Africa: The Need for Dialogue 

One of the basic principles of Democracy is the emphasis given to the respect and acceptance of dissent. No matter what the issue is, or how it might affect our lives, we have to understand that there are others who have different views on the very same issues. Those of us who cannot tolerate dissenting views will continue to undermine the very essence of democracy. Firm believers of democracy should understand the need for dialogue and the necessity of respecting opposing viewpoints. Differences of opinion could lead to debates, which in turn could generate progressive thoughts. Unfortunately, many of us have given little, if any, consideration to the need for dialogue. The 'My Way or the Highway' approach has been, and continues to be, a serious problem in various parts of the world, including my beloved continent, Africa. 

The continent is the home of governments and opposition forces who thrive on silencing their opponents. Their undemocratic actions have and continue to create conflicts, such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. Governments and opposition forces have decided that their platform, what ever it may be, is worth the lives of thousands. Accordingly, both turn down any efforts of a peaceful settlement to their conflict. The war rages on. Today's rebel fights his way into becoming tomorrows Head of State. There is now a new government in place, which has inherited yesterdays' problems. The voices of dissent are alive and well. They are demanding to be heard, and believe that their way is the only right approach to solving the problems of the country. Sadly, those in power feel that their agenda is the only solution to the country's problem. Both reject the need to, perhaps, debate on the issues, and possibly come up with a compromise that might help strengthen their country. It now becomes personal, each vowing to destroy the other. Both are hurled into the never-ending vicious circle of violence. 

A few weeks ago, Mr. Jonas Savimbi, the leader and founder of one of Angola's rebel movement, UNITA, was killed while he was fighting government troops. After independence, both UNITA and its rival, the MPLA, had waged an armed struggle to gain control of the country. Hundreds of thousands were killed before the opposing groups agreed to have an election in 1992. Jose Eduardo dos Santos, leader of the MPLA, narrowly defeated Jonas Savimbi. Mr. Savimbi rejected the election results and decided to continue the armed struggle. They say that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword - Mr. Savimbi, God rest his soul, was fatally shot by government troops last February, and was reported to have been found holding a gun in his hand. 

On a very different note, a few years ago, Mr. Nelson Mandela, a man who was imprisoned for 27 years by the white minority government of South Africa, and whose party, the ANC, was banned by the government, decided to end the vicious circle of violence. Mandela did not contemplate on whether he should seek vengeance on his foes. Instead, he chose to work with the white minority, averting a very explosive situation. South Africans do have a long way to go before all wounds are healed. However, they are doing much better than most of their fellow Africans, thanks to the insight of their wise leaders.

Indeed, Angola and South Africa are two counties that have taken different paths to solve their problems. The leaders of Angola preferred to fight one another, believing their cause to be worth the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Mandela, on the other hand, swallowed his pride, for the good of the country, and engaged in dialogue with the very same people who had kept him in jail for 27 years. Mandela and the ANC's selfless act may have secured a peaceful and prosperous future for South Africa. 

I believe it is time for African politicians to swallow their pride and make sacrifices that will guarantee a better and brighter future for their people. Their rigid approach, which has endangered the very existence of their people, should come to an end. They should solve their differences through dialogue. A person that I had so much respect for, once told me that emotions have no place in politics. Indeed, rational minds prevail because they are able to agree to disagree.

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