An influential diplomat, Mark Storella, has cunningly advised President Michael Sata to be tolerant and not turn Zambia into a rogue state applying is counsel through the character embedded in two of America’s great leaders.
Storella, the United States Ambassador to Zambia, widely viewed as a PF sympathiser in the run up to the 2011 elections which ushered President Sata into office published an opinion article advising his “friends” in Zambia to learn from American leaders.
The article was published Thursday in the State owned and PF controlled Zambia Daily Mail in which he clearly outlined how America’s founding father George Washington dealt with dissent.
He also drew in Abraham Lincoln, the American president credited for ending slave trade, on how he handled criticism even from his own wife as his country commemorated Presidents’ Day on February 19.
Storella explains in his write up based on a feature film entitled “Lincoln” that modern democracy should repeat and pick lessons from Lincoln’s legendary leadership as demonstrated through a movie.
One major lesson he picks from Lincoln is, “in a democracy, one cannot advance justice through unjust means.”
Zambia has come under the spotlight recently with civil society organisations and major political parties petitioning the Commonwealth to investigate human rights abuses by President Sata and his regime.
“Freedom of speech must be protected and our most admired national leaders must grow thick skins,” Storella states, adding; “The lessons of “Lincoln” are many: maintain national unity; respect the role of the opposition; pursue justice by just means; protect free speech, especially when that speech addresses national leaders and issues; and always remember our common humanity.”
Storella stresses that even President Obama is determined to apply the lessons of “Lincoln” to help guide the United States.
“Perhaps, my Zambian friends, you also will find value in the lessons of “Lincoln.”,” he concludes.
By MARK STORELLA
ON Monday, Americans celebrated Presidents’ Day, in honor of our two greatest leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The movie “Lincoln” tells the story of how Lincoln convinced Congress to outlaw slavery in America. The movie illustrates how he did it by winning passage in Congress of the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution.
“Lincoln” is a vivid film and a must-see for all voters or soon-to-be voters in pursuit of a modern democracy. The lessons in “Lincoln” are lessons worth repeating.
We see surprising debates between Lincoln and his Cabinet, with the President repeatedly pounding his fist on the table to overrule his critics. In one key scene, Lincoln’s cautious cabinet urges the President to be patient, to not risk all by trying to pass the amendment that would outlaw slavery.
They urge their President to wait for seating of the new Congress. They argue that, in the new Congress, Lincoln’s Republican Party should enjoy a clear majority and should no longer need opposition party votes. One party with a majority will be able to do it alone, they argue.
But Lincoln insists. For something as fundamental as outlawing slavery, Lincoln wants to succeed, not over the opposition, but with bipartisan support – with support from all political parties to clearly indicate to all citizens that slavery is outlawed forever regardless of which party is in power.
The lesson: It is better to win widespread approval of important matters by reaching across party lines and gaining support of the opposition than by trying to crush them.
In another scene, we see Lincoln as political wheeler-dealer. He authorises his representatives to offer jobs to opposition Democrats willing to vote with the President’s party to outlaw slavery. Lincoln’s representatives plead with his Secretary of State (foreign minister) to permit them to simply bribe the opposition with money.
Secretary of State William Seward thunders back that President Lincoln will NOT agree to bribery: “Nothing illegal,” he says.
The lesson: In a democracy, one cannot advance justice through unjust means.
Lincoln then pursues a very risky strategy of opening peace negotiations with the South. The bloodiest war in US history, the U.S. Civil War, pitted Americans against each other – the North against the South. Peace negotiations were risky because Lincoln knew the South would demand, as a condition of peace, that the slaves not be freed.
Lincoln had little hope that negotiations would succeed. But Lincoln recognised one important fact: by showing the opposition Democrats that he was willing to seek a negotiated solution with the rebels, he could convince the Democrats of his good will.
With 600,000 soldiers dead, 600,000 soldiers wounded, and whole cities burnt to the ground, Lincoln’s military commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, met with the bedraggled Southern vice president, a sworn enemy. Lincoln’s gesture of good will convinced many politicians in Congress that Lincoln was sincere, even if the talks failed.
The lesson: People often support leaders who make a good faith effort to reach out – especially to their enemies.
Scenes of antagonistic debate in the U.S. House of Representatives are wicked and deeply personal. Rhetoric is hateful and racist. Refined First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, perched high in the public gallery, grits her teeth in anger as an opposition Democrat calls her husband a “tyrant and dictator.” Nevertheless, hostile but tolerant, debate continues.
The lesson: Freedom of speech must be protected and our most admired national leaders must grow thick skins.
Finally, the amendment to abolish slavery passes in Congress. The bill is now to be sent to the individual states for their ratification. One of the most vociferous abolitionists, Thaddeus Stevens, a white man, borrows the actual piece of paper on which the vote was recorded. That night, just before bedtime, he presents the recorded vote to his wife, an African American, as a gift for her to witness the vote personally. In case anyone has forgotten what this is all about, the movie reminds us of our common humanity.
The lessons of “Lincoln” are many: maintain national unity; respect the role of the opposition; pursue justice by just means; protect free speech, especially when that speech addresses national leaders and issues; and always remember our common humanity.
President Obama urged his entire cabinet to view “Lincoln.” As he enters his second term and ponders his legacy, President Obama seems determined to apply the lessons of “Lincoln” to help guide the United States. Perhaps, my Zambian friends, you also will find value in the lessons of “Lincoln.”
The author is American Ambassador to Zambia.