Reconciliation or Truce?

The protracted in fighting in the ruling PF seems to have come to a sudden cessation, thanks to Bishop Joshua Banda’s round of negotiation. However, the “reconciliation” raises more questions: could this be the end of a political chapter of antagonism, bickering and mudslinging within the rank and file of the ruling PF? Could this be the dawn of unity, peace and harmony between the Edgar Lungu and Guy Scott led factions? 

There are no easy answers to these questions. Given the complexity and rapid change of political dynamics, it is almost impossible to predict with certainty the outcomes of political dynamics in our country.

However, using some tools of conflict analysis, it is possible to gain deeper appreciation of the trajectory of dynamics that underpin conflict and reconciliation in any given conflict. In this article, we explore the PF intra party conflict using two basic conflict analysis tools known as conflict management and conflict transformation.

Any conflict has at least three basic elements impacting on and influencing each other namely actors or parties to the conflict, issue(s) or problem and processes including behaviors and attitudes of parties to the conflict. The three elements mentioned above are crucial not only to understand a conflict situation but also to determine appropriate interventions for conflict resolution and the sustainability of peace thereof.  In the case of the Patriotic Front, two primary actors to the conflict are Edgar and Guy with a cohort of patrons behind them. Secondary, parties to the PF conflict include some media houses and opportunistic political entities. The issues that divide the two groups are a political power and observance of the rule of law in the governance of the PF as a party. Power and leadership struggle for the top party position within the rank and file of the PF has been a protracted matter in the ruling party.  Understandably, any protracted conflict gives birth to new issues or problems such that in the end, parties to the conflict become lost in the myriad of issues and lose focus of the causal factors that ignited the conflict in the first place. Protracted conflicts fortify the complexity of the conflict and require comprehensive intervention approaches. This is what has happened to the PF. The behavior and attitudes of the parties to the PF conflict is characterized by mistrust, manipulation and ulterior motivations.

Conflict management is typically a way of bringing a conflict to an end without addressing root causes to conflicts. The tools used in this approach include coercion, force, power and suppression. If it is true that Guy Scott was forced by Service Chiefs to reach a “deal” with Edgar, then conflict management was the approach used in the PF reconciliation.  While conflict management as a conflict resolution approach may bear fruits in the short term, it backfires to the parties or actors in the long term. This is because it does nothing to address fundamental issues that triggered a conflict in the first place.

The second approach to conflict resolution known as conflict transformation is the flip side of conflict management. It seeks to identify root causes to a conflict and endeavors to transform both the conflict and underlying causes to positive factors to prevent the escalation as well as   resurgence of hostilities in future.

This approach calls for level headedness, honest and open mindedness among all parties to the conflict. It is inspired by ethos of democratic values of tolerance and co-existence    in diversity.

When it comes to sustainable conflict resolution, the conflict transformation is the most preferable approach. However, depending on the nature and characteristics of a conflict, conflict management can be applied for immediate cessation of hostilities such as the case was in PF. However, whenever conflict management is applied, conflict transformation initiatives must follow immediately as a matter of necessity rather than option. This is so because conflict management on its own does not obliterate the conflict but rather keeps it latent. Latent conflicts tend to erupt with fatal repercussions.

In case of the PF, individual values and governance processes are the major sources of conflict. The PF power configuration is top heavy and essentially President centered. The PF constitution allows ascendancy to key party leadership positions through Presidential appointment. These include members of the Central Committee, Provincial and District party functionaries.   While this approach may to some extent allow the President to have some measure of control of the party, it does not promote sustainable democratic evolution and growth of intra party processes. Secondly, it promotes patronage and builds blind royalty among party officials at the expense of patriotism and integrity driven allegiance to national and party duties. Patronage rather than political clout and social capital become an avenue for ascendancy to leadership. Thirdly, it robs the party members the opportunity to willfully choose their leaders of choice. When a leader chosen by the President is not liked by the masses, seeds of silent rebellions are sown which later may grow into protestations such as those which were peddled against Wynter Kabimba.  Overall, the configuration and distribution of power, the existence of elements with incompatible goals and values within the PF are sources of conflict.

Secondly, it is also very clear that some elements with the PF with support from secondary parties external to the party are geared to alienate some PF officials by projecting them as villains while at the same time exalting others as paragons of integrity. The motivation and interest of these secondary parties is to strategically position their own “anointed” individuals for the Presidency of the PF.  This too has been a source of the PF conflict and President Sata failed deal with it while he was alive.

Given such a huge catalogue of fundamental issues not being addressed, it is most likely that the current ceasefire in the PF is unsustainable. The probability of resumption of the same conflict in future is high given that breeding conditions for conflict are already present within the system, albeit latent. Unfortunately, if the PF leadership will allow the power conflict in PF to erupt again, the damage it would cause both to the party and the nation would be too expensive to pay. It is therefore worthy to reflect on how best the party can employ conflict transformation to heal the past, present and prevent future wounds. The writing is on the wall, the nation is watching. Is the PF reconciliation sustainable? Time will tell, this is an opinion.

Nicholas Phiri is a Political and Social analyst