Tools of Political Change


It’s easy to become detachably idealistic. It’s easy to believe the world is black & white, and fail to spot the nuance – the grey patches. It’s very easy to pipe clichés and well rehearsed and naive twaddle that if we all love each other, living in harmony side by side, respecting each other, eeeverything will be okay. We’ll all be alright. We can just live peacefully amongst each other. Jew & Gentile, Christian & Muslim, Believer & Non- believer, Straight & gay, Black & White, This political faction & That political faction …. The trouble is sometimes, oftentimes, when people wield political power (or indeed any form of power), they can become greedy, autocratic, blind and deaf to the needs of others who do not have that power – be they the majority or otherwise.
And begin to abuse that power.
Far from the fictitious Animal farm – where some animals were ‘more equal than others’, in reality you can find land, wealth, advantage or some resource, assets or privilege subsisting only in the hands of a certain group, while another group suffers or is deprived such privilege / advantage. And after months, often years or even generations of activism, of peaceful means to rectify the situation, of marches, dialogue and reaching out, people run out of patience – and like a locust attack, certain brave people pick up arms or use violence to achieve their aims….Or get heard. And many times it works. There are too many examples in history to cite, from the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BC ( to the recent unrest in South Sudan.
So if we say there must not be violence to achieve political aims, after everything else has failed, or if we say that only ‘uncivilised’ – I wonder who gets the privilege of defining what is civilised / not civilised – and why we should listen to them?? – people fight or assert their claims using force, we are missing more than just an important trick.

My view is we are yielding to ignorance. But first let me inject some context:

According to Political Scientist Eric Wolf (1969), political violence is the illegitimate and unauthorized use of force to effect decisions against the will or desires of other people in the society’. Gurr (1970), another political scientist says political violence includes collective attacks within a political community against the political regime, its actors, competing political groups as well as incumbents or their policies.

In my view this is the kind of violence minority groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram propagate. TERROR, which we all agree is wrong.
But an Uprising or revolt is not equivalent to Terror. While the margins may be blurred, Revolution (or the momentum immediately preceding it), even if it firstly begins in small infrequent disparate bursts, is not Terrorism, and we are being dishonest if we equate the two.

Which brings me to Conflict Theory.

Since people have different interests, the potential and likelihood of divergent priorities is always present according to Conflict Theory. So some groups who find themselves dominating others by virtue of a society’s political power (including a monopoly on wealth, and privileges) will enjoy these at the expense of the less powerful. Conflict theorists believe that the power wielding groups incriminate the activities of the less powerful while they protect the activities of the powerful persons.
This is why in Africa we often lament why the big fish never get caught by the arm of the law, while it’s always the little guys who pay dearly.

Inevitably, such situations create violence. Conflict theorists believe that the masses are not bound to society by their shared values, but by coercion at the hands of those in power.

It’s what Karl Marx means when he argues that human history is all about this conflict, a result of the strong-rich exploiting the poor-weak, and that money is made through the exploitation of the worker.

This perspective emphasizes social control and deliberate social engineering, not consensus and conformity as would
be the case in a truly democratic setting. So in Conflict Theory, groups and individuals advance their own interests, struggling over control of societal resources. Those with the most resources exercise power over others, with inequality and power struggles resulting in violence …(Anderson and Taylor, 2009)

In other words violence is the political language of the oppressed. Violence can be legitimate ( )

Ok, so back to the examples (some successful, some not so successful) which WOULD NOT have yielded any result in peaceful dialogue, devoid of violence[in no particular order]:

1. Jewish Resistance during Nazi Rule ( )
2. Revolt against King Li of Zhou in 842 BC (
3. HENRY III who in 1264 was captured during the rebellion of barons, forcing him to set up a ‘Parlement’ at Westminster, the start of the House of Commons.
4. In 509 BC, a revolution in ancient Rome following the rape and subsequent suicide of the noblewoman Lucretia, resulted in the overthrow of the Roman monarchy and the establishment of the Roman Republic.
5. Oliver Cromwell, who was Lord Protector between 1653 – 1658 and declared Britain a Republic. After defeating the Royalists at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 and subsequently failing to reach constitutional reform with Charles I. Cromwell was a member of a ‘Special Commission’ that tried and condemned the king to death in 1649.
6. In Cuba, imagine if Fidel Castro tried to have dialogue with Fulgencio_Batista ( himself a revolutionary who overthrew the rule of Gerardo Machado)? Realistically, how successful would Castro have been?
7. Or lets take the black civil rights campaigns against racism in America, over the course of the history of the US, didn’t violence and reprisals bring focus to the issue?
8. How about the declaration of independence by the founding fathers of the united States in 1776? Would the United States have been realised if Jefferson and his friends tried to talk to the emissaries of King & Country (
9. Everywhere else from Haiti (, Afghanistan to Vietnam, dictatorship, oppression and tyranny has been fought, even recently during what some term ‘the Arab spring’ – despite the foreign arm visibly present – the people in north African countries rose against an inflexibility they couldn’t possibly engage by dialogue alone, or more correctly one they had failed to engage through dialogue alone.
10. In Malawi we had John Chilembwe, why didn’t he just try to talk with the colonialists – and not resort to an armed struggle as he did? Surely he was not stupid…he may not have been a great tactician ( he was no military hero) but he knew the language the oppressor would understand. The same things can be said about the anticolonial struggles across the continent, many of which utilised guerilla warfare.

I could go on and on, about the fall of the French Monarchy etc, but 10 examples are enough….

5 days ago a car was torched in London in anti-capitalist demonstrations . No one called them savages, or brutes or uncivilised. they were expressing themselves, and after the mess irresponsible Capitalism has done to the world over the centuries, in my view they were within their rights to react this way. Malcom X once said “Concerning nonviolence: It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself, when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks…” It was in relation to the civil rights struggle in the US and police brutality, but one might argue today that while the attacks from the ruling classes to the ruled are not literal in nature, they can take the form of policies which achieve ‘deprivation’, and must therefore be opposed with whichever means necessary.

Showing the powers that be that you are very angry, as a result of something they’ve done or failed to do even though it was their mandate, often after failure of dialogue or activism, is not mental slavery. Mental slavery is failing to recognise the tools you have available at your disposal, which can be used to force change, where it’s badly needed.

So this stoning of a ministers vehicle in Malawi, although a small event in comparison, is not such a brutal act as some would have you believe. In my view it’s an event in a microcosm that happens when already maligned people are ignored for too long. And maybe you must have been one of the oppressed to clearly understand…


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