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Peace is not the absence of war

THE Peace March led by His Majesty King Letsie III to mark the African Day of Peace, Security and Safety was more of an exhibition of intent on the part of the political leadership than a real commitment to the message of peace that he delivered.

The event, which was originally planned to be on the International Day of Peace on September 21, follows a resolution of the African Union which declared 2010 the year of peace in Africa.

The concern of African leaders with the violent political conflicts on the continent is legitimate except that the vehemence in their talks is not matched by the action both collectively and at the individual state level.

If you look closely at how the incumbent leaders of Zimbabwe and Kenya tried to cling on to power after losing elections you will notice that there is a gap between what leaders see as peace and what people believe it to be.

The situation in Darfur, Madagascar and the Gambia, to name but a few, demonstrates that Africa still has a long way to go as far as the attainment of total peace is concerned.

The fact that African leaders decided to declare 2010 the year of peace is quite remarkable.

It shows that although they might lack the means to bring total peace to the continent they are aware that it is precisely what Africa urgently needs in order to develop.

Yet peace should not be confused to mean the absence of war.

A lot of African countries are not at war but that does not mean they are peaceful.

More African countries do not have internal strife but that does not mean their people are at peace.

That is precisely because key institutions of democracy which need independence such as courts of law, election monitoring bodies, the police etc are coerced into serving the interests of those in power. 

The abuse of office by corrupt politicians and the desire to cling to power through various ways creates discontent and threatens peace.

If African leaders want their people to have total peace they must start by acknowledging the will of the people they claim to rule.

They must learn to give up power when they lose elections.

They must accept that leadership needs renewal and they are not the only ones who have the privilege to rule.

As His Majesty was calling upon Basotho to reclaim their respect and dignity as a peace-loving nation, so many questions on what Basotho could do came to mind.

Can Basotho commit that they will never go back to the political turmoil of 1998?

Can Basotho manage to remove their country from the Sadc’s permanent agenda of troubled countries?

Can Basotho deal better with political and election-related conflicts?

The king observed with sadness that Lesotho is steadily becoming a nation of conflict, fights and perpetual squabbling.

Though he appeared troubled, the king was certainly not disgruntled.

The critical question is whether the leadership of this country has heard and can indeed do something about His Majesty’s speech.

If leaders have heard this clarion call political parties will declare that their differences internally and at the interparty level shall be dealt with using peaceful and engagement means rather than power and coercion.

We will hear the Ministry of Education declare that it shall endeavour to turn schools into peaceful learning environments.

Student organisations will declare that no strikes and no violence shall be used to get grievances addressed.

We will have the creation of institutions like the Human Rights Commission.

We will see the legislature truly becoming representative and not the extension of the hegemony of the executive arm of government.

We will see the creation of a quasi-government institution of peace and conflict management that will promote the culture of peace, tolerance and dialogue as a means of resolving disputes.

The leaders, both in government and outside, will commit that they will no longer antagonise each other.

They will desist from making inflammatory statements during election campaigns.

With strong institutions peace is possible.

While institutions safeguard abuses, they also develop new culture and attitudes.

The culture of debate, exchange and dialogue is better built by the established institutions with resources and the relevant staff.

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