Nelson Mandela warned that “a leader who relies on force to solve problems is bound to come to grief”.
Yes, we have many problems and challenges. But there’s no nation on this planet without problems and challenges. However, what really matters is not that we have problems and challenges; it is how we go about trying to resolve them. If not well-handled, small problems and challenges become big; simple problems and challenges become complex; reconcilable contradictions become irreconcilable; retractable differences become intractable.
The mark of great leaders is the ability to understand the context in which they are operating and act accordingly.
What we are seeing in Zambia today is an increasing reliance on force, coercion to govern. Every problem, friction, difference – small or big – that arises has to be solved by the use of the police or some other law enforcement agency. There’s no effort whatsoever by the leadership to engage in persuasion, dialogue, compromise or consensus building. Their first reaction to any problem, challenge or difference is threats of “crushing like a tonne of bricks”, arresting, detaining people.
The police, the courts and the prisons have become the most important governance institutions of this country. Important governance pronouncements are often being made by the police command. And the Minister of Home Affairs, who now sees himself as the chief of police, has become the most important minister – probably more important than even the Vice-President of the Republic.
When people say we are under a police state, it is not an exaggeration or malice. The police has never been so much in charge of the governance of this country as we are today witnessing.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Coercion cannot but result in chaos in the end.” And, indeed, we are starting to witness such veritable chaos. Albert Einstein warned, “It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry.” True freedom is the capacity to act according to one’s true character, to be altogether one’s self, to be self-determined and not subject to outside coercion.
It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by politicians determined to use coercion to stamp out what they perceive to be moral evil than by people intent on doing evil.
Today, even ruling party cadres are being mobilised by the Minister of Home Affairs to join the police in arresting people instead of them being deployed to carry out political or civic education among the masses and persuade them to become better and more responsible citizens. Freedom means refusing to allow some ruling party politicians and their cadres to use the state to compel other citizens to serve their interests or opinion. People who can’t imagine order without imposition always end up favouring power over freedom and democracy in general.
It is a well-known fact that evil would always come to us disguised in systems and dignified by law. Those in government must maintain power through consent, not coercion. Coercion, after all, merely captures the human being. Freedom captivates the citizen. Coercion, whether violent or not, is immoral, just as deception is immoral.
And as Wilhelm von Humboldt said, “Coercion may prevent many transgressions; but it robs even actions which are legal of a part of their beauty. Freedom may lead to many transgressions, but it lends even to vices a less ignoble form.”
If this government continues on this path, it will be very difficult for it to avoid the label of a dictatorship. If they want to be seen as a democracy, it is essential that they recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.
It’s important to remember that mindsets cannot be changed through force and coercion. No idea can ever be forcibly thrust upon anyone. The only real power available to those who govern us is the power of persuasion.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.”
Citizens should be led into the right paths, good citizenship not by severity, but by persuasion. Those who govern us should realise it is important to deploy their leadership efforts in dialogue and persuasion rather than in ultimatums, threats, arrests, detentions and prosecutions. Persuasion is often more effectual than force.
There are good leaders who actively guide and bad leaders who actively misguide. Hence, leadership is about persuasion – not brute force but only persuasion and faith are the kings of this world. The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilised society.
This calls for more and more tolerance. And there is nothing virtuous or noble about being “tolerant” of people whose attitudes and behaviours you approve of. If you don’t defend the freedom of even those individuals whose attitudes and behaviours you find disgusting, narrow-minded and offensive, then you are not tolerant. To “tolerate” doesn’t mean you like it or approve of it; it means only that you allow it to exist – that is, you refrain from violently interfering. The people who look to “government” to force people to be “nice” are not tolerant.
Government is quite literally a necessary evil, but there must be opposition, between its various branches, and between political parties, for these are the only ways to tamper the individual’s greed for power and the electorates’ desires for peace by submission to coercion or blandishment.