Candid Comment: Compromise Only Way Out

WE have now reached a critical moment in the ongoing power-sharing talks between Zanu PF and the MDC, although talks have stalled, at least for now.

Leaders of the negotiating parties need to be decisive and show direction. There is a great need for strategic and futurist thinking.

At such a watershed stage, leaders should remain levelheaded and focused, not on a self-serving pursuit of power, but on the bigger picture in the national interest. They have to be rational and flexible; also realistic and practical.

In negotiations parties have to know the strength of their leverage. Power relations between negotiating parties determine the outcome, not self-delusion or romanticism.

In the current negotiations, the reality is the balance of power still favours Zanu PF because it controls the levers of state power, although the MDC factions have strong leverage. Zanu PF has all the instruments of coercion and is still capable of inflicting brutality on its opponents. The violence and casualties during the recent elections — greeted by pathos and outrage at home and abroad — help to prove the point.

But the MDC, particularly as a joint force, is very formidable. Whatever the pretences of petty or foolish opportunists on both sides who thrive on the divisions, the reality is the MDC is stronger as a united front. If the party had contested the March polls as a collective, Morgan Tsvangirai would have without doubt decisively defeated President Robert Mugabe, with the MDC seizing a clear majority in parliament — end of story.

If that had happened there would have been be no need for these negotiations in the first place because Tsvangirai would be president and the MDC in the majority. Mugabe and Zanu PF would be in the opposition, in fact history.

However, this did not happen due to pointless divisions. The facts are clear: Tsvangirai beat Mugabe, but did not get a majority of votes. He fell closely short. His faction also won but did not get the required majority to control parliament.

After that Zanu was furious and sought to reverse Mugabe’s defeat through a brutal campaign of violence and murder. Tsvangirai lost his nerve at the eleventh hour and pulled out. Mugabe claimed hollow victory, but failed to gain recognition and legitimacy.

At that point — after the March 29 and June 27 elections — every sensible person appreciated the gravity of the resultant political stalemate and saw the need for immediate negotiations.

We are now towards the end of that dialogue to break the impasse. A lot of things have happened in between related to talks. Most Zimbabweans want the negotiations to succeed. However, politicians, in pursuit of power, not their disingenuous lies of “people’s will or national interest”, are haggling with intensity over positions and authority stakes.

Clear thinking is required as to how negotiations operate. Negotiation of course does not mean that the two sides sit down together on a basis of equality and talk through and resolve their differences that produced the conflict between them.

Gene Sharp, in his distinguished work From Dictatorship to Democracy, which Tsvangirai has read, reminds negotiators of two critical points. First, he says in negotiations it is not the relative justice of the conflicting views and objectives which determines the content of a negotiated agreement. Second, the content of a negotiated settlement is largely determined by the power capacity of each side.

Several difficult questions must be considered. What can each side do to gain its objectives if the other side fails to come to an agreement at the negotiating table? What can each side do after an agreement is reached if the other side breaks its word and uses force to fulfil its objectives?

A settlement is not reached in negotiations through an assessment of the rights and wrongs of the issues at stake. While those may be much discussed, the real results in negotiations come from an assessment of the absolute and relative power relations of the contending groups.

What can Tsvangirai do to ensure that his minimum demands are met? What can Mugabe do to stay in control and neutralise the MDC? In other words, if an agreement comes, it is more likely the result of each side estimating how the power capacities of the two sides compare, and then calculating how an open struggle might end.

Attention must also be given to what each side is willing to give up in order to reach agreement. In successful negotiations there is compromise because it is a give-and-take process. Each side gets part of what it wants and gives up part of its objectives.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai need to understand this.

By Dumisani Muleya