Zimbabwe and the complexity of negotiated political transition

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Oct 2nd, 2012

Mugabe and Tsvangirai

The MDC’s disposition is closer to what is the best route for the country and our aspirations at this juncture.

“Each of us uses mental models constantly. Every person in his private life instinctively uses mental models for decision making. The mental image of the world around you, which you carry in your head, is a model. All of our decisions are taken on the basis of models. All of our laws are passed on the basis of models. All economic and political actions are taken on the basis of models.”

“The sad reality is that, the mental model is fuzzy (or nebulous). It is incomplete. It is imprecisely stated. Furthermore, within one individual, a mental model changes with time and even during the flow of a single conversation. The human mind assembles a few relationships to fit the context of a discussion. As the subject shifts so does the model. When only a single topic is being discussed, each participant in a conversation employs a different mental model to interpret the subject. Fundamental assumptions differ, but are never brought into the open. Goals are different and are left unstated. It is little wonder that compromise takes so long. And it is not surprising that consensus leads to laws and programs that fail in their objectives or produce new difficulties greater than those that have been relieved.

“The human mind is not adapted to sensing correctly the consequences of a mental model. The mental model may be correct in structure and assumptions but, even so, the human mind – either individually or as a group consensus – is most apt to draw the wrong conclusions.”

(These are the words of Jay W. Forrester in a paper titled, “Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems”, Technology Review, Vol. 73, No. 3, Jan. 1971)

This elucidates for me, the divergence that we are now experiencing with regard to a new constitution of Zimbabwe between Zanu-PF and the MDC. The fact of the matter is that, each party truly believes it is right, given their mental model and assumptions. What is incumbent upon us as good citizens is to select and therefore support, which mental model most closely reflects our own limited understanding of reality; therein comes the challenge.

I have always disputed that, simply because a majority of people think alike, it does not necessarily make them right. The problem with coming up with what one may deem an appropriate constitution for a new Zimbabwe is that, it will be unfortunately based on what the majority think (that is; what the majority assume what the constitution means to them), and not necessarily what it actually means or what is best for the country. That is the predicament of democracy.

I can give you an example; I hear that according to the feedback during public input on the draft constitution, a majority of Zimbabweans are against the devolution of power. Firstly, this assumes that they understand what this term means, and secondly, what its implications to their quality of life in the future are. But you will agree with me, that all of them have different mental models about what they understand devolution of power to be and its implications. So simply because most don’t like it, does not mean that it is bad for the country. The same would apply to those issues that the majority may wish for in the constitution. That is the nature of the counterintuitive behaviour of complex social systems.

My discomfort now is that, we seem to have given the full responsibility for finalisation of the most appropriate constitution to politicians. Politicians are by nature, prejudiced in their view of reality, if when they seem to be useful. Politicians are naturally exceedingly influenced by their unstated aspirations of attaining and keeping political power. Their objectivity is immensely dubious and inscrutable. Lovemore Madhuku, the chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), is right on the lack of inclusiveness of the draft constitutional making process that we have preferred. These are some of the encumbrances of the GPA, but I guess that is now water under the bridge.

The clash between the MDC and Zanu-PF on the constitution for me, reflects two distinct mental models on what is best for Zimbabweans. Unfortunately, our most recent experience has taught us that, Zanu-P) has not necessarily stood for the interests of Zimbabwe’s citizens as a whole. Their competence and capability in managing the affairs of the country is hitherto questionable. Their arguments and proposed changes to the draft constitution reflect a mental model which derives its authority from waging the armed struggle and civil submissiveness to what they think is best for us – a dictatorship.

On the other hand, we know that the mental model of MDC is most likely to be closer to what may be the best route for the country and our aspirations. It is based on leadership accountability, the attainment of universal civil liberties for all Zimbabweans regardless of race, economic freedom for all and social development. This is no doubt, the more attractive mental model at this juncture.

We must therefore vote YES in the referendum, not because we necessarily agree with or comprehend the totality of MDC’s mental model or its future implications on our interests, but because it most probably represents what we think is best for all Zimbabweans compared to the Zanu-PF position.

Of course, because social systems are complex and dynamic in nature, none of us can have the universal “solution” to our problems. We do not know for sure, how an MDC government will administer the affairs of the country yet, but we must give them the benefit of any doubt.

I guess that in the end, the choices we make are but a result of the steady battle amongst dynamic and unpredictable mental models in our heads, which constantly renovate at whim. All we really need now is change.

I do trust that all rational Zimbabweans will do the necessary when the time comes.

Vince Musewe is an economist currently in Harare. You may contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com

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