BMD needs the power of dialogue
Aristotle’s words are still relevant even now that man is a “political animal”. The internal conflicts in the BMD are slowly and surely destroying what Batswana were thinking that the political Messiah has come indeed. The Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah because He did not meet the requirements of the job. For them Jesus was not a prophet. Secondly Jesus did not descend from the house of David and thirdly tradition teaches that the Messiah will lead the Jewish people to full Torah observance. Can we say the same words that like the Jews, BMD is not Messiah because they don’t fulfil the job requirements? It is up to the reader to reflect and give an answer. Remember that they are a piece of a bigger cake of UDC and they can destroy the dream of a bigger cake since they are the majority.
After 50 years of Independence, do we still need the Messiah or the Messiah is existing in our midst? Or we are failing to realize Him? Or do we need change because the ruling party is no longer relevant to the citizens? Those are some of the questions people are asking themselves. It is by nature to have conflicts but the most important thing is the art of handling conflicts. As an ordinary Motswana, can you risk your life to vote someone who does not have an art of solving conflicts?
To begin with, it is important to clarify some conceptual confusion that often bedevils reflection on conflict. What does this notion mean? It is essential to distinguish between the ideal and the real. We have to stress the fact that practical results for justice will be obtained if we deal with these realities on the practical and concrete, rather than primarily on the ideal level. Obviously, the ideal is not completely divorced from the real; it remains connected to it. The ideal is always a beacon for continual better human performance. It acts as a constant pointer on the journey from where we are to where we ought to go. The real, however, is what needs immediate attention, whose examination leads to ever-closer attainment of the ideal. In light of this, it is necessary to make three important distinctions.
Firstly, conflict results from the human struggle for individuation and identity, which are usually appreciated in a process of opposition to a different “other.” I am me because I am not him or her. Individuation and identity constitute the normal process in human growth. Conflict in this case involves a situation that is certainly divisive but not inevitably violent.
We need to recognize this fact as the first step to reconciliation. Conflict is unavoidably present in human relationships. “Every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.” This is because, on account of the natural necessity of individuation and identity, and so of growth, people are different from one another. Each person has his or her own interests, recognized and acknowledged or not. For harmonious co-existence every person must constantly take account of the other person’s genuine interests. Violence marks a failure in the process of mutual recognition and acceptance, regardless of whether the social entity is family, ethnic, inter-religious or international.
Therefore, when we talk about “conflict resolution,” what we are really talking about is conflict “management,” so that conflict – the natural process of individuation and identity – does not degenerate into acts of violence. In situations of actual violence like what happened in Bobonong during BMD congress, is a failure in resolving conflict, we must talk about “violence resolution.” The resolution of violence is a process that must begin with a clear understanding and appreciation of the nature of conflict. We need to emphasize that conflict is not itself violence but that it can be a source of violence because this realization is crucial for the process of violence resolution. When conflict is understood in its proper context as part of human growth, it can contribute towards prevention of violence.
Nonetheless, there is the danger of jumping too quickly from here to the conclusion that conflict and violence resolution must necessarily lead to friendship. This is the third distinction and clarification that must be made. In an ideal world, reconciliation would indeed mean friendship, and perhaps that is what it beckons us towards as an ultimate Christian goal. But we do not live in an ideal world. In the real, concrete world, we must distinguish reconciliation from friendship. We can only realistically connect reconciliation with peaceful co-existence, the mutual recognition that as human beings, we all are entitled to equitable social, political and economic space in this world. In describing the meaning and importance of the restorative or commutative dimension of justice, this is what Tarimo and Manwelo characterize as the need for “communal solidarity,” “social interdependence,” and the “common good.” None of these, however, means friendship in the emotional sense.
The purpose and goal of facing conflict and violence is finding resolution in the form of reconciliation. One method that can be endorsed without hesitation towards this goal is dialogue. For dialogue to be an exercise in real communication of meaning, the participants must shed whatever “pretenses” and “masks” they might have donned. Each must dare to stand “naked,” as it were, or “as he really is,” before the other. “At that moment, each of the participants must accept the resulting address and response as the discipline and task of communication.” This is determinative of the sincerity and value of the dialogical process. “Any relationship less than this would not be dialogue and, therefore, not communication. Rather, it would be the exploitation of the other or the ignoring of him or flight from him.”
Unfortunately, much of what is called “negotiation” in international, intra-national (or civil), inter-group or interpersonal conflict and violence rests in the category of exploitation rather than real communication. To the extent that mediation in conflict succeeds, it must be due to the measure that mediators are able to bring communication about. If any form of “unity” achieved unravels, it is also to the extent that dialogue as communication of meaning breaks up. “Only through dialogue are we saved from … enmity toward one another.” To use an anatomical analogy, “Dialogue is to love what blood is to the body. When the flow of blood stops, the body dies. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.”
In situations of conflict and violence, love is not a sentimental, idealistic feeling. In conflict situations, love is rather a service to the life we share. This kind of love is, to put it crudely, “selfish love.” It recognizes the fact that as far as human and ecological life is concerned, there is no winner in violence. Everyone is a loser, even the apparent winner. In every act of violence against another human being as against nature, humankind is diminished or killed, regardless of the “justice” of the cause. But dialogue can work miracles. It “can restore a dead relationship. … [I]t can bring a relationship into being, and it can bring into being once again a relationship that has died.”
It is not possible to understand the power of dialogue as an instrument of reconciliation from the African perspective without appreciating the role that the word plays in the African palaver. Indeed, even in Africa, as in the Christian theological process of the liberation of humanity from evil, we must understand that in the beginning was the word. In Black Africa, particularly in a palaver situation, “The word possesses such tremendous power that it can either create or destroy the community. This means that the word signifies life or death – it is medicine or poison. But it depends on the speaker whether the word brings life or death.”
The word is the manifestation of the spirit, of the whole being or person. So it matters very much how the word is used. Let everyone speak in a palaver, but let them speak with due reverence to the word or humanity of the other. Throughout, the reconciling goal of the palaver, despite the complexity that is always part of the process, must be clear to all. The palaver is intended, on the one hand, as an instrument for casting away the evil of violence, which is disharmony because it destroys the power of life. On the other hand, it is intended as an instrument for bringing about reconciliation, which is harmony because it builds up the vitality of humanity and creation. There is one fundamental thing the palaver implies. It is “that one has an obligation to maintain harmonious relationships with all the members of the community and to do whatever is necessary to repair every breach of harmony and to strengthen the community bonds, especially through justice and sharing.”
The word that addresses justice, peace and reconciliation means, of course, primarily uttered speech, but it goes way beyond it. As a reflection of one’s entire being and personality the word implies certain attitudes, in the form of a glance, for example, or the entire personal demeanour projected in the process of the palaver. “Africans consider even silence or a look to be an important element of the palaver argumentation. ‘That which is not uttered’ in the palaver” also calls for attention. Denial of the dignity of the other as different is not only indicated by words, but also by gestures made in silence. These too are an expression of one’s inner being. Like uttered speech they can heal or kill. They are a powerful means of communication, and as such sources of conflict and violence or of their resolution. Strategists for peace need to keep this in mind.
Violence may be part of fallen human existence, yes, but reconciliation is part of liberated human life. This was certainly St. Paul’s hope when he declared that the time would come when God will be the consummation of everything (Rom. 8:22-23). But this was for Paul not only an eschatological hope. The time for reconciling ourselves with God must start here and now. It is imperative that humanity must work out its salvation now “with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). The strategy, as the letter of James puts it, is to submit ourselves to God, in the sense that we must in practice rein in the evil desires that are a result of human pride and greed.
Tshiamo Stephen Takongwa