Conflict theory applied to the 1990 Coup


Mediation is a process for resolving conflict. It is therefore important for mediators to have an understanding of how conflict develops. As the 21st anniversary of the 1990 coupapproaches, I thought to track the development of the conflict between the State and the Muslimeen which led to that event by using a model proposed by political scientist, R.J. Rummel.


Rummel suggests that conflict has five stages of development—the latent stage, the initiation stage, the open conflict stage, the balance of power stage and the disruption stage. In the latent stage, parties have differences in views, needs or attitudes that can potentially bring them into conflict. The Muslimeen’s view was that they were entitled to the land which they occupied at No. 1 Mucurapo Road and the City Council’s view was that they were not so entitled.


[bquote_left]In the initiation stage, a triggering event causes the parties to act to assert their position.[/bquote_left] On April 21, 1990, the State posted joint police/army surveillance teams on the compound of the mosque at No. 1 Mucurapo Road. The Muslimeen’s application for an injunction to remove these teams was dismissed by the court on July 24, 1990. This was the triggering event. Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, the leader of the Muslimeen, had warned since April 3, 1985, at a public meeting in Woodford Square in Port of Spain that “that Mosque is the trigger. If they pull it, boom!”


The initiation stage gives way to the open conflict stage where the parties usually assess each other’s strengths and weaknesses and then attack or defend until they reach a settlement. It came to light subsequently that the Muslimeen had done this assessment many months prior to July 27 and determined that they could vanquish the State. They launched into the open conflict stage when they stormed the Red House that Friday afternoon. In the face of this aggression, who can forget then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson’s cry to the army to, “Attack with full force!”


After five tense days, finally, on August 1, 1990, the State and the Muslimeen entered the balance of power stage of conflict. This is the stage when the parties accept a settlement of their conflict. In this case, settlement came in the form of an amnesty in favour of the Muslimeen signed by then Acting President Emmanuel Carter. However, the balance of power stage only lasted a few hours. Immediately the members of the Muslimeen surrendered to the army, they were imprisoned and subsequently charged for treason. The conflict then entered the disruption stage where, in my view, it remains today.


The disruption stage of a conflict is the stage where the parties recognize that circumstances exist which could give rise to new differences. Clearly by arresting and charging the Muslimeen, the State was of the view that the amnesty was not valid. The Muslimeen of course, thought otherwise. The different perceptions of the validity of the amnesty led to the conflict being continued in the courts.


On June 30, 1992, Justice Clebert Brooks held that the amnesty was valid and consequently granted the Writ of Habeus Corpus which the Muslimeen had filed in court challenging their continued incarceration. They walked out of the Hall of Justice as free men. The State appealed tothe Court fo Appeal and won. The Muslimeen appealed to the Priviy Council and in a judgment delivered on October 4, 1994, the Privy Council found that the amnesty was in fact invalid, but it then ordered that the 114 members of The Muslimeen could not be re-arrested since they had been released pursuant to a Writ of Habeas Corpus.


For the State, this judgment did not provide resolution. As recent as August, 2010 the State auctioned 11 properties owned by members of the Muslimeen in an attempt to recover the $15 million judgment awarded to it on January 15, 2001 in a civil suit it had brought against them for destruction of State property on July 27, 1990. A recent statement by Kala Akii Bua, one of the 114 insurgents, that the auction was evidence of “a witch hunt” by the State against the Muslimeen, demonstrates that this conflict is still bubbling under the surface. Whether the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup finally brings this conflict to an end by putting to rest the residual resentments of the parties remains to be seen.


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