This piece was first published by TELL Magazine of March 28,2011 and reproduced as a result of the recent #EndSARS Protests in Nigeria to create a consciousness of the import of peaceful protest as a universally accepted best practice for democratic development.Read on as presented by CHARLES ETUKA.
Popular protest is today sweeping across countries of North African and the Middle East. A people long suppressed and oppressed have risen up to break their chains. As they always do, despots are falling. What has long been thought impossible has come to pass. The people of North African and Middle East have rekindled the flame of revolution. Their courage, their sacrifice and their resilience have re-energised the forces of freedom and gave hope and inspiration to other still in chain.
Protest is the world’s universal religion. It is replacing prayers and in some cases complementing it. It has become humanity’s weapon to challenge injustice and to challenge power. The ability of a people to organize themselves, to rally and to march forward in solidarity or objection has become their practicable and effective source of salvation. Protest symbolises a society in labour and about to give birth. Protest is the physical practicalisation of the desires of the mind. It is the ideal in practice.
In the beginning of the last century, wave of protest swept across most of Eastern Europe and established the socialist system. It was a people’s revolt against capitalism and its attendant exploitation and repression. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, a new wave of protest overthrew the socialist dictatorships that ruled for over five decades. The Caucasus and Honneckers of the East fell to history. In 1979, the people of Iran also took the path of protest to free themselves from the infamy of the Shah. Three decades later, young people were on the streets in Iran protesting against the Islamic regime whom they accuse of rigging the 2007 June 12 election that they claim was won by the opposition leader Mosavi. The people of Philippines too embraced protest to weed their country of the corrupt government of Ferdinand Marcos. Of recent , Georgians and Ukrainians too have demonstrated the virility of people’s power. They came out and marched forward to free their country from the waste and corruption that was the government they ejected.
Some protests succeeded and some did not Notable of those that did not succeed was the 1989 prodemocracy protest in Tiananmen squared , Beijing with the use of brute force, the Chinese communist authorities brought in end to what could have ended the Marxist rule in that country. The intifada protests by Palestinians as called by their leader Yasser Arafat was also brought down by the lsraeli authorities.
The success of protest is dependent on a number of factors: the popularity of the cause : the number of people that turn out: the sustenance of the protest : the spirit of the protesters : their tenacity , consistency and resilience : the conviction and organizational skill of the leadership of the protesters : unwavering sacrifice and publicity.
Governments the world over respond to protest in a variety of ways. Dictatorial regimes out – rightly use brute force to kill and to maim protesters. Nine years ago , the monk – led pro democracy protest in Burma against the country’s military yunta was forcefully suppressed by the used of firepower and arrests . Nigeria’s former military regimes use the same approach in dealing with workers, activists and students challenging their authority to govern without consent.
Democracy regimes use minimal force. They act cautiously out of either respect for the constitutional rights of citizens to protests or out of fear of the consequences of such action . However , it is most common for all governments to use other mischievous approach to try to put down protests: massive propaganda against protesters or making use of rented crown to counter protesters .
Violent protest comes with a heavy price on both sides while non- violent protest comes with a heavy price on the side of the protesters . The authority moves to suppress protest by maiming and killing of protesters, those who live to tell the tales end up behind bars. Notable non – violent protesters that paid with their lives were . Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nigeria’s Ken Saro – Wiwa . They are martyrs whose blood nourished their cause and set their people free.
Sub – Saharan Africa like Arab North and Europe will someday economic symptoms of a society due for revolution through people’s power have become prevalent. Most government in north Africa that are today to popular uprising are out- rightly tyrannical, while most governments in Sub – Saharan Africa are bogus democracies. Other than social indices of abject poverty,hunger,diseases,illiteracy, and general decadence,most countries in sub-saharan Africa are ruled by corrupt,self-serving,inept clientele regimes that came to power through massive rigging of periodic elections and systemic suppression of the opposition.
Cameroun, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Zimbabwe, Eritrea are all ripe for people’s protest. Leaders of such nations rule for life and are determined to exterminate all opposition to sustain their regimes ‘ hold on power. The major impediment to achieving a mass upheaval against governments and their policies in Nigeria and other black Africa is the institutionalized use of divisive strategy and entrenched divisive tendencies that deter a common resolve and common action from the side of the people. The ruling class or the ruling establishment, and other beneficiary structures of power, exploit the ethnic and religious diversity of the people to deter a common action. Poverty, corruption and bad governance ought to prompt people to take to the street in Sub-Saharan African, but hardly will people from the same ethnic or tribal group of the president or ruler take part.
Traditional rulers and religious clerics play a role in neutralizing the culture of protest in sub-Saharan Africa. Most religious leaders hide under the banner of preaching ‘love,’ peace; ‘brotherliness; respect for authorities’ thereby giving spiritual comfort to people in power. They encourage and promote fatalism among the people thus neutralizing dissent. As for traditional rulers, they have over the years proven to be an effective instrument for any government in power to discourage any act of mass resistance against injustice and repression. They are father of the nation’ who hardly speak whenever the right of their children are abused. In most countries where the executive arm of government has neutralized the parliament or where the opposition have been compromised or are too weak or opportunistic to safeguard democratic ideals, and curtail the excesses of the government, non-violent- protest are inevitable and indispensable option.
Shehu Sani is president, Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria