Some basic elements – when, what, who, and how – are involved in strategies of negotiation and prenegotiation. As a result, it is impossible to lay out a single linear strategy for negotiations, or even for mediation. Instead, the effects of each of these elements must be examined to make available the full richness and creativity that is needed to prepare bilateral solutions when a government can no longer handle the problem by itself.

The determination of when to negotiate is related to the life cycle of the ethnic conflict. It is usually impossible to tell when a conflict begins, and frequently, the conflict involves the resurgence of latent feelings or dormant grievances when a group perceives itself as deprived of some social benefits because of its ethnic identity. The sense of deprivation may be direct, as in South Africa or southern Sudan, or it may be relative to others in society or even to expectations, as in Biafra, Northern Ireland, or the Kabyle region of Algeria (Gurr 1970). But for deprivation to turn into ethnic conflict, it must be seen as arising from discrimination against the deprived as an ethnic group. There are also situations in which two minority groups of the periphery carry on a feud between themselves, like the Hatfields and McCoys, but usually the Hatfields are in charge of the government and the McCoys carry on the feud from the deprived periphery – as the Shona and Ndebele in Zimbabwe, or the Kikuyu and Luo in Kenya. The appropriate response to groups that feel deprived – in a responsive and responsible political system, whether democratic or not – is a process of petition and remedy. The problem is brought to the attention of the authorities, and benefits and opportunities are distributed better. That action in itself often involves some exercise of negotiation and lies in the gray area between unilateral and bilateral solutions to grievances.