Times of Eswatini
Dialogue is for many
WHAT follows is a monologue about dialogue; definitely an uncomfortable juxtaposition. The writer is, however, permitted to continue. And in ‘dialogue’ one is referring to the Dialogue – a process planned for Eswatini with the money in place, but not yet the place; nor, indeed, the people. It is nevertheless a privilege to be allowed to express an opinion in this publication. That opinion can be captured in one simple sentence; Dialogue ticks the boxes.
Firstly, what will be said in the Dialogue has almost certainly already been said. Hearing it publicly under the supervision and guidance of respected independent moderators would also oblige the speaker to amplify and be accountable for the suggestions made. That’s not suggesting our proposed Dialogue will be easy for all participants; far from it. Eswatini society has shown a largely uncritical and reverential attitude to executive authority for centuries; now there is a paradigm shift in public political behaviour. It isn’t easy to deal with that. But softening the blow would be a well-organised and moderated dialogue; with participants entirely free to speak, though committing to submissions being polite and respectful. Thus, dialogue also becomes informative and helpful to all emaSwati.
A further powerful argument for hastening the holding of the Dialogue is that it will isolate the so-called terrorism. Aspiring political parties, participating in the Dialogue, would have absolutely nothing to gain from violence during free and meaningful discussions. And, in any event, the legitimate authorities of a country sitting opposite people, who they may view as having engaged in violent activities, is not new to the world. The British authorities did it with the IRA in Northern Ireland and it worked. Today there is peace.
The broad Dialogue theme will attract views on the political doctrine called democracy. It comes from the Greek words for ‘people’ (dēmos) and ‘rule’ (karatos); democracy means ‘rule by the people’; and requires that the people be allowed to take part in the government and its political processes.
Having a massive audience – ‘the people’ somehow crystallising the majority views of the thousands or millions - would be totally unworkable. Hence the emergence of groups – political parties – in the 1700s in Britain, each party promoting, and endeavouring to exert influence regarding policies and plans set out in a manifesto. The party winning the majority of votes, or seats (whichever measure is chosen) leads government. Failure to deliver on the manifesto, then that party gets voted out at the next election. That accountability is vital for incentivising performance.
There would be a political leader – a president or prime minister, depending on whether the State is a republic or monarchy respectively. Democratic institutions, such as Parliaments, may exist in a monarchy. Such constitutional monarchies as Britain, Netherlands and Sweden, where the Monarch is still head of State, are generally counted as democracies in practice. But genuine democracy, while viewed by many countries as the best form of government, is not easy. The writer has compared it before to the modern day style of marriage in an increasing number of countries in the world; a level playing field with interaction and exchange of views on egalitarian terms; followed by collaboration and mutual respect. And in a democracy the vigorous political competition continues throughout a governing period, with lively mutual criticism to inform the general public; with absolutely no recourse to violence by an unsuccessful party. But that competitiveness has to be learned, step by step. There’s no pressing a button to make it happen seamlessly.
And, of course, we are today seeing a variety of political systems in the world; each country, if pressed, claiming that its system works the best for its people. For some that may be a valid assessment. But, somewhat conspicuously in a number of very large countries, there is either no democracy – as in China, which is an authoritarian State with no people-based election of political leaders – or a flawed democracy, as in Russia. Many now view Russia as a dictatorship, the power being in the hands of one man, with no freedom of speech, especially regarding the Russia-Ukraine war.
That’s not a democracy. Brazil is another huge country; it has vigorous political debate in its media, but a cloud of recent corruption in high places hanging over it, and with electoral defeat recently attracting large scale violence. Let’s just say Brazil is trying to be a democracy. Even South Africa is not yet a true democracy. Still recovering from the damage incurred by apartheid, there is no full political honesty, and voting remains heavily tied to the freedom fighter ANC, with tribal loyalty overriding integrity and accountability as we saw in the troubles of 2021.
Dialogue can contain a civic education component, followed by a referendum asking one very simple question. As it took place in Malawi 30 years ago; a bit hurried and with subsequent big hiccups; but they learned from that. And there would have to be a shared, very public, commitment by all to future political competition within a spirit of peace; and never violence.