Richard Tanto, Mediator and Consultant with MBB Consulting, was interviewed by Kayla Elson, MBBI Writer, on March 20, 2018
Very early in my life, I lived in a community where there was a certain church conflict in which my own parents were involved, and which directly affected my performance in school. Teachers were terminated as a result and students were abandoned. I began to wonder how to manage relations so that we don’t get really negative consequences on the children.
Richard Tanto is an ardent advocate of mediation. With over 20 years of rich peacebuilding experience, his passion for mediation and dreams for his home country, Cameroon, shine through his words. Motivated by his personal experience, Richard dedicated his academic pursuits to improving responses to conflict. Attaining a PhD in History from the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, his dissertation analyzed conflict within the Cameroon Baptist Convention – the same conflict that impaired his education as a child.
Upon graduating, Richard was recruited by Ecumenical Service for Peace in Cameroon and has worked at the organization ever since. Upon employment, he received conflict management training. He also seized opportunities for advanced training in Norway and in South Africa. With this training, Richard emphasizes, “As a mediator, you approach things differently and people will begin to wonder what is happening to your life.”
With this transformative perspective, Richard equips communities to build peace: “The problem is not just solving the conflict, it is also giving the means to live without getting back into the conflict.” As a lead coordinator of programs in the Northwest and West regions of Cameroon, Richard trains community leaders to resolve intercommunal problems. He and his team also work alongside communities to develop action plans around land conflicts. Through these interventions, he affirms, “We turned the page on many conflicts and opened the page for collaboration.”
Richard marvels at the compelling testimonies he hears of how conflict management trainings have restored relationships. Marriages have been repaired. Communal trust has been built. Such positive feedback emboldens Richard continually. After two decades as a practitioner, Richard reflects on some of the hardships:
When I look back, at first, we were told that we would not be able to do it. But eventually, the community leaders we trained helped traditional leaders understand that what we were bringing was good for them. From a position where they didn’t want to see me, some traditional leaders started inviting us to come and talk to them.”
Amidst both, the hardships of skeptical or exploitative actors and the joys of touching lives, Richard finds a deep love for his work. “The greatest motivation is the fact that you are able to meet people at their point of need,” He reflects. He Continues: “You restore, and you see how communities become vibrant. There is nothing to pay you for that kind of service.”
Joining MBB Consulting in 2016, Richard has actively shared his expertise towards situations in South Sudan and Nigeria. He is also involved in designing strategies to address exploitative conflicts in the mining sector and foster partnership between communities and private companies. To him, the power of mediation lies in taking conflict as an opportunity. He explains: “Mediation empowers you to make your own decisions… mediation supports a more sustainable resolution of a conflict… And it is not confined by any law. It is creative.”
As a member of the Board of Directors for Ecumenical Service for Peace, Richard envisions making mediation a legal alternative to the traditional justice system in Cameroon. For his country – where violent conflict still obstructs children’s education – Richard devotedly instills hope and inspires Cameroonians to choose peace.