EDITORIAL COMMENT: Fleeing from fact and reason

On April 17 this year, a day before the country’s sacred Independence Day, former director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey — who was ignominiously dismissed by US president Donald Trump on May 9, 2017 — published an interesting tell-all autobiography, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership”.

The book helps shine a light into the nooks and crannies of the US foundational institutions.

It is a riveting read, which is quite helpful for us mere mortals to understand the real America — warts and all — from what we know from Hollywood.

In particular there are two passages that speak to the Zimbabwe we live in today, a Zimbabwe heading towards a crucial election while trying to make sense of the narratives and counter-narratives from social media, itself a new, viral and virile monster.

In Chapter 7, Comey identifies a critical trait of human nature that helps fuel divergent views, beliefs and narratives, even in the face of irrevocable and stubborn facts: confirmation bias.

“Our brains have evolved to crave information consistent with what we already believe.

“We seek out and focus on facts and arguments that support our beliefs.

“More worrisome, when we are trapped in confirmation bias, we may not consciously perceive facts that challenge us, that are inconsistent with what we have already concluded. In a complicated, changing and integrated world, our confirmation bias makes us difficult people. We simply can’t change our minds,” Comey puts it.

We believe what we want to believe, no matter how illogical, irrational or false it might be.

The MDC Alliance wants to believe that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, an independent creature they helped create, is not a fair arbiter and is burning the midnight oil working against the opposition.

And they have come with a long laundry list of grievances: the voters roll, “militarisation” of ZEC, alleged deployment of soldiers to intimidate voters, and a supposedly mutating ballot paper that is capable — voodoo-like — of apportioning victory to Zanu-PF while delivering a withering loss to the opposition.

Last Thursday ZEC said the final voters roll was ready, a whole 44 days before the election.

If the opposition wants audit it, they should go ahead and stop making ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims.

ZEC has bent over backwards for them.

Though it is well within their Constitutional and legal remit —as is spelt out in Section 239(g) of the Constitution — to print the ballot paper by themselves, they have decided to let the opposition parties observe the process, which is a first.

This is all in good faith.

For the avoidance of doubt, Section 237 of the Constitution is unequivocally clear when it comes to the appointment of independent commissions.

Members of uniformed services and political parties are ineligible to work for ZEC.

But this does not prevent interested former military men, a good number of them highly skilled, to secure employment, just as any other Zimbabwean, at a commission.

Shorn of the strictures of old, which made leaving the military difficult, today servicemen, or ex-servicemen, are now highly mobile.

While a few are playing cops and robbers in neighbouring South Africa, to the dismay of the authorities there, a decent number are finding employment in the private sector, including in the opposition ranks themselves.

This is not peculiar to Zimbabwe.

Comey succinctly puts this point across in his book.

“I told the (FBI) that I had an ambitious goal: the FBI would one day be the government’s premier leadership factory, and private players would count the days until an FBI leader could retire (age 50 for special agents) so they could hire them to lead . . .

“I told our employees that military services were great organisations, (that) there was no reason why the FBI shouldn’t be the dominant government supplier for America’s corporate leaders.”

But driven by its own confirmation bias, Zimbabwe’s opposition leaders, will not accept facts and will not embrace logic and reason.

They will carve their own reality to suit their own notions on the world is conspiring against the opposition and yet it is fact and reason working against them.

What matters is that ZEC continues doing what it does according to the dictates and spirit of the law, and for the greater national good — not to please opposition parties that have long deserted fact and reason.

Yes, we expect all political parties to be keenly interested in how any commission works. But we do not expect serious political parties to create myths, start believing those myths, and expect the entire nation to love those myths.

The outcome of the July 30, 2018 polls will be weighed against provisions of the electoral law and the national Constitution — not the confirmation bias of a desperate and disparate opposition lobby.

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