The Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) program invitations came just at a time when the election discourse in the country has not only gathered momentum but plunged the country under the grip of uncertainty. The election discord in Zimbabwe is a great concern to civil society which detests the recreation of a violent electoral environment.
The formation of the Government of National Unity was a clear response to a pervading crisis that nearly brought the country to its knees. The crises were largely linked but not limited to electoral contestations. Given that background, it becomes a formidable task of civil society and government to restore the country to electoral democracy among a plethora of other democratic deficiencies. The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network’s (ZESN) initiative to organise a BRIDGE course, has extended the much needed helping hand which is precariously needed in the establishment of the bedrock for the sustenance of democracy in our country. ZESN’s sterling efforts brought trade unions, youth organizations, ecumenical groups, peace building institutions, human rights and service delivery groups among others together to this memorable enriching experience. This provided participants with the rare opportunity to network. Resultantly, a number of committees aimed at tackling electoral issues have been consummated.
Never had we presumed that the week-long stay away from our various areas of operations would provide us with the much needed knowledge to strengthen our inspirations to salvage the country from receding into electoral chaos.
On arrival at Troutbeck Inn, participants were dazed to perpetual inaction by the sight of nature in harmony. It was then that it dawned on us that our stay at Troutbeck was surely going to be a bird of quite another feather. The effect of the tranquil environment could never be underestimated. The venue resonated in unison with the unique learning excursion.
The facilitation team exuded an unmatchable degree of skills and sensitivity divorced from the antiquated techniques of knowledge giving. Facilitators generated the necessary enthusiasm that kept the workshop not only interesting but very lively and worthwhile. Participants indicated that they had come to associate learning forums of this nature with note taking. However, this particular one improved participants’ retention capacity through a myriad of role plays, group work, dramas and many more. The workshop enhanced the participants’ skills in imparting voter and civic education to communities.
For the majority of participants whose knowledge of BRIDGE was no more than fragmentary, the workshop proved restorative. It turned out to be a replica of biblical Paul’s encounter en route to Damascus. It was inconceivable that such comprehensive information could be churned out in five days without the risk of fatigue and boredom. This we attribute to the uniqueness of the three facilitators’ approaches that made the training one of the most indelible learning experiences. The workshop turned to be a knowledge exchange rather than giving, hence participants were at ease to participate without fear of ostracism form colleagues.
The fact that participants managed to withstand the week-long stay free from the gnawing temptation of dodging sessions is a clear testimony of the joy of discovery infused in the learning process by facilitators.
It was encouraging to note that participants had been drawn from quite diverse but critical backgrounds. The facilitators were astoundingly alive to the implications of such a hybrid congregation. In most instances training workshops are reduced to a litany of self-glorification by a few much to the detriment of the introverts. However, this training was a novelty as participants were engaged throughout. Active and equal participation was the order of the week from all the participants.
Throughout the training period, participants intermittently reflected on the widely used terminology in voter and civic education with the objective of assessing the inherent implications and their appropriateness in the discharge of their duties in communities. This process contributed immensely in eradicating a sense of arrival which arguably had gripped some sections of civil society. A wide expanse of unexplored territories was laid bare. The training went beyond the satisfaction of participants’ needs and expectations and made quantum leaps in opening avenues for future research and advocacy.
Participants were content that political leadership intransigence had projected an acutely bleak projection on the possibility of Zimbabwe going fully democratic. Let it suffice to say that the coming in of the BRIDGE programme has, apart from uplifting the spirit of participants, brought glimmers of hope for civic society in attaining their goals. Regional and international electoral systems were scrutinized with the goal of drawing vital lessons to inform the way forward for Zimbabwe.
We must hasten to mention that, had it not been for the sheer goodwill of partners who stayed committed to the course to avail BRIDGE modules to us, effective integration of civic organizations in electoral issues would have remained a pipe dream. Without the provision of the module material and legal excerpts, some participants indicated that their knowledge would have been immeasurably remained weak.
We are much indebted to the BRIDGE programme and its coordinators for the invaluable support in strengthening our capacities in civic education. With the rate of pro-democracy organizations on the increase in Zimbabwe, we feel obliged to extend this knowledge to others.
As we say bon voyage the scenic Troutbeck Inn, may the BRIDGE programme roll across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe and other emerging democracies that are still struggling with electoral reforms.