Thursday, May 29, 2014

Creating a future for ourselves
By Editor
Sun 05 Jan. 2014, 14:00 CAT

Edith Nawakwi, leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development, says Zambians should use the peace being enjoyed in the country to create a future for themselves.

Nawakwi says, "It is only when we live in harmony that we can exploit the potential in each one of us. It is only when all of us sit together and discuss our future that we can be able to enjoy the fruits of our common future." We agree.

Those who are ready to join hands can overcome the greatest challenges. No single person, no single group can develop this country and move our people out of poverty. This will require collective effort and collective wisdom. This country knows no single genius, there can only be a collective genius. Therefore, unity is the main thing for us. And whatever we engage in, including politics, should promote unity, if possible. Lack of unity weakens us because no divided nation can tackle basic problems.

This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill will. We cannot encourage narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action. We have hard work ahead to make the people of Zambia what destiny intended them to be.

Too much time is being wasted on petty squabbles by politicians and others pursuing narrow personal agendas. We have many political parties but we shouldn't be misled into thinking that this in itself constitutes democracy and a promise of prosperity and better life for our people. As Mike Mulongoti put it the other day, these political parties are nothing but vehicles created by some politicians to get power. And through some of these political parties, our people are being divided and turned against each other. Unscrupulous and greedy politicians are dividing the ignorant and misleading people into factions supporting them. They are setting one humble section of the people against the other factions as part of their schemes to get power. This is not leadership; it is banditry.

Some mistake a multi-party political dispensation for a battlefield where the aim is to destroy the other. A multi-party political dispensation can in some way be said to be a unity of opposites. This is so because as human beings, we possess a variety of sometimes contradictory desires. We want safety yet we relish adventure; we aspire to individual freedom yet we demand social equality. The multi-party democracy we are pursuing is no different, and it is important for us to recognise the fact that the many tensions, or even paradoxes that we experience or face in this country are present in every democratic society. As we have stated before, a central paradox exists between conflict and consensus. And the multi-party democracy we are pursuing is in many ways nothing more than a set of rules, a mechanism, an arrangement for managing conflict. At the same time, this conflict must be managed within certain limits and result in compromises, consensus or other agreements that all sides accept as legitimate. An overemphasis on one side of the equation can threaten the entire undertaking. If our politicians and their supporters perceive our multi-party political system as nothing more than a forum in which they can express their demands, the society can shatter from within. If the government exerts excessive pressure to achieve consensus, stifling the voices of the people, the society can be crushed from above.

This is not an easy simultaneous equation to balance. This is so because multi-party democracy is not a machine that runs by itself once the proper principles and procedures are inserted. It needs the commitment of citizens who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for consensus and tolerance.

It is for this reason that the culture of democracy is so important to develop. Individuals and groups must be willing, at a minimum, to tolerate each other's differences, recognising that the other side has valid rights and a legitimate point of view. If there is disagreement, there is need to meet in a spirit of compromise and seek a specific solution that builds on the general principle of majority rule and minority rights.

Those in the opposition should not seek to politically succeed on the back of national failure. This is not the essence of multi-party politics because it is anchored on coalition-building. What should matter should not necessarily be who is in power but what is being achieved by the nation as a whole and the common good. We should learn, and learn very quickly, how to negotiate with others, how to compromise and work within our constitutional system. By working together, we learn how to argue peaceably and pursue our goals in a democratic manner and ultimately how to live in a world of diversity.

It shouldn't be just a question of frustrating those in power or those in the opposition. The priority should be placed on the needs of our people, especially the most disadvantaged and marginalised. Everything we do should be weighed on the basis of how it affects the poor. It is very easy for us to pursue our narrow interests and forget the plight of the great majority of our fellow citizens who happen to be poor and voiceless. Some of the issues we pursue at a great cost are not for the benefit of the poor and in some cases, we are simply robbing them of an opportunity to improve their lives.

We urge those in government to work tirelessly at increasing the levels of co-operation with progressive elements in the opposition. It would be good to continue the initiatives that we saw at the beginning of this government of including opposition leaders in national programmes. Edith and Elias Chipimo, among others, showed some positive attitudes towards co-operating with the government on matters of general benefit to the nation. Of course, they were criticised heavily by some opposition elements who don't believe in any form of co-operation between them and those in power, who see only enmity in politics. Those in the opposition can actually gain more national respect by being seen to be selfless and supportive of everything that benefit the people regardless of who is driving it. With or without us, the country must progress, must move forward. This is the only way Zambians can, as Edith suggests, use the peace being enjoyed in the country to create a future for themselves, live in harmony and exploit the potential in each one of them. This is the only way "the participation of all citizens to attain development" can be attained.

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