By Dr Alex Magaisa
THE key challenge before the divided MDC centres on how best they can manage the present conflict without causing further harm to the aspirations of the democratic movement in Zimbabwe.
In all spheres of life, including commercial
, social and political contexts, participants meet situations of conflict and are expected to develop techniques of managing conflict. There is a dominant impression that conflict is always negative.
On the contrary, situations of conflict can be interpreted and viewed in more positive light. Managed properly, a situation of conflict can be force for good. The defining question is whether there is the necessary will to achieve the desired goal.
Properly managed, the current conflict between the MDC factions can actually produce positive results in the long-term, even though the dominance of the short-term perceptions of gloom might obscure that vision.
Identify the conflict
In seeking a solution, it is necessary for concerned parties to identify the key elements of the conflict. The key parts of the conflict may appear commonplace but it is quite possible that there is more to what is often stated in the media.
Indeed, there have been indications that the causes of the conflict pre-date the senate election decision.
In the post-senate election period, there have been a number of statements, accusations and counter-accusations, vitriolic attacks and so forth, which have all played a part in influencing judgement and perceptions of the public but have done nothing to really uncover the real causes of the conflict.
The main actors need to be very clear what the problems are, not only to themselves but also to the public to whom they are ultimately accountable.
The public is in a better position to know whether or not there are chances of resolving the problem and creating unity if they are placed in an informed position. I do not think there is adequate or clear information at present and this is causing difficulties in managing the conflict.
Choice of forum
The forum that is used to manage conflict is crucial because it influences the attitude and behaviour of the participants.
In most cases the tribe of politicians consists of individuals with inflated egos, which is why I have always argued against using the media as a forum for managing conflict.
The media has a role to play in informing the public and providing space for critiquing the decisions and behaviour of the politicians, but it cannot be the sole medium for exchanging views and ideas on how to achieve desired goals.
The media consists of business players whose key driving force is to make a profit. News that attracts a wide audience is good news from a business perspective, regardless of the nature and content of the copy.
I may be too cynical but in politics, the scandals, the sound bites and the conflicts make big headlines. There are times when issues can be progressed better through other platforms, even if it means private arrangements to discuss sensitive issues in order to iron out differences and reach the desired goal.
Other person’s shoes
In managing a conflict, it is also vital to understand and appreciate the other person’s point of view. This calls for a great measure of tolerance and understanding.
In doing so, both parties need to lay out in clear terms their points of view and desired outcomes. It helps to exchange roles and step into the other one’s shoes — to see things from his perspective.
In this dichotomy, I fear that most people have chosen to wear blinkers and see things only from the perspective of the faction that they belong to or support.
In my view, both sides have genuine points and interests behind their decisions. It is imprudent to grandstand and dismiss the other side’s standpoint to look strong before the gallery.
The key participants know their strengths and limitations in this context but I also think that they know that they are better off with their combined strengths. If they place themselves in the other camp’s shoes, there is good room for beginning to understand the respective standpoints and therefore reach some common ground.
In managing conflict, it is also crucial to decide clearly and well in advance on the nature of the desired outcome. It helps each side and the public to understand the point and extent of divergence.
These outcomes may not always be achieved in the exact manner, but it is always a good starting point to know the object.
These are some of the hazy and contentious parts of the current division — what exactly is the desired object of this struggle?
What is the object of the respective faction? Is there a chance that these objects are in fact similar, and if not, how can they be reconciled or achieved in common?
In the same vein, it is important to know that in seeking a solution, you cannot always have your way. You need to bring your six points to the table, knowing that when it becomes necessary to reach the desired object you will be prepared to give up at least two of them.
It is a give-and-take situation and this is a well-known tactic in managing conflict scenarios. If one side insists on having its way to the exclusion of the other, chances of settlement are very slim.
Key issues not personalities
In most cases focus is lost when people are distracted by personality battles. Instead of addressing the key issues at stake, on the one hand people begin to attack the person and on the other hand people try to defend themselves.
It is important for our politicians and other participants not to take things too personal. This is not about satisfying personal egos — it is the people’s livelihood and future at stake. It is vital to appreciate that you do not have to like a person to accept his/her idea. There are multiple forces that interfere heavily with the process of managing conflict and they include personality battles. It is necessary therefore, to cut out the irrelevant bits that take away attention from key issues in order to make some progress.
Finally, it makes sense to treat each other with respect. Politics is cyclical and unpredictable. You never know whom you are going to work with tomorrow.
Friends and allies are not permanent and the one whom you called an idiot and ugly yesterday, will be a key ally tomorrow.
Those who make the most noise in situations of conflict are often left on the margins when the main players see reason and get together. That is why for all their political battles politicians in most countries maintain a measure of personal respect for each other.
The key, for the MDC factions is for each side to convince the other of the merits and strengths of their selected position. It is important to avoid tensions and where necessary compromise must be adopted to progress the struggle on the fronts where energies are needed most.
* Dr Magaisa is a lawyer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.