Revolution and Violence: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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ACCRA — African countries who have not been affected by mass political and social unrest like to believe they are peaceful and nonviolent. They are very often hailed by the international community as models for others who have seen violence, especially in sub Saharan Africa. This idea may be a delusional trip that needs to be seriously looked into. Ironically, violence in these so called peaceful countries is not completely absent and unlikely as the socioeconomic conditions of the people continue to worsen.

One important thing that these group of countries need to realise is that if they should plunge into violence, they are likely to come out worse off than those who have for over a longer period of time, seen violence in past. Short term unrest and violence in countries like Rwanda, while one would always wish it had not happened, has paved the way for stronger civil society and a prosperous economy. Whereas a country like Ghana continues to tolerate corruption in the form of long seating colonial pacifism and yet claims to be a peaceful nonviolent country.

I am not making a case of pointing the positives in Rwanda or countries like Nigeria where Boko Haram is violently displacing and killing people but I also do think it is naive if not completely disastrous for Ghanaians to think they are better than other African countries just because they endure hardship and foreigners, especially Europeans, can walk freely in the country and go back and praise them. Further along this line, we generally should not advocate for violence but if it becomes inevitable, we would definitely prefer it as a system changing shake-up: a short term with a clear political agenda, paving the way for a new violence-free and prosperous future. But this dwindling pacifism or nonviolence, which allows outsiders to freely take resources while the people suffer the harshest economic and social hardships and the leaders are tapped on the shoulder with a bogus tag of being the most peaceful and nonviolent people, continue to get people drunk.

Being peaceful and nonviolent to me, means a conscious attempt at a commitment never to initiate violence in any situation or in any form, which always means there are other alternatives in place for solving the same set of problems that one does not wish to solve with violence. Furthermore, having said that, in a situation where violence, be it psychological, physical or of any kind is used against me, I should always retain the right to respond appropriately in self-defence, to the best of my ability. Now though it is clear that appropriate response is often hard to measure, what is important here is that I seek not to disproportionately use more violence than was used against me, especially in the context of the same neighbourhood with small arms involved.

However, this is only possible if the leaders understood the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which unfortunately, leaders of African countries do not understand; hence their ability to indiscriminately procure small arms. To understand MAD means to know that procuring small arms inevitably means you can only fight your immediate neighbour and you will not be free from the consequences too because either you could receive tons of refugees or some of the people you provided arms for may defect to fight you.

 

Nonviolence versus Pacifism

Though I argue that the Ghanaian has been pacified by colonial taming and grooming instead of his/her self-possessed nonviolence, I am not saying that nonviolence is better than pacifism or vice versa. In fact, they can both be applied positively or negatively. Over the past centuries of political struggles in various parts of the world, the difference between nonviolence and pacifism has come to be fundamentally characterized as nonviolence being a strategic and/or tactical resistance and response to state induced violence while pacifism has come to mean a sort of principled or philosophical vision or decision not to resort to violence. What further describes the differences between the two is that nonviolence is understood and applied more reactionary or in resistance context while pacifism is understood and applied in a preventive manner.

Herein lies another defining difference between the two, which underpins the issue concerning countries like Ghana. That is, while people may choose to be pacifists, one can also be pacified both physically and mentally by an exogenous factor-such as various forms of colonialisms, which is the case for countries like Ghana. Pacifism can simply be induced by a brainwash underlined by a deep seating fear of agitation, self hate and love for an outside party that may even be contributing to one’s own deprecation. Therein lie the defining argument this piece rests on.

Ghanaians, often cited by the international community with little flattering complements of how mostly the country has over the past half a century, recorded relatively low account of politically motivated violence. The relevant question here is: have Ghanaians chosen by themselves, not to resort to violence in their bid to solve their continuously deteriorating plight? Colonial indoctrination and years of violent coup de tats have instilled fear of violence of all kind in the people. It has pacified Ghanaian people into thinking any kind of resort to use of force must be rejected. However, there are several ways that force or just threat of its use, can be used to achieve a lot.

Slavery, colonization and military violent power takeovers of post independence Africa are all part of the pacification process because after instilling in them the idea that Europeans are near-God creatures against whom they cannot expect anything else than good, they were taught that they can only solve their problems or get the best out of their children by using the whip. In essence, they are not nonviolent but rather, colonial thinking has stratified their thoughts to apply violence only when it does not serve them right. Think about how an army officer or a police officer can just walk into his own community and maltreat people while he is ready to do everything, including lay down his own life to save a visiting tourist from Europe.

Similarly, even if the a Ghanaian, Togolese or Nigerian want to go on a protest match, the amount of force the police is ready to use against him makes the idea that Ghanaians are nonviolent laughable. In reality, the people are violent, what they cannot do is to collectively channel it to their own benefit. Over the years, deterrence has proven over centuries to be a potent force in achieving political ends.

The mindset allows them to militarize but it only allows them to think of small firearms and not intercontinental missiles; thus allowing them to use pockets of violence on a micro level against their brothers and sisters and not against any real outside threat; an extended colonially imposed pacifism that allows former colonial powers to siphon wealth and natural resources out of the country.

In 2013, an US filmmaker made a documentary film about how weak small players of the Texas oil industry have been cheating Ghana since it discovered oil. Rachel Boynton’s film “Big Men” revealed alarming deals and images reminiscent of colonial days. Ghanaian “Big Men” who only scream on their loyal wives at home, being subjected to horrendous deals that allow young western tycoons to take the wealth of Ghana with no consequences whatsoever. What they have then tended to call their resort to nonviolence in reality, turns out to be a serious trivialization of the harm done to them over a longer period of time.

They fail to see the irony and confusion involved in their quest to become rich like western nations. For example, a country like Ghana has moved to the brink of collapse within a short time of having reached unprecedented economic growth. This irony and confusion in the country is underlined by the fact that while they claim to be practicing western type democracy, conservative look-alike parties provide some “decent” social initiatives the country has seen in a long time while the social democratic tending parties stifle the poorest of the population and rid them of rarest subsidy provided by the conservative look-alike.

How do you expect to achieve anything with nonviolence here when even a protest cannot be organized without being aligned to political parties; parties who are more confused than the masses? On a short term, it’s good for the people to keep telling themselves that they are peaceful and nonviolent while things continue to remain in its deteriorating nature.

But for how long? On a long run, one can only wish and pray that since systems have the ability to evolve on their own, the evolution in Ghana’s case, or better in Africa’s case should lean towards the positive (i.e. the knowledge of self). Hence as passive and pacifist as the people have become, any sign of a revolutionary change will merely kill scores of people and turn back to a similar situation, maybe even worse, in its mediate aftermath.

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. Here is a bold view by Audu Salisu. The theme begins rather painfully but systematically paints a very interesting empirical conjecture. That of, the performance of violence towards one another as Africans, yet the lack of a similar verve and burst of energy – that is perhaps even necessary for our survival – towards the real oppressor.
    We lash our children into reciting passages about the Gauls; maim some even, if they cannot speak English; the police bring their power to bear on the ordinary citizens and even our own soldiers turn on the very nation they must protect and serve. Such show of force and courage is ever absent in our dealings with the imperialists and neo-colonialists, however!
    This is one will startle… let us know what you think.

  2. It’s a fair criticism. I will take it even further. We the men of this continent are pusillanimous cowards. And we carry this pussillanimity to untoward excess in beating our dear wives even! We carry this cowardice to NYC, London and Paris and buy big homes for our big buttocksed white chicks without any feeling of failure and shame.

    Still, the rest of us men sit idly by, stand woefully soft, as these monkeys loot our nations and carry our mothers to their untimely graves. What a pusillanimous continent in the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Even Yaa Asantewaa would have committed suicide if she saw the men of this nation today. She would have wished she never existed. Pueeerrr!

  3. For how long… and my brother Audu Salisu resorting to mystics as intervention? So you see the combined force behind all this, whereby the state of helplessness, implies the ability to strengthen one super natural connection, which both the elite and the illiterate are victim to this kind of psychological doctrine and brain washing. Is the bedrock of where we are as at now.

    Now to make a headway we need a leader to scrutinise religious doctrines and it institutions; with such ambitious steps, will be assume to be a dictatorship regime.

    Since No one want to be labeled wicked for a good and justifiable course. Furthermore no leader want to be a messiah for a change but a business man for his family then your write-up will be part of narrated stories for the library.
    However congrat fellow

  4. My dear Akosua M. Abeka, all the neo-colonialists I know are Africans. When an African inherits a colonial state and does not transform it but uses the power of the state to brutalize and oppress his own people, he is the neo-colonialist. A neo-colonialist is just the new unchallenged power ruling a former colony. The neo-colonialist who removes accountability and elections from the equation and becomes President-For- Life or Imperial King is the Imperialist. All our enemies are within. There are no real imperialists and neo-colonialists outside anywhere. I don’t think externalizing our problems will bring any relief. At least the past 6 decades have not inspired such thought. Kind regards.

  5. Dear Nii Amu Darko this comment seriously undermines the pinnacle of real politik. Realism, which dominates the anarchical international system with no supra national power, simply feeds on the idea that one should go out there and take what they can… I think one of the factors contributing to our detriment is seeing outsiders not as enemies and rather thinking a “laundry we should wash behind close doors” as our real problems. What you outline here as real problems is something that everyone deals with. from rigging elections for Bush to Medmedev and Putin trading the powerful seats on Russia. Americans have all kind s of problems at home but the real enemy and threat remains the non US citizen

  6. Our basic philosophy at home teaches us that the louse is always within.
    If you think the louse is without, I have no problem, search for it and kill it. If you think the effect of rigging (whatever that means) for Bush on the US is the same as Mobutu stashing his country’s wealth in Europe or Abacha stealing over $4b of Nigeria ‘ s money then I have really undermined the pinnacle of real politik, whatever that means. Charlie later.

  7. I’m not in anyway saying the Abacha and Mobutu problems are small problems or should not be solved… Its about how to solve it. I would prefer internal solutions are sought within our context for example. there are cases of Africans going to AU courts and getting justice, for example. How about more confidence in the courts and taking full advantage of them? My fear lies with the central point of your comment, which is ” All our enemies are within”. It scares me.

  8. o why bring in Bush, Putin and Med – whatever? Yes, the louse is always within. If that scares you then I have really undermined the pinnacle of real politik. It’s important to follow someone’s point carefully. There was a suggestion that the real imperialists and neo – colonialists are without. I disagreed with that point of view and I stated mine. You haven’t disputed my point but you came with an oblique post comparing the desolation of Africa by its leaders to some funny events in US and Russia. Now, you are on another tangential brief – AU courts. Me, I don’t know anything about them. Take home message – the louse is always within. That is what my illiterate grandmother taught me. Cheers buddy.

  9. Teachings like “the louse is always within” is one side of a coin. The other side of the coin is “black peoples will always love outsiders and suspect themselves”.

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