Thursday, March 21, 2013

Responsibility for political violence

Responsibility for political violence
By The Post
Thu 21 Mar. 2013, 14:00 CAT

Leaders should take full responsibility for the political violence we have been witnessing in the nation, especially during by-elections. And in the final analysis, as home affairs deputy minister Steven Kampyongo has correctly observed, it is the leaders who will be made responsible for this violence.

Kampyongo's advice to our political leaders not to run away from their responsibility of ensuring peace as they are the ones that are taken to The Hague, and not the perpetrators of crime on the ground, seems to be timely and needs to be heed.

It is true that "most of the times, the people who go to the International Criminal Court of justice in The Hague are leaders and not the main culprits on the ground".

This is so because if our political leaders did everything possible to stop political violence, we would not be witnessing the violence we see at almost every highly contested by-election.

It may be easy for our leaders to escape responsibility for the results of the political violence they command in our jurisdiction. But this may not be the case when it comes to the International Criminal Court. In our situation, it requires evidence of the leaders being directly and physically involved in the violence for them to be nailed to the cross. It is very rare that a political leader is found with a machete, knife or panga in his hands. They engage in violence through directly or indirectly commanding their cadres and others to do so.

They themselves will be safe somewhere at some command post. And when the police pick up those involved in the violence, the leaders are usually not there. This is why when there is violence, they never condemn the violence of their own cadres or supporters because it is them who send them to engage in violence. Only those who are not involved in encouraging or perpetrating political violence can condemn the violent actions of their own cadres.

But there is a limit to how far our political leaders can evade responsibility for the violent actions they command their cadres and supporters to engage in. One day, they will cross the line. When one engages in violence, one cannot know with certainty how far that violence will go. What may seem to be a small isolated by-election violence by a limited number of cadres may turn into a massacre of so many people. And at this point, the leaders may have to be smoked out of their command posts to come and answer for the crime they encouraged or condoned. This is what takes some of our politicians to The Hague. This is what Kampyongo is talking about.

Where our jurisdictions fail to arrest and prosecute the political leaders behind political violence, the International Criminal Court of Justice comes in. And this is how Kenyan President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta and his associates have found themselves at The Hague. Uhuru was not found with pangas, machetes, stones or guns ready to be unleashed on his opponents. But he was found to have had complicity in the violence that took place.

This political violence we witness every so often is as a result of political leadership failure in some of our political parties. Good political leadership cannot tolerate or encourage in any way the violence that we witness at most of our by-elections. Good leaders would not send or encourage their cadres or supporters to go and physically harm or kill their political opponents.

But investigations could easily reveal that we have political leaders in this country who are encouraging violence. We have seen this in Mufumbwe in more than one by-election. We have seen this in the Livingstone by-elections. Human life has been lost in the political violence that accompanied these by-elections. The cadres who were involved in this violence come from political parties. It is a fact. And the leadership of these political parties knows very well which of their cadres were involved in this violence. It is also a fact that it is the political leadership that ferries some of these violent cadres to areas of by-election campaigns. Some of them even ask for re-enforcements of violent cadres from Lusaka when the by-elections are elsewhere.

It is clear that some of these cadres are violent because the political leadership has foisted it upon them; they are rewarded for being violent, for engaging in violence, for being physically and otherwise tough with their political competitors. And this is why they are ferried from one by-election to another. They are taken to every by-election in the country. If political violence is not rewarded by anyone, it would have ceased a long time ago. We witness violence because there are people who reward it, who pay for it. And it is not the cadres who pay for this violence. It is the leaders who pay for it. If this is so, why should the political leadership escape responsibility for the maiming and deaths we have witnessed in by-election campaigns?

In our view, the political leadership should be the first one to account for this violence.

No good political leader should support anything that physically injures or maims a human being, regardless of where that human being politically belongs. No good leader should support the killing of any human being just to win some votes.

We should never support anything that brings about hatred, injuries or death. We should never support anything that brings about hostilities between any groups of people in our country, or indeed on earth. We believe that God's people were created to work together. And as Dr Kenneth Kaunda once observed, "One might say this is idealism. I don't accept that. This is idealism combined with realism. So long as different factions of people are fighting, they displease God. So long as there are differences between men, this does not make God happy. And I believe, those of us who believe in the holy creation must come out at all times clearly without fear of others to speak in terms of human relations. Let us not fail to do this. Otherwise there is total destruction for mankind as a whole." And he adds: "Selfishness and, in some cases, complete lack of understanding of our responsibilities and obligations - both as leaders and followers have bedeviled our efforts to build greater unity among Zambians. Parochialism among certain sections of our community has been on the increase and has tended to throw dust into the eyes of our leaders and followers alike."

You cannot build a united nation on the basis of violence. Those who want to win elections - national elections - have to mobilise the whole country and they can't do that with violence. If you attack one group in one area, there is a likelihood that you will also be attacked in another area. Where will this end? What are the consequences of all this? Violence never unites people, it divides people and almost always breeds counter-violence. Those who resort to violence are not very different from animals. Violence is something that puts its perpetrators next to animals.

At the rate we are going, some of our political leaders may soon find themselves at The Hague for fanning political violence and even encouraging ethnic hostilities that may lead to violence. Today they may think they are smart and nobody knows what they are doing. But tomorrow, what is being done under the cover of darkness will come to light. The political arena is not a battlefield where people should stand to lose their lives or be maimed for life. There is need for us as a nation to start fixing responsibility for political violence to the political leadership. It is them who start it and it is them who should end it. If we want to end political violence, we have to deal with it at the leadership level. There is a Chinese proverb which says that "to defeat an army, you must capture the leader".

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