How often have you heard that history is written by the victors? Thanks to this flawed academic approach, our children are taught about world wars, regional conflicts, ethnic violence, dynasties and empires.
Judging by this pedagogy we can easily conclude that might is right and violence is the best weapon to bring change and overthrow despotic and corrupt regimes. We glorify violence and consider Gandhi’s non-violence approach to freedom as a once-off experiment peculiar and particular to the great man.
Yet the history of non-violence is far more interesting and inspiring but rarely taught to our children. Besides, it has been a more successful means of bringing lasting change and more peaceful outcomes to conflicts.
Non-violent action is ‘people power’ but since history is rarely written from the perspective of those at the bottom of the pile then these struggles are rarely documented. We are so accustomed to view life from the perspective of those at the top and so addicted to violent solutions that theologians have even developed a just war theory that permits violent action as a last resort.
There is an inherent belief in society that violence is still necessary and beneficial to maintain stability and defeat our so-called enemies.
Yet in the last half century we have witnessed the emergence of people power movements around the globe that have overthrown regimes and given freedom and democracy to billions.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s each week brought success stories of non-violence. In South Africa the racist Apartheid regime was forced to the discussion table not by the armed wing of the ANC but by the massive resistance of the oppressed population.
In 1989 alone thirteen nations comprising of 1.7 billion people or 25% of the world’s population experienced non-violent revolutions. These countries were not just Eastern European ones but also Brazil, Chile and the Baltic States.
Are the lessons from these countries found in the history books of our children? When we include the countries like Philippines, Mongolia and Algeria and more recently Tunisia we realise that over half of humanity have witnessed nonviolent, peaceful political change in the past half century. Isn’t that great news but who knows it? We are at the point where we could abolish war if we wanted but that would not be tolerated by arms industry or the superpowers of today.
The world may have abolished slavery, colonialism and cannibalism but there are always new threats emerging. The West for the most part is losing its mission of mercy in its failure to respect and receive refugee families and children. In all of this the active nonviolence of people power is required to discover new ways of resisting new evil and defending the weak.
Last week we celebrated the 28th anniversary of Saba Saba; that too was a people’s revolt against Kanu dictatorship and launched the process of the democratisation of Kenya. However, apart from populist protests around general elections, Kenyans have not been able to mobilise the public in large numbers around any issue of governance ever since. Mass action has been demonised and the police usually use violent means to disrupt any form of protest.
Street protests as a result have been reserved for the hardcore, the professional protestors and the organisation left to civil society organisations. Despite constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right to protest and picket, Kenyans have been intimidated and cowed.
When was the last time you took part in a protest? What we get instead are reactionary angry and occasionally violent protests by the poor over demolitions, evictions and excessive rates and rents. These are usually spontaneous, poorly coordinated and rarely bring the desired results.
However, state intimidation and heavy handedness breeds resistance and that mostly expresses itself in violent protest because it appears that every other avenue has been closed. Does that not explain the spate of school arson attacks all over the country?
Boarding schools have outlived their usefulness but that has not been acknowledged by the Ministry of Education. However, students usually have genuine grievances when they riot, but no one is listening to their complaints.
Schools burnt to the ground are the outcome of a failed education system. Isn’t it time that was acknowledged and that serious thought be invested in a system that not only teaches the 3Rs but also good citizenship that includes active non-violence as a means to address grievances and bring about change? We have no other choice at this stage.
- [email protected] @GabrielDolan1