Dorcas Akamakusi is a highly trained and experienced lawyer and mediator, with a passion for engaging the people around her and spreading awareness of the peacebuilding properties of mediation. She is passionate about a holistic approach to peacebuilding and has her own project, Danny Health, which provides free information to hundreds of people around health and nutrition. This work too has been part of an effort to combat the spread of false information about COVID-19.
Navigating Many Levels of Conflict
Her interest in MBBI was piqued by the broad scope of the work and the wide reach the organization has with individuals and organizations around the world. Just recently she joined the MBBI rotary team, and she regularly attends the webinars. This is perhaps to be expected, for although Dorcas has been practicing law and mediation for years, she believes strongly in the importance of being open to learning new things; ‘every opportunity I have to learn, I key into it’.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Dorcas has lived and worked there for most of her life. At university, she studied Library and Information Science, an interest born out of her love of reading and learning, which has helped her throughout her varied career. She then attended law school and went on to start her own firm in 2006. Although her work had always included the practice of dispute settlement, it was not until 2011 when she decided to complete a certification course in mediation, which she did in the UK at the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution. Dorcas explains the shift in focus through her realization that it was more interesting and engaging to work towards a solution that meant a win for everyone involved.
As Dorcas has lived in West Africa her whole life, and because of her legal background and practices of research and learning, she understands the complex systems of conflict that are at play in the region; ‘there is a lot of conflict – international, internal, in communities’. In her career, she has worked with state governments, with individual cases, with companies, and with villages and communities. Her understanding of how and why conflict occurs has helped her immensely with the varied projects she undertakes and has helped her to be a respected member of the legal community. Every year the Nigerian government in Lagos has a ‘settlement week’, where they work to remove backlogs of litigations in the courts and through mediation and conflict resolution, and every year Dorcas is invited to help the process.
In 2010 Dorcas got a job with a state criminal prosecutor and has worked on a number of cases involving sexual assault against minors. As she puts it, they have had a lot of success in prosecuting these cases, with justice being granted to the victims. But to Dorcas, punishing the offender is not synonymous with peace; ‘Even when [the victims] get justice, how do they heal? Justice for me is how do I rehabilitate the victim?’ Dorcas has on several occasions worked with the young victims to build their confidence, developing relationships with them outside of the court system to ensure that they relearn how to “build trust in themselves, helping them to develop their confidence and have success in their lives going forward.”
As a mediator, Dorcas works as part of a mediation team to do settlements outside the court system, and that has been her key interest and tries to see what she can do with international bodies. The mediation group that she created works within local communities in Nigeria. Together with the 8-person team, they work to train mediators locally and they have been able to spread awareness of mediation practices, through demonstrating the power of mediation practices. One of her team members is a community leader who brings it into practice in his village.
Modern Conflict in Rural West Africa
One example of the kinds of modern conflicts in rural West Africa is the development of large international companies – especially oil sector companies– that bring change into impoverished communities and can cause competition over jobs and money. Dorcas and her team worked on an accidental death case where the company in rural Nigeria was at fault; together they managed to salvage the situation, and the relationship in the community was saved. The victim’s family felt appeased by the work done in the mediation process. The processes and patience in the mediation sessions work with the local stakeholders and the outside businesses to create a more peaceful environment.
When asked what advice she would impart for young peacebuilders, Dorcas emphasizes that “the passion has to be there, not just for peace, but for always being ready to learn and to work as a team with the people around you.” She believes in always seeking new information and new perspectives.
Article by Lizzy Nestor, MBBI Writer