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Just Politics: Talking to the Enemy

[By Aaron Ng’ambi]

Any reasonable person in Zambia today can attest to the fact that our land and beloved country is in peril. It is evident that we need healing and reconciliation, first with each other and then with God. Unfortunately, for us, we have become so misguided as a nation to think that if anything goes wrong, all we do is just simply pray about it. This is not how things ought to be done. For example, if you stole something from someone, just going to God in prayer is not sufficient. First of all, you have to return what you stole and make amends with your neighbour or whosoever you stole from by asking them to forgive you and then you go to God in prayer. The act of just going to pray without making restitution is nothing but mockery to those we may have been injured by our actions as well as a mockery to God. On the other hand, having the courage to make things right with your neighbour before you go to God in prayer is not just a requirement according to the scriptures but an act of faith in itself. In his biography, entitled Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela dedicates a few chapters in the book talking about the initiative he took upon himself as a prisoner to begin talks with the apartheid government, which was the enemy of black South Africans. The chapter talking to the Enemy covers an extensive but difficult period of time when Nelson Mandela, as a prisoner, began writing to the enemy, requesting for dialogue between the ANC and the apartheid regime. I have often pondered why Madiba took this step in the first place, and the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear to me that Nelson Mandela was not only a visionary leader but he was a very wise man too.

To begin talks with the apartheid regime was a very unpopular move at the time, and in fact, they are many within the ANC that rejected Nelson Mandela and called him all sorts of names for making what seemed to them a very irrational move. However, if one is to be honest and objective, we can reach a conclusion that considering the amount of violence at the time, the number of deaths and the fact that South Africa was at the blink of a civil war, then perhaps one wouldn’t be in a rush to pass careless judgments on the strategic move made by the man who would become the most important figure of our time. In Long Walk to Freedom, Madiba makes it clear that he started talking to the enemy in secret and that he was very careful and very thoughtful during this whole process. It was only long after I graduated with a degree in political science that I came to fully understand what Mandela understood many years ago, which is that in any political crisis, regardless of the magnitude of the crisis, the only way out of it is nothing other than dialogue. To state it plainly, in the words of David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, when he addressed the Labour Party Conference of 2010, he said “Civil wars are ended by politics or by a political settlement.” I can paraphrase those words by adding that any war for that matter, including civil strife can only be settled through sincere and honest dialogue, especially when the parties involved perceive each other as enemies but come together and talk. To those who are wondering why our country has reached such levels on unprecedented violence and hatred, I should perhaps remind you that not so long ago our leaders attempted to have a national dialogue which of course did not take effect due to selfish motives by some political players. It is my belief that if all political parties, and national leaders came together when the nation called for a national dialogue, we would be better off today than what we are currently witnessing.

It is never too late to do the right thing. There are some individuals and organisations who are calling for talks between the ruling Patriotic Front government, and the opposition political parties because one thing which is certain to many Zambians is that whatever is going on in our country today is politically motivated. Therefore, we need to learn that in the midst of a crisis like ours, true leaders will put the interest of the people and their country first, rather than trying to use the situation to their advantage. I am hopeful that it is only in desperate times like these that our eyes will be opened and we will see our so-called leaders for who they are. We need men and women of immense character to help us now, to bring our people together and find a solution to the issues of mob injustice and other killings going on in our country. Let us consider for a moment what could have happened if Nelson Mandela did not have the foresight to begin talks with the enemy. What do you think would have happened to him and to South Africa at large? What if Madiba decided that he would not engage with his enemies, but rather just pray to God for a miracle? Well, no one can be certain about hypothetical situations, but it is safe to assume that Nelson Mandela would have possibly died in prison like the many other prisoners and victims of apartheid had he not initiated talks with the National Party also known as the Nationalist Party.

Our leaders should never underestimate the power of dialogue, and political compromise. My wish is that as a nation, we will begin to teach ourselves and our children correct principles and learn from the many examples we have. The idea of using God’s name to deceive the people needs to come to an end. We need to remind ourselves that God has given us the ability to solve problems, work hard and be rational in all things. God expects us to turn to him for solutions after we have done everything humanly possible to solve our problems.

Whether we are friends or foes, we should emulate the example of Nelson Mandela and talk to each other, especially those we disagree with. Let us run to each other first before we pretend to be running to God for help. There is a reason why God has placed us together in a country like Zambia, we are brothers and sisters. We need to be our brother’s keepers; we need to summon the spirit of One Zambia, One nation now than ever before. I can definitely argue that if Nelson Mandela had the attitude that he would not talk to his enemies, his walk to freedom would have been much longer than it turned out to be.
Therefore, if we do not talk to each other now, we might as well procrastinate some much needed progress in terms of political sanity in our nation. If at all possible, the President of the Republic of Zambia, the leaders of the opposition alliance, the church mother bodies and other leaders in our country should sit around the table and find a solution to the problems we are currently faced with as a nation. This is not a complicated task to do, we have seen other leaders in other parts of Africa do it. For example, Uhuru Kenyetta of Kenya extended an olive branch to his opponent Raila Odinga amidst serious political tension in that country where many people actually died. Look at South Sudan today with the formation of a unity government between two political rivals, all because the two parties decided to talk to each other. No man or woman is bigger than Zambia, our leaders should do the right thing now and never let their ego get in the way.

Email; aaronngambi@yahoo.com

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