TO stand in the centre of a battlefield without weapons and yet use the authority of your voice to silence the loud violence of oppression, of guns and injustice, takes something beyond courage.
It is not just the preparedness to die for the principle of justice and equality, but the bravery to leave a legacy which shows that human dignity has no equal; that it cannot be buried by bullets or nuclear weapons. That the value of life is a comprehension beyond simple and hurried grasp.
Such was the uncompromising moral backbone of the Non-Aligned Movement at a time the globe was polarised between East and West; between the United States of America (USA) and its allies on the West and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), led by Russia in the East.
It was a time when the world knew a nuclear war was imminent and out of fear and self-preservation, most nations carefully took sides, either East or West. It is difficult now to imagine palpable tension in the international arena.
To a large extent, the still rattling guns heard in various parts of the world are due to the fact that the principle of justice has not been respected. As we can see, there is a resurgence of a polarised world as evidenced by the Russia-Ukraine war. This East versus West era in world history is referred to as the period of bipolarity.
The complexity of global politics was further compounded by the North-South divide, which was mostly a battle against oppression whether through continued colonialism, apartheid or wanton disregard for the rights of those considered Third World.
The northern half of the political map, North America, Western Europe and some parts of Asia, was considered wealthy.
The southern part, South America and most of Africa and Asia were considered the poor South; colonised and dominated by the North.
Third World countries became experiments of the East-West ideologies which resulted in dangerous consequences for nations. An example was the assassination of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and then Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in search of peace.
Paradoxically, the so-called poor South happened to be endowed with vast natural wealth, from oil to diamonds, copper and many other raw materials that fed the economies of the North.
Surprisingly, neither war, civil unrest or any catastrophy in the political South had capacity to interrupt global trade or supply of these hard and soft commodities.
Diamonds and oil from Angola, for example, still flowed out of that country irrespective of the civil war there and the countless millions that died.
This somewhat contrasts with the current war in Ukraine, a single country, whose war, it is said will likely have global impact on the supply of basic necessities (see, among others https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-04-05/willrussia-s-war-in-ukraine-cause-wheat-shortages-raise-food-prices-more https://www.reuters.com/business/russiaukraine-conflict-highlights-wheat-supply-vulnerability-2022-03-03/)
In those old days, governments and rebel groups in various nations were sponsored by either the East or the West, thus causing combustible conflict and endless civil wars.
In Angola, for example, Russia (the East) supported Agostinho Neto who became the country’s first President; while America (in the West) supported Jonas Savimbi, the opposition and later rebel leader.
It is in this environment that bold leaders of two nations, the former Yugoslavia and India, conceived the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1950s. The basic idea was that they would align with neither Russia in the East, nor the USA in the West despite the pressure to do so.
This was unprecedented because Yugoslavia and India were on continents where choosing a side would have been easier than confronting superpowers with nuclear weapons.
Cuba, Egypt, Algeria, Colombia and over 100 other nations became members of this movement which was unlike other organisations formed for trade, security or finance.
At a broad level, the movement confronted two volatile issues both with multiple global consequences. The first challenge was about the East-West divide and the real possibility of a nuclear Third World War. The problem was that nations with advanced weaponry shared these weapons with their allies either directly, or by setting up military bases in partner nations and indeed through organisations intended to defend each other’s’ borders. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a product of that cold and uncomfortable era, as was the Warsaw Pact.
The major challenge here was nuclear disarmament and the engagement of the two superpowers which inevitably would slow down or end their proxy wars fought in the political South.
Overtime, leaders of the two superpowers were prodded at various fora, including by the Non-Aligned Movement to end the global tension and seek peace for the sake of mankind. To their credit, they gradually did.
A repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not necessary. This is partly why the Russia-Ukraine war must be viewed in a wider context to include the USA and NATO than just aggressor and victim.
The second broad challenge was the battle for the emancipation of the South and was not, by any means, less important at all.
In a balanced world, apartheid alone, should have been enough to converge the world against that extreme injustice and discard of basic rights, but it was not so. To this day, atrocities committed in the colonies, the so-called political South have not received just recompense.
The assassination of Patrice Lumumba with full consent and participation of the colonial entity and its partners, again refers.
Zambia joined the movement upon independence and chaired it in 1970 until 1973. The country gained its global reputation here, as a leader in the fight for the emancipation of not just the peoples of Africa, but those oppressed in the world.
We did so with the pre-emptive notion and value of non-violence. We spoke forcefully, unapologetically, fearlessly and authoritatively, but, again, without the aid or threat of violence.
Even with the change of government in 1991, that single noble mantle was passed on seamlessly to the credit of the first and second presidents who understood the value of speaking for others.
The open borders for freedom fighters during the liberation years, 1960 -1990, remained so for refugees in the 1990s.
The anti-war template of the 1960s was enough for the country to continue to speak for peace with authority on the continent; something that should have been easy to continue even to this day.
Dr Frederick Chiluba for instance championed multiple peace initiatives in Angola, the DRC and the Great Lakes region, a mantle that was passed on to him, and from him to future presidents and leaders.
Of course, the Non-Aligned Movement could have lost some of its old shine because the emancipation of the South was largely and widely achieved. Nuclear disbarment in the North between the then two superpowers was achieved somewhat; and the collapse of the USSR ended bipolarity.
In other words, globalisation and the permeating influence of finance and international trade brought new challenges.
Even so, it is not difficult to observe the reduced influence Zambia has on the continent due mainly to internal disparaging and re-writing of our own history to fit persons instead of the nation.
It must be borne in our minds that we are not a small nation, we are not a people to be ignored; we are not without a glorious history; we have no shortage of leadership, nor are we ill-equipped to rise again to levels known and shown in our history.
We were one of the first to lead political independence domestically and externally (1960s – 1990) and still, one of the first to lead economic independence at continental level (1991 to current). We are Zambia.