IN the rough and tumble of politics leaders who are willing to compromise are viewed as appealing, so too are those who demonstrate political conviction.
The topic of compromise is a contentious one, especially when considered in the context of leadership, and acquisition and cession of power.
There were mixed reactions to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangiraiâ€™s refusal to sign a power-sharing agreement with Zanu PF this week. His supporters, especially those of the Chitongai tione variety and a sizeable portion of civic society saw this as a victory for their cause. This constituency includes one of my snappish siblings who took me through the motions of the need for Tsvangirai to stay strong and not compromise. This, he said, was the best way forward to achieving what he called “tangible good” for the nation.
My brother is an aggressive negotiator and a prime specimen of a competitor. He gets things done his way through a cocktail of subtle force and very little in the form of compromise. The scales in his armour have very few chinks. To him this is a virtue he carries with pride.
I am relatively slower in executing processes because I am always haunted by the fear of making decisions in haste. In debates ranging from hard-nose politics to trivialities like cars and television, we are often at opposite poles of engagement. Sometimes I have allowed him to win debates, switch topics or to avoid a phone call in the dead of night challenging me on issues he knows I feel strongly about. But he is smart enough to protest instances I have handed him an easy victory. He derives satisfaction in flaying me into submission and silencing me forever on an issue.
This week, we found ourselves at opposing corners again over the stalling of the talks but this time I have refused to succumb to the whiff of grapeshot in pursuit of terminating ear-numbing salvos. I have stuck it out and contended there was need for compromise on both sides to break the hopeless cycle we find ourselves in. The issue to do with right and wrong here should be secondary to the need for each of the parties to put their best foot forward and lead the nation out of the mess instead of tethering themselves to posts of entrenchment.
This is an unacceptable weakness perhaps, my brother would argue. He would take heart from Ayn Rand who was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century, whose works on the subject of compromise are both cogent and thought-provoking.
She wrote in one of her controversial essays: “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil… In any compromise between food and poison it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”
She added: “When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, itâ€™s picked up by scoundrels — and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and self-righteously uncompromising evil.”
In the case of our political protagonists, it is always easy to place tags on who between the political protagonists is brandishing offers of “food” and who is giving the poisoned chalice â€“ depending on oneâ€™s political persuasion. This is how we have come to view each other as a nation â€“ poison and food; black and white; demagogue and democrat; puppet and revolutionary; patriot and traitor; local and foreign and so on. It is true that a cocktail of food and poison is lethal but compromise can be both, constructive or destructive. The first is a virtue, the second is evil.
I believe Tsvangirai has to consider the constructive aspect of compromise because the MDC and Zanu PF both have valid claims. It is critical that both parties agree on a fundamental principle, which exists as a foundation for their deal.
In life, to compromise on moral issues is another story all together and as Rand opines, evil then “acquires the force of an absoluteâ€¦” But Tsvangirai can easily argue that politics is a moral issue. Compromise would be a negation of his position and responsibility on issues like rule of law, freedom of expression and separation of powers. But what leverage does he have to push through these principles? He got more votes in March but he remains a junior partner in negotiations â€“ a very unkind thing to say but it is true. It this case, it is not righteousness that will give him leverage in negotiations but certain basic rules of power.
Rand refers to them here:
l In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent who wins;
l In any collaboration between two men or (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational who wins;
l When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.