or interests. These issues or interests can be discussed and even bargained over. Because a dispute can be based on interests, rights, or power, the approaches to resolving it vary. Negotiation and mediation are the best ways to resolve an interest-based dispute. If the issue is about rights, the best response is litigation; if the issue is about power, the best response is the use of force, threats, and violence, such as that used by the police and the army.

Understanding the roots or grounds of a dispute is critical because if it is not addressed appropriately, the likelihood of escalatory responses grows, which can lead to violence and long-term societal fission. It’s worth noting that tensions tend to repeat in specific sorts of disputes, such as those concerning natural resource use and access. The recurrence of a disagreement over time could be a sign of a much deeper conflict in which people or organizations are involved. In such circumstances, the responses used must take into account the greater context of the dispute’s interests, rights, and power imbalances. As a result, answers must be tailored to the various levels of the conflict.

Some solutions could be aimed at resolving the specific conflict, such as through adjudication processes like courts and arbitration. Other intervention techniques might seek to address the dispute’s underlying causes, which are frequently considerably broader. This can be done, for example, through political negotiations or mediation involving the entire community or perhaps a number of communities, with the goal of airing complaints and injustices seen by various groups in the region. Other intervention techniques might attempt to rebuild or restore the community’s broken or damaged ties as a result of disagreements or conflicts.

Interests or concerns are only surface-level; they do not address the conflict’s basic or primary causes. As a result, conflicts can be resolved, thus the term “conflict resolution.” A settlement, according to eminent conflict management specialists, is an agreement on the dispute’s issue(s), which frequently entails a compromise. A settlement aims to appease the opposing party without addressing the dispute’s root causes. As a result, adjudicatory, legal, or coercive processes like courts and arbitration can be used to settle disputes. When it comes to disputes about interests rather than values, coercive means such as litigation and arbitration are useful.

*This article is an extract from the Article “The Viability of Arbitration in management of Climate Change Related Disputes in Kenya by Dr. Kariuki Muigua, PhD, Kenya’s ADR Practitioner of the Year 2021 (Nairobi Legal Awards), ADR Publisher of the Year 2021 and ADR Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 (CIArb Kenya). Dr. Kariuki Muigua is a foremost Environmental Law and Natural Resources Lawyer and Scholar, Sustainable Development Advocate and Conflict Management Expert in Kenya. Dr. Kariuki Muigua is a Senior Lecturer of Environmental Law and Dispute resolution at the University of Nairobi School of Law and The Center for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy (CASELAP). He has published numerous books and articles on Environmental Law, Environmental Justice Conflict Management, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Sustainable Development. Dr. Muigua is also a Chartered Arbitrator, an Accredited Mediator, the Africa Trustee of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Managing Partner of Kariuki Muigua & Co. Advocates. Dr. Muigua is recognized among the top 5 leading lawyers and dispute resolution experts in Kenya by the Chambers Global Guide 2022.


Bloomfield, D., “Towards Complementarity in Conflict Management: Resolution and Settlement in Northern Ireland”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol.32, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp.152-153.

Cloke, K., “The Culture of Mediation: Settlement vs. Resolution”, The Conflict Resolution Information Source, Version IV, December 2005.

Fenn, P., “Introduction to Civil and Commercial Mediation”, in Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Workbook on Mediation, (CIArb, London, 2002), pp.12-13.

Fetherston, A.B., “From Conflict Resolution to Transformative Peacebuilding: Reflections from Croatia”, Centre for Conflict Resolution-Department of Peace Studies: Working Paper 4 (April, 2000), pp. 2-4.

Muigua, K., Resolving conflicts through mediation in Kenya, Glenwood Publishers, Nairobi, 2nd Ed., 2017, Chapter Four.

Muigua, K., “The Viability of Arbitration in management of Climate Change Related Disputes in Kenya,” Available at: nt -of-Climate-Change-Related-Disputes-in-Kenya-11th-April-2022.pdf (accessed 30 March 2022).

News & Analysis

The Roles of the Three Parts of the Permanent Court of Arbitration




H.E. Amb. Marcin Czepelak, the Fourteenth Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)

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Brief History of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)




By Dr. Kariuki Muigua, PhD, C.Arb, Current Member of Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Representing the Republic of Kenya.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is a 124 Years Old Intergovernmental Organization currently with 122 contracting states. It was established at the turn of 20th Century during the first Hague Peace Conference held between 18th May and 29th July 1899. The conference was an initiative of then Russian Czar Nicholas II to discuss peace and disarmament and specifically with the object of “seeking the most effective means of ensuring to all peoples the benefits of a real and lasting peace, and, above all, of limiting the progressive development of existing armaments.” The culmination of the conference was the adoption of a Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which dealt not only with arbitration but also with other methods of pacific settlement, such as good offices and mediation.

The aim of the conference was to “strengthen systems of international dispute resolution” especially international arbitration which in the last century had proven effective for the purpose with number of successful international arbitrations being concluded among Nations. The Alabama arbitration of 1871-1872 between the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) under the Treaty of Washington of 1871 culminating in the arbitral tribunal’s award that the UK pay the US compensation for breach of neutrality during American Civil War which it did had demonstrated the effectiveness of arbitration in settling of international disputes and piqued interest of many practitioners in it as a mode of dispute resolution during the latter years of the nineteenth century.

The Institut de Droit International adopted a code of procedure for arbitration in 1875 to answer the need for a general law of arbitration governing for countries and parties wishing to have recourse to international arbitration. The growth of arbitration as a mode of international dispute resolution formed the background of the 1899 conference and informed its most enduring achievement, namely, the establishment of the PCA as the first global mechanism for the settlement of disputes between states. Article 16 of the 1899 Convention recognized that “in questions of a legal nature, and especially in the interpretation or application of International Conventions” arbitration is the “most effective, and at the same time the most equitable, means of settling disputes which diplomacy has failed to settle.”

In turn, the 1899 Convention provided for the creation of permanent machinery to enable the setting up of arbitral tribunals as necessary and to facilitate their work under the auspices of the institution it named as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). In particular, Article 20 of the 1899 Convention stated that “[w]ith the object of facilitating an immediate recourse to arbitration for international differences which it has not been possible to settle by diplomacy, the signatory Powers undertake to organize a Permanent Court of Arbitration, accessible at all times and operating, unless otherwise stipulated by the parties, in accordance with the rules of procedure inserted in the present Convention.” In effect, the Convention set up a permanent system of international arbitration and institutionalized the law and practice of arbitration in a definite and acceptable way.

As a result, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was established in 1900 and began operating in 1902. The PCA as established consisted of a panel of jurists designated by each country acceding to the Convention with each country being entitled to designate up to four from among whom the members of each arbitral tribunal might be chosen. In addition, the Convention created a permanent Bureau, located in The Hague, with functions similar to those of a court registry or secretariat. The 1899 Convention also laid down a set of rules of procedure to govern the conduct of arbitrations under the PCA framework.

The second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 saw a revision of the 1899 Convention and improvement of the rules governing arbitral proceedings. Today, the PCA has developed into a modern, multi-faceted arbitral institution perfectly situated to meet the evolving dispute resolution needs of the international community. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has also diversified its service offering alongside those contemplated by the Conventions. For instance, today the International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration serves as a registry in important international arbitrations. In 1993, the Permanent Court of Arbitration adopted new “Optional Rules for Arbitrating Disputes between Two Parties of Which Only One Is a State” and, in 2001, “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Natural Resources and/or the Environment”.


PCA Website: (accessed on 25th May 2023).

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News & Analysis

Former KCB Company Secretary Sues Over Unlawful Dismissal




Former KCB Group Company Secretary Joseph Kamau Kania who has sued the Bank for Unlawful Dismissal

Former KCB Group Company Secretary Joseph Kamau Kania has sued the lender seeking reinstatement or be compensated for illegal sacking almost three years ago. Lawyer Kania was the KCB Group company secretary until restructuring of the lender in 2021 that saw some senior executives dropped.

Through the firm of Senior Counsel Wilfred Nderitu, Kamau wants the court to order KCB Group to unconditionally reinstate him to employment without altering any of the contractual terms until his retirement in December 2025.

In his court documents filed before Employment and Labour Relations Court, the career law banker seeks the court to declare the reorganization of the company structure a nullity and amounted to a violation of his fundamental right to fair labour practices as guaranteed in Article 41(1) of the Constitution. He further wants the court to declare that the position of Group Company Secretary did not at any time cease to exist within the KCB Group structure.

He further urged the Employment Court to declare that the recruitment and appointment of Bonnie Okumu, his former assistant, as the Group Company Secretary, in relation to the contemporaneous termination of his employment, was unprocedural, insufficient and inappropriate to infer a lawful termination of his employment.

“A declaration that the factual and legal circumstances of the Petitioner’s termination of employment were insufficient and inappropriate to infer a redundancy against him, and that any redundancy declared by the KCB Group in relation to him was therefore null, void and of no legal effect and amounted to a violation of his fundamental right to fair labour practices as guaranteed in Article 41(1) of the Constitution,” seeks lawyer Kamau.

Kamau says he was subjected to discriminatory practices by the KCB Bank Group in violation of his fundamental right to equality and freedom from discrimination as guaranteed in Article 27 of the Constitution and the termination of his employment was unfair, unjustified, illegal, null and void.

Lawyer Kamau further seeks the court to declare that the Non-Compete Clause in the 2016 Contract is unenforceable by the KCB Group as against him and is voidable by him as against the Bank ab initio, byreason of the termination of the Petitioner’s employment having been a violation of Articles 41(1) and 47(1) and (2) of the Constitution, and of the Employment Act.

He also wants the Employment Court to find that finding that KCB’s group legal representation by Messrs of Mohammed Muigai LLP Advocates law firm in respect of his claim for unlawful termination of employment resulted in a clear conflict of interest by reason of the fact that a Founding and Senior Partner at the said firm lawyer Mohammed Nyaoga is also the Chairman of the CBK’s Board of Directors.

“A Declaration that the circumstances of KCB’s legal representation by Messrs. Mohammed Muigai LLP Advocates resulted in a violation of the Petitioner’s fundamental right to have the employment dispute decided independently and impartially, as guaranteed in Article 50(1) of the Constitution,” seeks lawyer Kamau.

Kamau is seeking damages against both KCB Group and Central Bank of Kenya jointly and severally for the violation of his constitutional and fundamental right to fair labour practices.

He wants  further wants court to declare that CBK is liable to petitioner on account of its breach of statutory duty to effectively regulate KCB Group to ensure that KCB complied with the Central Bank of Kenya Prudential Guidelines and all other Laws, Rules, Codes and Standards, and that, as an issuer of securities, it complied with capital markets legislation.

Kamau through his lawyer Nderitu told the court that he was involved in Shareholder engagement in introducing the Group aide-mémoire that significantly improved the management of the Annual General Meetings, including obtaining approval without voting through the Memorandum and Articles of Association of Kenya Commercial Bank Limited among others.

He said that during his employment at KCB Bank Kenya and with the KCB Group, he initially worked well with former KCB CEO Joseph Oigara until 2016 when the CEO allegedly started sidelining him by removing the legal function from his reporting line.

He further claims he was transferred from the Group’s offices at Kencom House to its offices Upper Hill under the guise that the Petitioner was merely to support the KCB Group Board.

He adds that at that point his roles were given to Okumu for reasons that were not related to work demands.  He stated that Oigara at one time proposed that he should leave his role in the KCB Group and go and serve as the Company Secretary of the National Bank of Kenya Limited, a subsidiary of the Group, a suggestion which he disagreed with to Oigara’s utter annoyance.

Kamau stated that his work was thenceforth unfairly discredited, leading to his being taken through a disciplinary process whose intended outcome failed miserably, and the Petitioner was vindicated.

“More specifically, the Petitioner contends that the purported creation of a new organizational structure towards the end of 2020 was in fact Oigara’s orchestration targeted to remove certain individuals by requiring them to undergo interviews in the pretext that new roles were created, and amounted to a further violation of the Petitioner’s fundamental right to fair labour practices under Article 41(1) of the Constitution,” said in his court documents.

He further adds that this sham reorganization demonstrates how the role of the KCB Group Company Secretary purportedly ceased to be and was then very briefly replaced with a new role of the KCB Group General Counsel. The role of KCB Group Company Secretary then ‘resurfaced’ immediately thereafter, in total violation of legal and regulatory requirements.

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