“In Zimbabwe, we often build our houses behind high concrete walls (we call them durawalls) that prevent us from seeing anything going on outside. In our society, we do the same thing: we sit within the durawalls of our own thinking and are not aware that there might be other ways of looking at what is going on. I think that the objective of this project should be to take down our mental durawalls and enable more of us to see more of what is going on.”—Member of the scenario team
The people of Zimbabwe face a daunting set of inter-connected political, economic, social, and environmental challenges. Different domestic and foreign actors see the situation—what is going on and why and with what consequences—entirely differently. The result has been years of polarization, violence, and stagnation.
In 2010, six Zimbabwean civil society leaders—two businesspeople, two university vice chancellors, a labor researcher, and a church leader—engaged Reos Partners to help them organise a transformative scenario process to address this situation. The objective of this Great Zimbabwe Scenarios Project (the name referred to the remarkable 1,000-year-old monument at the site of the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Zimbabwe) was “to provide an opportunity for Zimbabweans to engage in a strategic conversation about possible futures with a view to catalyzing action and collaboration for a desired future.”
The six conveners invited an additional 57 leaders from all parts of Zimbabwean society—political parties, government entities, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations—to join them in constructing a set of scenarios about what could (not would, not should) happen in Zimbabwe. This scenario team met for three three-day workshops during 2011. They talked through their country’s history, the perspectives of invited resource persons, and their own experiences, and eventually agreed on four scenario stories that they thought would be useful to tell:
- “The Stone People” depicts a government that is responsive to the needs of citizens and that successfully addresses the social, economic, and political concerns that have historically shaped the nation. The Great Zimbabwe Monument is a remarkable work of architecture; built with beautifully cut stone bricks, it holds together without mortar, testifying to exceptional skill and innovation. It has retained its character through decades of gentle rain, sweet sunshine, occasional storms, and raging sun. Though in some places some of the walls are starting to collapse, it is not a ruin. The major challenge of this scenario is for national leaders to put aside their differences and out of shared national values and vision build one nation where all can belong.
- “Stimela” (the Ndebele word for “locomotive”) depicts a leadership that provides a viable developmental vision, rallies the nation behind it, and successfully implements this vision according to an agreed-upon development plan. The locomotive is a critical mode of transport that lubricates industries and economies; she follows a route that is well known and defined; she does not create new roads but simply follows the cold steel tracks bringing goods and passengers to their desired destination; there are no surprise detours. The major challenge of this scenario is that this directed approach to development may cause the people to disengage from the leadership.
- “The Vulture State” depicts a government that fails to connect with its people and that pursues a national development agenda that benefits only a few. Vultures scavenge areas where carcasses are available for their sustenance; they have a knack for identifying weak prey that affords them a bountiful meal; they are scared off if the prey puts up a fight but never fly too far away; they have no qualms about eating their prey alive. The major challenge in this scenario is for leaders to focus on national development and be willing to detach from their personal economic interests.
- “The Chameleon” depicts a coalition government that struggles to move the nation forward, as politicians remain politically connected to their own partisan and ideological policy positions. The slow-moving chameleon first combats threats by disguising itself with the color of its terrain. It can post good speeds if chasing prey or in danger. Yet it can fail to respond to danger and be caught flat-footed. Its true colors can often be forgotten because it consistently blends with its surroundings. The major challenge in this scenario is for an inclusive system of governance to be able to create development pathways that effectively manage diversity in order to build one nation.
In the midst of the high levels of polarization and conflict in Zimbabwe, these scenarios represent a significant convergence across all sectors on a way of thinking about the choices and challenges that the country faces. The scenario team is now presenting these stories in small and large meetings across the country, and thereby engaging a broad range of Zimbabweans in structured conversations about how to move the country forward.