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 2012-03-31 06:06 pm Back to NEWS
Dialogue over Barotseland is not a choice; it's a must

It was difficult to imagine that things could move and degenerate so fast. Everyone now seems to realise that we have a big problem, a big challenge which requires very good leadership skills to address. The problem that has arisen over the Barotse Agreement 1964 is not a small one, it is a big and complicated one.

When people in a certain part of the country call for self-determination, invoking the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, Article 20, which states that: “All peoples have the right to existence; They shall have unquestionable and inalienable rights to self-determination,” we have a challenge, we have a problem. This right to self-determination was affirmed with a purpose of promoting a quick end to colonialism.

Colonialism entailed an oppression and exploitation of one group by an alien group. Such an oppression and exploitation was pursued at two levels: the level of politics and the level of economics.

The alien group had the monopoly of the political power and the economic power, resulting in exploitation, manipulation, suppression and oppression of the original owners of the land. The right to self-determination therefore entailed political liberation and economic liberation.

Such a two-fold liberation implied the right to political independence and the right to economic independence. These two rights formed the backbone of the right to self-determination and were often enshrined in the pursuit of nationalism.

When a country assumed political independence and became self-governing, there was a need for the participation of all the people in the governance of the country. Hence, the citizens of an independent nation had the right to participate in the decision-making process of a country directly or through their representatives.

This called for democratic structures and democratic spirit in the independent nations. In such a democratic climate, the freely expressed will of the peoples was supposed to be a major determinant in the decision-making process.

The right to self-determination has been a subject of controversy all over the continent. This occurs when an independent nation is confronted by separatists, secessionists.

After attaining independence from colonial rule, the sectional groupings in a country, defined along regional or ethnic lines, can assume a nationalistic stance and call for independence and autonomy from the sovereign state.

This right has both external and internal dimensions; and, as we can see in our own case here over the Barotseland issue, has been the subject of some controversy in recent years, as it is increasingly asserted by groups within countries, as distinct from ex-colonies and occupied territories.

But the authentic journey towards the realisation of self-determination as a nation requires the acknowledgement of the centrality of the place of God in such a journey. A human being is, through family, born in a clan, tribe, nation or state.

In the distant past, families grouped themselves into these larger communities to defend themselves and their goods against hostile persons and also to provide better and more abundant food; in other words, to raise their standard of living. The state is, therefore, a community of families.

And just as the family exists to help the members who compose the family, so the state exists to help the families which compose the state. And like in the family, problems and differences will always be there in a state, in a nation requiring dialogue at all times.

Dialogue, listening to others and sharing our own beliefs with others, is not a choice for us. It is a must. Dialogue is an essential path for the promotion of peace and unity among all our people.

And dialogue is rooted in the nature and dignity of human beings because in dialogue, one can compare different points of view and examine disagreements. We are reminded in Galatians 3:28 that “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one.”

Yes, there are differences, there are disagreements—gigantic ones for that matter. But they must be pursued with civility and respect for each other. We have heard the leadership of the Barotse Royal Establishment commit itself to a peaceful approach in the pursuance of their objectives.

We have also heard the Zambian government express its desire to pursue this issue in a peaceful manner. And this calls for talking, for discussions, for negotiations whichever way things go. But it’s not possible to have meaningful negotiations among people denouncing each other, calling each other names and all sorts of things.

If you want to talk or negotiate with someone, you have to accept the integrity of the other. If you are not prepared to respect and listen to your opponents in any issue and you are not prepared to compromise, then you are also not prepared to negotiate.

We say this because respect, ability and willingness to listen and concessions are inherent in any serious talks or negotiations. And negotiations only deliver positive results when people are willing to listen and respect each other, when they are concerned and seem to be keen to resolve their differences peacefully or amicably.

Even parting, undesirable as it may be, should be carried out in peace and in a dignified manner. And as we have stated before, negotiated solutions can be found even to conflicts that have come to seem intractable and solutions emerge when those who have been divided reach out to find a common ground.

If you are not prepared to compromise, then you must not enter into or think about the process of negotiating at all. That is the nature of compromising: you can compromise on fundamental issues. Insignificant things, peripheral issues, don't need any compromise at all. But of course, compromise must not undermine your own position.

There is no need for tough talk. Where things have reached, they are high enough for all to see and admit that there is a big problem that needs a different approach. All that tough talking that was there before things got to where they are now should be put aside because this is no time for posturing.

We have a people that have to live together in peace whether they stay in the same country or they go separate ways, they still have to live together in peace. This is a people that has been bound together by destiny and no border that is drawn by anyone can separate them.

But there is a problem between them or among them that needs to be addressed and a solution found without a single soul being lost, without a single limb being lost. Fumes and smoke appear before flames do; insults come before violence.

If you stick something in your eye, tears will flow; and if you hurt a person deeply, you will discover his true feelings. If you throw rocks at birds, you will scare them away; and if you insult a friend, you will break up the friendship.

Whichever way, this problem can be resolved peacefully and it must be resolved peacefully. And we therefore urge both the Barotse Royal Establishment and the political leadership in Lusaka to respect each other and quickly open dialogue.

We say this because whichever way things may go, they can only do so peacefully if there is meaningful dialogue. Mistakes have been made. Who doesn't make mistakes? Who has never made mistakes?

Who has never offended anyone? Let us accept our mistakes and realise truthfully where things stand and move to make amends, to correct that which is wrong. That's the reality of life—it's about making mistakes and correcting them; and the quicker and more thorough, the better.

There is need to pay attention to sentiments. For as long as legitimate bodies of opinion feel stifled, vile minds will take advantage of justifiable grievances to destroy, to kill and to maim.

For as long as some people feel their grievances are being ignored, are being belittled, there will always be tension and conflict. Social and political problems don't just change because you have made a law—it takes a great deal of effort and time.

And whatever initiatives are taken to deal with this difference, with this problem, they have to be underpinned by the uplifting of the most downtrodden sections of our population and all-round transformation of our society. What this is showing us is that our nation is not well-organised and managed and it needs to redeem and reconstruct itself. And reconstruction goes hand in hand with reconciliation.

And as we have stated before, the hallmark of great leaders is the ability to understand the context in which they are operating and act accordingly. A leader who relies on authority to solve problems is bound to come to grief. The important thing is to give happiness to people.

It is the dictate of history to bring to the fore the kind of leaders who seize the moment, who cohere the wishes and aspirations of the people. And more often than not, an epoch creates and nurtures the individuals who are associated with his twists and turns.

The problem before us needs no single genius. It calls for the collective wisdom of all our people. Those who are ready to join hands can overcome the greatest challenges. In the situation we are in, our strongest weapon is not an AK47; it is dialogue.

And no meaningful dialogue can take place on the shifting sands of evasions, illusions, lies, half-truths, cheap propaganda and opportunism. A tragedy of unprecedented proportion is unfolding in our country.

The challenge is to move from rhetoric to dialogue, and dialogue at an unprecedented intensity and scale, trusting in the belief that no man is an island, and those dealing with this issue are not men of stone who are unmoved by the noble passions of love, friendship and human compassion.

This conflict, this disagreement threatens not only the gains we have collectively made so far but also our collective future. And we should treat the question of peace and stability in our country as a common challenge for all our people.


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