Map of Malawi Northern Region

The campaign for a political federation is gaining grass root ground in the North, and I gather it has the blessing of some political figures in the Centre.  My understanding is that when a contrary political cause is gathering unexpected momentum, and attracting constantly increasing grass root loyalty, it threatens the existing system, and its guardians are compelled to get into counteractive action to neutralize the threat. In most cases, the counteractive action becomes counterproductive as it usually fuels up the contrary movement to uncontrollable levels. This is because counteractive political methods are usually implemented with desperation and fear of the unknown.

 

It is along this view that I share my views, not to support or denounce the federal movement, but to answer the question, “what must be the response of the public and government to the federation movement?” considering that if we respond incautiously the movement has the potential of giving government lasting headaches for the next four years of this tenure, and reinforce damage to the already dislocated regional and tribal relations.

 

I am going to use a Biblical reference of a similar situation where a new contrary religious movement with political implications gave rise to panic among religious and political leaders, and they had to confront the question, ‘what must we do with these men?’  

The Bible is a book of politics as much as it is a religious book. There is so much political wisdom in the Bible that our politicians would draw from if only they discovered its richness. After all, we claim to be a God fearing Nation, so much that we even think we are a Christian Nation, so why not learn from the politics in the Holy Bible?

I have extracted my reference from the book of Acts 5 from verse 12 to 40. The incidence in this text occurs in the first century AD. It concerns the very genesis of the Christianity movement, which faced huge rejection and persecution backed by the very headquarters of the Jewish politics and religion in Jerusalem. When Jesus had resurrected and ascended to heaven, between 30 and 33 AD, his disciples led by Peter, the outspoken of them all, began to teach about his resurrection and accused the Jewish leadership of crucifying him. They began to heal in His name, and performed miracles. Every day, the number of their followers swelled, and this worried the Jewish leadership.  One time, the High Priest, and the sect of Sadducees grabbed Peter and his fellow apostles and locked them up in Prison to silence them and kill their Gospel movement (5:17), which posed great political threat to them. But in the depth of the night an angel of God opened the prison bars and released them.  When morning came, the High Priest, the Council and Senate of the children of Israel had gathered for the hearing, and officers went to get them out of prison, they found them not there, and news came that they were preaching in the Temple. Without caring to know how exactly they had escaped from the heavily guarded prison, the captain and some officers with him, went and got them out of Temple. They were brought to the council where the High Priest quizzed them with some difficult questions. At the end of the hearing, the angry council decided to slay the disciples for the seemingly rude answers which accused them of murdering Jesus Christ.

 

 But just in time, rose the great Gamaliel, (5:34) whose counsel had great political insights that served the council from committing a grave political blunder.

Who was this Gamaliel? Gamaliel was a Doctor of Law and a Rabbi or Professor, with a great reputation across Israel. He was also a Pharisee, and therefore a politician of the Pharisaic Party. The Pharisaic Party had representation in the Great Sanhedrin which was the embodiment of the ancient Jewish Judiciary and the Supreme religious institution. Gamaliel was the president of the Sanhedrin between the periods of 25 to 50 AD, and the first Rabbi and President of the Council to be called “Rabban,” meaning “our Rabbi” which was a high ranking title only for presidents the highest religious council.

Activities of the Sanhedrin were political, judicial and religious. A total assembly of the Sanhedrin was compromised of 70 representatives from the political Parties including the High Priest. In our unitary republic system, the Sanhedrin could be the combination of both the Judicial and Legislative arms of Government which are head by the Chief Justice and Speaker of Parliament respectively, into one body with one head.  

One of the notable historic achievements of Gamaliel is that he was the Professor of Paul, or Saul of Tarsus whom he also recruited into the Pharisaic Party. But Paul abandoned politics on his way to Damascus, the Capital of Syria in about 36 AD and became an Apostle and according to exegetical understanding of Biblical narratives, Paul is the father and founder of Christianity. Much of his apostolic teachings and behaviour were influenced by the political and legal background he received from the one Gamaliel, like the way Paul would use his dual citizenship to escape trial or persecution.

 The Pharisaic Party had minority representation but controlled much of the decisions of the Sanhedrin because it was loved by the common people and commanded a huge following among them, unlike the aristocratic Sadducee’s Party which held majority seats but lacked grass root sympathy. One advantage of the Pharisees to which Gamaliel belonged was that they had both, the Political and religious ideologies, while the Sadducees were only concerned more with politics.

 

So what did this legendary Gamaliel, Professor of Law do, or said, that morning while the rest were making plans and strategies ready to silence the apostolic movement and its leadership? The professor rose and said to the people of Israel and the council, “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it;” (acts 5:38-39 KJV)

 

Why did Professor Gamaliel give this instruction? His instruction had both, political and religious considerations; politically, the Pharisaic Party was a liberal democratic Party, unlike the Sadducees Party which was conservative. The case before them was a test to the democracy of his Party, and the Professor had to take a liberal step to save the face of his Party, and make an unprecedented tolerant and democratic move. The apostolic movement was already gathering support among some commoners, and fighting against it, would make the Pharisaic Party lose its grass root support among common people who had joined the movement, or at least saw nothing wrong with the movement, despite not joining it. And remember that as a minority Party in Sanhedrin, the only strength the Pharisaic Party had, was the support of common people.

 

The second political consideration was that the Professor knew that the Apostles were already accusing the Sanhedrin, including members of his Pharisaic Party of intolerance towards the teaching of Christ and of His murder or crucifixion. This was a chance for Gamaliel to disassociate himself and his Pharisaic Party from the accusations of intolerance and clearing the Party from the past of crucifying Jesus Christ, by granting the Apostles their democratic freedom, to carry on with their movement, hoping they would fail naturally, just like Theudas, (5:36)  and Judas of Galilee (5:37) after him.  

 

Religiously, Gamaliel knew that God is the author of history; he knew God is an active player in the politics of the world, and he builds empires and destroys them at will. There is no political system that exists and prevails unless that which God has approved of. Experience, had told the Professor, that no matter how much you fight against someone, or their cause, even if you imprison them, – the way Peter and his fellow disciples were jailed, if they are from God they will still prosper and their court cases will vanish. Therefore, the Professor resolved, not take it personal with the disturbing Apostolic movement and its leaders, but give them freedom to prosper or fail at God’s own appointment, without endangering the image of his Pharisaic Party, with biased interference. 

……..TO BE CONTINUED

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