WHAT is a zone of possible agreement (Zopa)? In the art of negotiation a Zopa, there is an area where two or more negotiating parties can reach a common agreement. This simple motif must inform our political, social and economic narratives from hamlet to the State House.
Sharon Hofisi Lawyer
This is because peace, whether spiritual, emotional, negative, positive, victor, status quo or compromised, exhibits some remarkable motility. Peace even when mundane is multiform and always yields positives. We need the perennial peace urgently in all the facets of our lives.
Zopa may not be equivalent to the best alternative to negotiation (Batna). But parties to a Zopa can identify landmark overlaps in their desired outcomes. This can be done through scenario-mapping of the best-case, worst-case and likely-case scenarios.
The desired outcomes in a Zopa moment are best notched through balancing the desired outcomes and the worst-case scenarios for each party. This effectively creates overlaps that enable the negotiating parties to agree zonally and ignore their resistance points, reservations, wild aspirations and other considerations.
Parties usually reach a Zopa moment after weighing the demerits of a negative bargaining zone (NBZ). Loss of appetite for convivial solidarity in notching Zopas is one of the swiftest and most damaging of hazards to hit a democratic society.
Missed opportunities to finalise Zopa doubtlessly caused the asphyxiation of good governance and rule of law in Zimbabwe in the past.
While episodes of suffocated transitions are always referred to in political and democratic discourses, they are now latching quickly onto our animal farm democracy. Admittedly though, the game of matching likely pairs has always had fresh material to play with.
Current trending theory cites polarisation as the model of an eternally divided nation and society. Polarisation is what it is: a sharp division, usually on factional grounds.
Although this trending theory is based on a modicum of truth, most of the time it is given a fictitious ambience.
I think differently. It is about time we discard all approaches to arguments that are no longer modish. We remain morbid when we try to mollify the commiserating public by blaming it all on polarisation or promising each other less of it.
Morbid assumptions are dangerous and for that matter, we must enlighten our discourses by emphasising landmark events that can unite us in our diversity. With our many eyes for constitutionalism and democratic ethos, we need to pay attention to the very tiniest mote in our eye however painful it could be.
In matters of politics and ideological differences, Zanu PF and Zapu notched the 1987 Unity Accord. The leaders of the two parties found their zone of possible agreement in liberation history and national unity.
They became the voice of reason and conscience of their supporters and political party bases. They notched a peace agreement that shaped their political and social character after the Midlands and Matabeleland disturbances. The Zopa moment created statespeople and creative social changers, after a painful period when thousands of civilians lost their lives.
The leaders sustained their unity by allowing all Zimbabweans to memorialise the Unity Day and also acted this peace in symbolic fashion by crafting the two vice presidents nomenclature in the Presidium.
What remained contentious of course was to bring closure to the issue of the victims. We have operationalised the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).
The victims must get closure, including psycho-social support. While the NPRC’s pre-formalised transitional justice consultations are important blocks for peace, we need to ensure the manner in which victims retell or recount some stories on the Entumbane or Midlands and Matabeleland Gukurahundi does not amount to second trauma.
The history to another zone of possible agreement from the Unity Accord was a painful odyssey. Without niggling for details, we had amnesties on the security personnel and those considered to be “dissidents”, the failure to decide on the odiousness of the inherited Rhodesian debt amounting to US$700 million, the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), the economic meltdown, labour strikes, operations such as Murambatsvina/remove the filth, and the bloodbath in the 2008 June presidential runoff elections (that became a run-over). The question becomes: was the government of national unity (GNU), a Zopa nostrum, some questionable medicine?
The politicians of the time from the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition MDCs showed some indifference in including the generality of the citizens in the landmark event that brought the multi-currency and restored economic dignity across the genders.
The general populace was generally annoyed by the politicians’ non-committal response to the need to include citizen voices, including civil society. Citizens and citizen voices felt dismissed as key players in terms of their participation in the formulation, influence, and implementation of state policies.
In some reference to representative or indirect democracy, the GNU’s global or general inter-political party agreement (GPA) pointed to some participation of the people by giving Parliament the responsibility in the constitution-making process. If I was seeing and conversing with you, the reader, I would give some oratorio for the politicians in this regard.
The politicians who read this article may, of course, ossify the notion that public opinion always oscillates between the extremes of optimism and pessimism. Easy course!
In peace matters, the GPA sort of served as a paper palette that had to be discarded when the home-grown Constitution was adopted. While the GNU did not cure the disease of negative bargaining zones in attaining lasting peace, it tried to palliate the symptoms.
Of course, we did not expect the GNU to be the panacea to all of Zimbabwe’s problems. The problem with the GNU is that it brought in a culture of uncertainty in matters of achieving peace for Zimbabweans, especially peace accompanied by reconciliation and healing.
It also served as a paradigm of the conditioned democratic response experiment on politically-driven constitution-making processes. The politicians became the custodians of the Constitution, a paradox. No wonder the GNU was in some circles described as a paramour, some marriage of inconvenience, never mind the fact that the partners to it had the paraphernalia to extend the marriage to 2013.
Enter the Jealousy Mawarire case that sought to hot-patch Zimbabwe’s commitment to the five-year electoral cycle. The GNU ended. Zanu PF won the elections, albeit with some allegations that the elections were Nikuvised, an oxymoron for rigging of the elections.
We all know the pariah label that Zimbabwe then assumed and the narratives of state capture and state abuse. The month before the last month of 2017 came and those who have read the book, Two Weeks in November, can affirm the existence of a solid zone of possible agreement that followed or existed between politicians, civil society and the generality of the population. In a landmark event that was christened a collective action by all Zimbabweans, a military-assisted transition removed long-time ruler, former and late president Robert Mugabe.
The Zopa moment seemed to have made the 2017 transition universal, not parochial. Some still enjoy the clever parodies of popular songs that the protesters sang. There were ecstatic photo bomb moments with soldiers and absence of any paroxysm of rage, securitisation or militarisation of the state.
In laying the 2017 transition as elegant parquet, the military that had moved in and launched Operation Restore Legacy did not wage a defensive battle. Some blitzkrieg, a lightning warfare, was, however, noticed with the strategic presence of tankers and the capture of the broadcasting citadel — ZBC.
The Zimbabwean nation was at one time decidedly pro-military, even challenging the international world not to derail the negotiations that were brokered by peace-builder and cleric Father Fidelis Mukonori.
The fervent hopes for a Zopa that frenziedly united popular protesters, power enablers and parliamentarians (who moved in to impeach Mugabe) seemed to have been sculpted away when calls for a national transitional authority (NTA) did not produce a golden bridge.
Suddenly, popular and convivial change makers appeared more pharisaic than sinners. Everyone dashed pell-mell into their cubicle to register their displeasures, with no one having the audacity to be a Caesar who could openly rebuke his perfidious friend Brutus after some betrayal.
The opposition returned to the negative bargaining zone, rejecting the official opposition and refusing or grudgingly joining the political parties dialogue (Polad). This had a pernicious effect on all other Zopas, especially socio-economic ones.
The monetary regime was changed and it hugely condemned those who had made bank savings in united dollars to insignificant real time gross savings.
Add to this the burden of black tax, the 2% tax, the austerity measures, and the astronomic rise in the cost of living, and the instances of abusive constitutionalism on the part of both the state and ordinary citizens, especially in matters related to peaceful protests. In all this, we have all risked creating a nation of democratic philanderers who ignore the plenitude of our Zopa moments.
Hofisi is a transformative transitional justice practitioner, normative influencer and disruptive thinker