Healing a nation through apology and reconciliation.Part 2
Having recommended that, as a first step toward healing the divisions caused by partisan politics, Caribbean political leaders should apologize to each other and to the general population for past conduct on the campaign trail, we now examine forgiveness and reconciliation as the next steps in this process.
Portia Simpson-Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica, referred to Andrew Holness, the political leader of the opposition party, as her “son” at the end of the recently concluded budget debate in Jamaica’s Parliament. A bruising political campaign had been waged between these two leaders in the weeks before the general elections in December 2011. Many political commentators across the Caribbean region were therefore elated by Mrs. Simpson-Miller’s affectionate reference to the Opposition leader since they saw this as the beginning of forgiveness in Jamaican politics.
According to psychologist Frederic Luskin, ‘genuine forgiveness removes the barrier created by the offense and opens the door to restoring trust over time.’ He suggests a 9-step approach to forgiveness the effect of which is that the parties who have been hurt will not continually relive the conflict situations that caused the breach but will instead put their energy into looking for other ways to get their positive goals met. Perhaps “Sister P”, as Mrs. Simpson-Miller is fondly referred to by her supporters, has taken a step along the road to forgiveness by this act. However, such acts cannot take place in isolation if we are to move past forgiveness to reconciliation.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated that “reconciliation is the most natural thing in the world. But it is also a complicated thing.” Political reconciliation took place in Northern Ireland, in South Africa and is being urged for Iraq—all countries in which partisanship claimed thousands of lives and in which there was a long history of violence by one group against the other. What is necessary for reconciliation is a plan—a reconciliation plan. It cannot be ad hoc. Earlier this year in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalves offered, as part of the process of reconciliation, to withdraw certain High Court judgments which he had obtained against the leader as well as another member of the opposition party. His offer was scoffed at because it was thought to have been made simply to score political points (since it was made in the course of the debate on that country’s budget) and it was made in isolation—there was no indication that it was the first of a number of steps in this “process” and in fact many wondered to what “process’ he was referring!
[bquote]“reconciliation is the most natural thing in the world. But it is also a complicated thing.”[/bquote]
In the writers’ opinion, talks about reconciliation must take place at a national level. Communication between the political leaders themselves as well as between the leaders and the members of their party, their supporters and the wider society will be vital to any successful step in the direction of healing and eventual reconciliation. By choosing to communicate, leaders for instance will be expected to listen deeply to each other and to try not to be judgmental or critical. Consequently, this method of communication will assist parties to pin-pointing the origins and causes of the continuous partisan political conflict. Furthermore, discussions ought to aid the parties in the realization of common goals, which should enable them to agree to work together to realize the common goals.
There are many who despair that reconciliation can never take place and who predict that the chasms that divide communities and the nation will only get bigger. Some point to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in Grenada which was set up in 2001 (to deal with the 1983 murder of Maurice Bishop) and which did not present its report until 2006 and say that reconciliation is a lengthy and ultimately unsatisfactory exercise. But what then do we make of Nadia Bishop’s 2009 apology to those who had been hurt by her father’s action, her offer of forgiveness to the men who were imprisoned for the murder of her father and her call for reconciliation in Grenadian society? Perhaps the lesson is that we must persevere and eventually, sometimes unwittingly, reconciliation will come.
What we must all hasten to do as members of Caribbean societies is take responsibility for making this reconciliation happen. No-one is going to come to save us. We have to save ourselves. We must bear in mind that to be successful this process must, according to Michelle Maiese, “integrate civil society in all efforts and include all levels of society in the post-conflict strategy. All society members, from those in elite leadership positions, to religious leaders, to those at the grassroots level, have a role to play in building a lasting peace.” Let us each step up and play our role.