Jul 31

There are two broadly different schools of thought regarding the question of whether it would be more effective for the Government of Sri Lanka to deal with the North-East problem by continuing to negotiate with all the parties concerned (bilaterally with each of them, or multilaterally) or battle it to a conclusion with the LTTE first, as some pressure groups demand.

It occurred to the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG), as it has struck many others before, that there would be some useful lessons to be learnt from the South African experience, where a potential bloodbath, and immense social and economic chaos, were averted by the enlightened leadership given by Nelson Mandela.  The principles which guided him in leading his country, with minimal trauma, to become a major African power (as opposed to the universally shunned apartheid regime) are to be found in a lecture he delivered in early 2000 on being honoured academically by Trinity College, Dublin.

In his address, Mandela commenced by stating that South Africans were Aconscious of their obligation to do whatever they can to contribute to the advancement of peace, democracy and justice wherever possible.  In order to get a fair indication of his thinking, we give below some brief extracts of the formal lecture he gave.

AWe are urged by our own experience which has shown that no problem is so intractable that it cannot be resolved through talk and negotiation rather than force and violence.

AIt is only the parties engaged in a particular conflict who in the end can fashion lasting peace.

AOur starting point then is that where parties are locked in conflict, peace is to be found through compromises based on the recognition that their common interests are more important than their differences.  In particular the shared benefits of peace and stability far outweigh short-term interests that each may derive from continuing conflict and tension.

ASituations of conflict can also provide fertile ground for forces that flourish in situations of tension and therefore have no interest in peace.  And yet all enduring conflicts, even if they start with right on one or the other side, reach a point at which neither side is wholly right or wrong.

ASuch moments emphasise the fact that negotiation is premised on the making of significant compromises.

AOn the brink of a bloody war that would have scorched the earth of our common land, South Africans recognised that they were one nation with one destiny.

ARather than wait for a destructive war to run its course and only then begin to talk, we chose to talk before our country’s infrastructure was destroyed and before more innocent civilians were slaughtered.

On the basis of the advice given by Mandela, whose statesmanship is universally acknowledged, it would be -

a)     prudent to follow the path of negotiation and not indulge in killing and the wanton destruction of the country’s infrastructure,

b)    sensible to realise that it is best for the parties to the conflict to talk directly to each other,

c)     necessary to concede that the right is not all on one side,

d)    obligatory on both parties not to stick rigidly to predetermined positions but be prepared to compromise because of the mutual benefits that would accrue to them,

e)     wise to endeavour to build unity among the diverse people of this land because, united, we would be much stronger to face the great challenges that threaten us.

Good governance and our self-interest dictate that we heed Mandela’s advice.  It should be understood that there is nothing in his approach to preclude employing the good offices of any institution or countries to look after the logistics of organising and facilitating the negotiations.  However, they should not be made arbitrators, who would end up being blamed by both sides.

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