It takes moral values to build a stable, peaceful and prosperous nation

 

 

 

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Proverbs 14: 34

 

Moral values are the foundation on which nations are built, and no society is exempted from this fact. Moral values are not a luxury for nations, they are an absolute necessity. This is the reason: what we value in life determines what we do and the kind of relationships we have with each other. What we do and the quality of relationships that we have determine the quality of the society we build. The quality of the society we build determines the quality of the life we live: miserable of happy, conflict-filled or peaceful.

 

If we value violence, we will be violent individuals. Violent individuals make a violent people and, for sure, a violent nation and a violent government. In fact, the government must be more violent than its people to survive, or the people must be more violent than their government to put an end to their plight of living under a violent government.  That culture of violence makes victims and produces emotional wounds among the people; and this makes it easy for violence to be perpetuated through revenge or crime repetition. On the other hand, pacifist individuals make a peaceful people and, therefore, a peaceful nation and a peaceful government. Who we are as individuals determines what kind of country we live in and what kind of government we get.

 

I know that things are not as simple and clear-cut as that, there are many other factors behind the state of a nation. The life of a nation also depends on external conditions which sometimes shape its history. However, the state of the people remains the most determining factor. External pressures are either heightened by internal weaknesses or weakened by internal strength. This is why two different peoples can react differently when submitted to similar external conditions. Who we are as individuals, families and local communities plays a huge role in shaping our future as a nation-state.

 

Let us take a concrete case. Our constitution stipulates that all the citizens must contribute to the economic progress of their country (article 74), which implies at least two things: (1) hard work to increase production and (2) faithfulness in terms of fiscal responsibilities. And for this to be, there are at least two moral values which are required: hard work and honesty. If you have lazy citizens, the national production will be affected. Moreover, if you have dishonest producers, they will provide false information to pay less taxes, and the national revenue will be affected.

 

Beyond this rather general observation, there is a more practical implication. Those who have political power can drag the country in one direction or another, depending on the decisions they make. This is why in democratic regimes; the power of decision makers is limited by laws and other state institutions. But, the respect of the law requires a certain number of moral values. Without a sense of fairness or with a huge amount of selfishness, laws can be easily broken. By implication, we can assert that good laws are not enough if there is no inner moral strength to respect them. That which justifies the necessity of the law can also cause its violation.

 

To illustrate this point, I will use two cases taken from the constitution of the Republic of Burundi. When I read the constitution of my country, I find very good commands of which the application requires a certain number of moral values. For example, it is said that leaders respect people’s rights. But, let us admit it, this is only possible with leaders who have a sense of respect of the other and a spirit of service which places the interest of the citizens above one’s own interests. We can have a very good constitutional recommendation, but if a leader is selfish and does not respect other people, he or she can abuse the power invested in him or her to accumulate money or power. It is not enough to have good laws, there must also be good people whose character is compatible with the spirit of those laws.

 

In our constitution, it is also said that top leaders in the hierarchy of the executive power, namely the President of the republic and the two vice-presidents, swear before exercising power, using these words:

 

Before the people of Burundi, the only owners of national sovereignty, I (he puts his name), President of the Republic of Burundi, swear to be faithful to the Charter of National Unity, to the Constitution of the Republic of Burundi and to the law, to do my best to defend the higher interests of the nation, to ensure unity and cohesion, peace and social justice among the population of Burundi. I commit to fight against any ideology and practice that foster genocide or exclusion, to promote and defend personal and collective rights and freedom of the individual and citizen, and to uphold the integrity and independence of the Republic of Burundi. Article 106.

 

 

 

This oath is so deep that only someone who has a high sense of honesty and integrity can comply with it, especially in a context like ours where the executive power literally dominates the judiciary power[1]. When you have a population which ignores the constitution (its rights and obligations, the limits of the power of decision makers, etc.) at a rate of more than 80%, with a judiciary system which is submissive to the executive power, you need an exceptionally a high sense of good and bad and a strong moral inner strength to remain faithful to this oath. Legal barriers are so weak that the temptation will be too strong. Unfortunately, that moral strength is not conferred to leaders through electoral victory, marching on red carpets or impressing motorcades. A liar remains a liar, a thief remains a thief, even after such an oath has been publicly taken. Ceremonies do not change who we are, and that is not their role.

 

Whatever we do, we cannot do without values, if we really want a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation. Yet, the Arusha Agreement, the Constitution and the Vision 2025 – three documents which paints the picture of what the people of Burundi want to become (if we consider that the writers of those documents represented the deepest aspirations of the people of Burundi) say nothing concerning this non-negotiable factor in nation building. Consequently, the physical materialization of the picture of the desired country that those documents paint is simply impossible without a minimum of moral commonality.

 

Who we are imposes limits on what we can achieve. We will not reach spectacular achievements in spite of us, but with us and because of us. What we will achieve will be a picture of who we are. We cannot do better than what people like us can do. Nothing comes by improvisation; every fruit has a seed that produces it and from which it inherits its essence. At this point, we have another hurting thorn in our boots: hypocrisy. We like to give a good image of ourselves, even when we are behaving irresponsibly or in a criminal manner. We enjoy finding good names for our offenses, and whitewashing our weaknesses. We like to trivialize et justify our weaknesses so well that those who try hard to live morally right lives are perceived as going too far.

 

We have a subjective and unfair way of judging people. For years, we have been learning to honor liars as long as they belong to our group – especially if we benefited from their lies. We have been learning to justify their bad choice, simply because we were co-beneficiaries of their criminal acts, or by identity association.  We have been learning to demonize those of groups other than our own, and to exonerate criminals of our own groups. We have developed a biased moral scale, able to nullify the evil of our people and to amplify that of others.

 

Our verdicts do not represent objective reality, they do not really depend on what people do, but on the social, religious or political distance between us and them. A Christian easily sees the misdeeds of a Muslim, but will find it hard to see those of a fellow Christian – and vice versa. The crimes of a political leader are justified or condemned depending on whether he is from our camp or from the opponents’ group. With this culture of a double standards, we water the poison which destroys us as long as it comes from our people, and we condemn innocent people if they are mentally associated with those that we perceive as “others”.

 

With this abnormal perception of good and evil, we have reinforced the culture of factions by widening the social, economic and political gaps inherited from colonization. We have strengthened the spirit of antagonism and criminal heroism (or heroin criminality)[2], thus filling the country with crimes that are celebrated by some and condemned by others. Had we built a firm ethic and an objective sense of good and evil which does not depend on emotional, political or social connections, we would have been able to uphold national unity. Without values, even a people which is historically known for its unity can be scattered around and fight against itself.  Besides, our long history of impunity stems from this moral subjectivity.

 

Today, as we look back across these 56 years since independence, we see a history full of enough failures to help us understand that we are on the wrong path. We still have the capacity to build the nation we desire, but we first must develop a culture of objective morality. We must learn to condemn evil regardless of its author. We have no other choice, this is a must. As long as we support cheating in schools, we will get it everywhere. And with a culture of cheating (elections, public fund management, legislation, employee-employer relations, etc.), these good slogans of peace, reconciliation, unity and development will have to wait our death before they become reality, if the country manages to have a better generation after us.

 

I understand that no one is perfect, and that we will never have perfect leaders or a population which is totally above reproach. However, this does not exonerate us from the necessity of seeking the best always. The fact that we cannot fly does not mean that we should crawl. At least, we can walk, and even run. Inherent human imperfection does not give us the right to lay our destiny in the hands of dishonesty, selfishness, greed and violence. What is at stake here is extremely important -  that is, our own lives, the lives of our children and the future of our people. There are good things that are possible and which we fully deserve. But to get them, you and I must develop a culture of objective ethics in us and around us. This will surely take time, but the investment if worth the effort.  

 



[1] To unedrstand this more, refer to Aimé Parfait Niyonkuru’s article, « 

 « L’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire Burundais vis-à-vis de l’exécutif »

[2] By this concept, I mean that, by creating antagonistic factions, we have created the necessity of having leaders who defend the survival and prosperity of groups separately. But since we make up one people, we have created enemies within the family. And, to defend a group, we have inflected pain on other groups. For the defended group, that is heroic while it is criminal for the victims of our acts. It thus becomes very difficult or simply impossible to have heroes who are celebrated by all. Those who are celebrated as heroes by one group are loathed by the other as criminals; and this furthers the divisions within the family.