For millennia, societies have confronted oppressive rule with revolutionary action, rewriting, in many cases, the entire history of peoples, nations, and regions. From the Servile Wars in Sicily and Italy to the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Levant, humankind has proven that living in subservience, where the law of the elite justifies disregard for human dignity, contradicts the very project of humanity, which is to experience life in boundless freedom and to aspire for things even greater than the self. While the revolutionary flame burns in the minds of those who desire freedoms of any kind, there remains, however, an eternal presence of oppression in human society. Eternally trapped in the specter of Malthus’s absolute scarcity, humans are wont to be aggressive competitors over resources for the enabling of their endless wants. The result is the temporary triumph of the strong few, who, feeding on the weakness of the many, exploit all avenues of production and reproduction for the sole purpose of enlarging their barns while ensuring the perpetual servitude of the working lot.
In the African experiment with the nation-state, this situation has never been more provocatively visible. Forever banished to the lowest rung of civilization through the utter exploitation of both the material, mental, and spiritual jewels of her soil, Africa’s people, in their staggering majority, remain in constant confrontation with the scarcity of even the most basic of human needs. And while the root of this dehumanization extends to the three corners of the communo-capitalist world, the most visible hand of oppression is the so-called leadership that the continent has inherited from its colonial oppressors. Sons and daughters of the soil, themselves constrained by the need to masturbate the capitalist desires of the West as well as the conniving exploitation of the East, become the monstrous paintings on the walls of our commonwealths. In the name of democracy, they are window dressing ornaments of our freedom, the very edifices of our oppression unchecked.
In Cameroon, for example, a sixty-year-old trial on democracy has yielded nothing more than a double succession of autocracy, dictatorship, kleptocracy, and octogenarian rule. This with the enabling support of French, English, German, American, and Chinese interests. While the ordinary citizen remains eternally disenfranchised and in abject economic jeopardy, the elite few celebrate over fattened bottles of champagne as they scramble over crumbs of leftover oil and gas, cocoa and coffee, or timber and various subsoil minerals. But the joys of the oppressor are usually short-lived. For, as we have seen over time, the majority becomes overwhelmed by their sorrow, and in an attempt to break free, they clamber upon the chains that have kept them captive, bringing to the knee any fist that held such objects of oppression in place. Hence, to the African and the Cameroonian who, humbled by the suffering of the self and their compatriot, is emboldened by the desire to pursue freedom, we offer the following doctrine for conducting revolutionary action:
Targeting the Symbolic
This step involves identifying (to demolish or reform) the edifices of unproductive power and oppression, in which case these are the institutions and institutionalized traditions that have promoted the perpetuity of oppressive tendencies by one group against another. These would be different across nations and regions but would include and not be limited to such establishments as judicial, economic, political, religious, and educational practices.
Targeting the symbolic also means reaching out for the strategic. On the one hand, give soul and meaning to your cause through symbolic disengagement with that which is oppressive while embracing your group’s shared values of liberty, fraternity, and posterity. Posterity because all of this would be in vain if revolutionary actors do not implement plans to ensure freedom’s continuity. This means that you must define your values in ways that make them ready for systems that can guarantee the liberty and prosperity of every member of the revolutionary new. Let your revolutionary acts be justified and sustained by the strength and tenacity of your values.
On the other hand, identify the basis upon which the oppressor claims their right to oppress and counter such a foundation with a discourse that moves beyond the shallow greed of economic benefits and asymmetric diplomatic ties with oppressive powers. Your strategy must give meaning to your symbolic approach and vice versa. Remember that as you strategize, so too does the oppressor. Your plan must anticipate the machinations of the oppressor in all possible ways and be ready to defend itself against any surprises by all means necessary.
Leadership is both symbolic and strategic. For the revolutionary, this means there must be one (or many) who become the face(s) of change and the symbol(s) of that which the oppressed aspire to. The leader must exude the complete package of revolutionary symbolism in character and ideology. The leader must promise, through sound strategy, the endurance of positive change, which remains, by all means, the focal precept of revolutionary action.
For the sake of the revolution, the leader must not be ignorant of the historical basis for revolutionary action. As the teacher, the leader constitutes the conscience of revolt by speaking truth to the present as dictated by the past. The leader must operationalize their vision for tomorrow within their understanding of the past and their engagement with the present. To be the conscience of the revolution is to be prepared to care for those whose oppression you have been called upon to exterminate.
Truth must, therefore, be the standard of the leader. Truth to the self urges the leader to recognize their ability to wade through the difficulties of revolutionary practice, accepting, whenever necessary, their humanity in the face of grave adversity. Truth to the people summons the leader to remain strategically open to those for whom revolt is essential. Openness calls for understanding the diversity of voices within the movement and discerning the wisdom in those who follow you. Truth to the oppressor invites the leader to be shrewd, unshaken, and firm in revolutionary resolve. It demands that only the wishes of the oppressed become the weapon by which the machine of oppression must, as of the human rights of the oppressed, crumble.
Violence, I’d love to say, should be the last resort in revolutionary action. However, revolt is nothing but a response to cascades of violence against a people by the oppressive power of tyranny. While revolutionary actors must confront insensitive violence with sensitive rebuttals to attack in acts of self-defense only, you must make room for healthy compromise where it becomes necessary for the good of the oppressed. While it may seem so from the outside, revolutionary outcomes do not thrive on either or demands. There must be an awareness of the necessity to relate with those who understand the message of your demands, even if those voices speak from the other side of the oppressor-oppressed spectrum. There must always be that awareness of a grey area. A place where possibilities abound, even if obscured by the heat of fire and counter-fire, is always possible. While this awareness of the possibility of compromise must be cultivated, it must only remain open to revisable terms of the revolutionary contract.
Of all ignorable factors must there never be a part the education of the revolutionary mass. So significant is the mental edification of the oppressed that there must not be a revolution without it. To keep the revolutionary mass in want of education is to relinquish the life of the cause to an alternate consciousness – that of the tyrant. Such education must, as of possible necessity, anchor on reflections on the state of being of the oppressed within the failing commonwealth for the exposition of its degenerative power to reduce the oppressed below the state of the human. It must predicate its drive to act upon strategies that would orchestrate meaningful change by departing from the doctrine of inferiority and embracing a realm of possibility.
Revolutionary education must also emphasize an understanding of the revolutionary assignment as one essentially removed from the celebration of heroes or the vilification of enemies. This consciousness is essential in lifting revolutionary actors above the failings of pride, arming them with a panacea to cure the guarantee of revolutionary discontinuity that is eternally present in the strategic agenda of the oppressor.
Educate your masses to internalize revolutionary action as that which is only necessary for the reformation of porous logics and institutions that disregard the sacredness of human life and promote tyranny over liberty.
Blessed E. Ngoe