Necessity of negotiating skills

28 Jun, 2019 - 00:06 0 Views

eBusiness Weekly

Clifford Shambare

As far as the matter of negotiation is concerned, Zimbabweans share a lot with other Africans. Historically, they are all coming from a position of being subject to colonisation where they had no power to decide their own fate. In the current period, they are still in the process of learning to become fully fledged negotiators at the corporate, national and international levels.

However, it would be unfair to them to say that Africans have not, or are not successfully negotiating in high level contracts. They have, and still are, doing so but the overall result so far, indicates that they are not reaping rewards as big as their (negotiating) partners in those contracts. This state of affairs has had the effect of retarding their efforts at economic empowerment — itself a first step towards the achievement of a sustained level of economic prosperity.

With regard to the actual issue of negotiation, although more than two parties can be involved in the process, in order to keep things simple here, let us stick to a case where only two parties are involved.

The phenomenon of negotiation itself, implies several things; one is the desire of two parties to derive some benefits from a given situation, doing so in a way that supposedly satisfies both of the parties concerned. The other implication is that both parties need each other; and yet the other is that each party lacks something which the other party has, or has more of than the other party — and vice versa.

So considered from a deeper perspective, there is a subtle tussle over control of the relationship between these parties — a relationship that may be short or long term in nature and form. And power brokering by these parties is implied in such circumstances. And on delving into the phenomenon of power, we can identify several sources of the phenomenon. These are information, knowledge, economic, reward, position and military power among the main ones.

In the past, more powerful nations did not need to negotiate for something from weaker ones, they just seized it. But in today’s world with its implied general conditions of equal rights for every individual, every (human) grouping and finally, every nation — powerful nations want to project a universal culture and practice of negotiation where each party to that process has an equal chance of finally getting a fair deal from same.

However, in practice, this is not the case. On delving deeper still, into all these sources of power, we can see that the party with more of all of them combined, will have the upper hand at the end of most, if not all, negotiations it enters into. This situation will remain so until some fundamental change takes place in their relationship.

A critical look into the phenomenon of negotiation reveals the fact that human life and its sustenance in a healthy state, as well as wealth accumulation and economic prosperity (power), are behind most, if not all, negotiations. This state of affairs reduces all negotiations to the level of wealth in the form of natural resources (endowment), acquisition and ownership. This is the realm in which the party that has the best technology will have the upper hand over the control of same, than the one that does not have it to the same extent, no matter from which perspective the matter is looked at.

So, how does technological prowess empower the one who has it to achieve economic success (or even economic advantage) over others — you may want to know? Here is how: Firstly, in spite of the current profession of human rights, peace, justice, democracy and civilisation among nations, technology enables one to make (military) equipment to use either as a tool for veiled threats, aggression, conquest, and (subtle) seizure of assets from one’s adversary.

Secondly, it enables one to convert natural resources to usable assets that will in turn, enable them to operate successfully in the international trade area and to consequently, become richer than the one whose technological status is lower than them.

Thirdly, technology enables its possessor to access information faster and more precisely, and consequently produce and market goods and services more efficiently and profitably, than the one whose status on same, is at a lower level. The sum of this situation is that a nation with better technology will have stronger leverage in the negotiation process, than the one with less of same. The current tussle between America and China in which technology is at the centre is a typical case in point.

The need for economic growth and prosperity — or even just for survival — compels all nations to go into negotiations with others in matters of trade and economic development. Trade, itself a necessary activity in the current environment — involves negotiation on many aspects (price being the bottom line) regarding the exchange of goods and services among the parties concerned.

This is where African nations (Zimbabwe included) find themselves underdogs because of their relative state of technological backwardness. This state of affairs usually manifests itself through their relationships with FDI, particularly in the area of large projects in mining and infrastructural development.

Overall, these are areas where the phenomenon that has been termed VULCA (that is volatility, uncertainty, legality, cost and ambiguity, by the experts in this field) is always at play. Under these circumstances, in order to benefit as much as possible from these negotiations, each party needs to possess a considerable degree of technological, financial, legal, and managerial know-how.

And it does not matter how hard the weaker party may work towards getting a fair deal from the situation, it still loses out overall in the end, even though this loss may not be obvious. So how does this happen? You may want to know.

When confronted with any form of challenge before or during the process of negotiation, this weaker party will be compelled to look for (expert) services from sources external to itself, and this is particularly so with legal and financial services. These are circumstances in which nearly all Africans have had to seek these services from the West. So now, because the negotiating partner and the service provider are from the same origin — the West — it is not difficult to discern, or even see, what is likely to happen in such a case.

And it still happens despite claims of professionalism, ethics and fairness, from those service provider(s). There are many cases to support this assertion. The Simandou iron mining case and that of the Zimbabwean inventor and innovator Sungulani Maxwell Chikumbutso, are typical examples.

Let us go back to those areas where Africans usually meet with negotiating challenges, the mining industry is a typical example. In this case there is the need to assess and to finally know the extent of one’s mineral reserves. This situation arises from the need for making reasonably accurate plans for the exploitation of same. This knowledge also enables the owner to bargain from an informed and therefore, more confident position than otherwise.

Interestingly, in the case of Zimbabwe, a close look at the history of mineral exploration and mapping throws up a rather intriguing state of affairs. From this history we learn that, apart from South Africa, this country is one among a few if any, in Africa, where extensive geological surveys have been carried out to date. The country even boasts of a (government run) geological survey department that is over 100 years old.

The work of this department — that was founded by the colonial regime — was eventually taken over by the black Zimbabwean professional geological surveyors who are deemed to be equally competent in this  field. But despite this perception of competence, today we are still being told that “( . . .) Zimbabwe has ‘lost’ considerable potential revenue because it does not know the extent of its mineral reserves ( . . . )”.

Isaac Kwesu (former) chairman of the Zimbabwe Mining Federation is the latest authority on this field, to make such a pronouncement; he made this statement recently in May 2019. But when the colonists were exploiting these mineral resources they did not need to sell this information to any external investor; they just carried on with their work, apparently — without any hassles.

So, the question here is: What is the true situation on the ground, and why is there still this confusion regarding the matter when there is (apparently) ample survey data from which to work as well as the presence in the country, of the said department for any reference that may be needed?

There are two obvious answers to this question. One of these reasons is lack of self confidence and self belief that is embedded in the economy coupled with the lack of trust between the business fraternity and the government and its policies where economic issues are concerned. The other reason is the technology deficit in the economy that mining FDI is exploiting.

Sadly, these challenges are being fuelled by the perception and mindset among this country’s citizens regarding the matter of mineral extraction; for how can one be said to have “lost” something that is still underground and whose quantity is still unknown? This sort of mentality is the first stage in losing one’s resources to one with the expertise to assess its availability and to extract it from where ever it is locked.

Under such circumstances, Zimbabweans become a dead duck when it comes to negotiating for their share of the country’s mineral resources — a share that should logically, be in the majority. During the Mugabe era the Government insisted that the locals be involved in the exploitation of the country’s natural resources but it got bogged down due to a number of challenges that it met on the way. Ironically, one of the major challenges it was confronted with, is the said mentality among Zimbabweans as far as the ownership and extraction of the country’s minerals is concerned.

This is a matter where negotiations between the citizens and FDI take centre stage. But so far, Zimbabweans have not fared very well, largely because of three major weaknesses. One is the said mentality regarding such matters. The other is lack of technology and yet the other is lack of experience in matters of negotiation.

Be that as it may, having come this far in our discourse in which the African comes across as a generally weak negotiator, we cannot ignore the Lancaster House negotiations that were held in 1979 between the British and Zimbabwe’s nationalists led by Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, the country’s former president.

The Zimbabwean nationalists were unique in terms of astuteness and fortitude on the part of Africans. It is not an exaggeration to say that in terms of the substance, complexity of the negotiations themselves, as well as the time and astuteness of both parties, Lancaster House falls in the category of the Versailles Conference, among other top negotiating forums in world history.

What makes this case stand out is the fact that the Africans themselves, as represented by the Zimbabwean nationalists, had never before, been involved in such protracted negotiations in which the stakes were also exceptionally high.

Ultimately, as far as the phenomenon of negotiation is concerned, one can safely argue that if Africans have to achieve any economic progress at all in this era, they cannot continue to shy away from the process as and when it becomes necessary. They also have to appreciate that some sort of confrontation is always implied in such situations. This means they need to somehow, marshal some fortitude whenever they go into negotiations.

In this case the only way to go is to learn through practice. But still, the crux of the matter revolves around the recognition of the criticality of such a need by the Africans themselves, and the speed with which they are learning and acquiring these skills; there is simply no way out, and no time to waste!


Shambare is an agriculturist cum economist and is reachable on 0774960937.



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