Looking Beyond The Power-Grab

BabaBy Baba Galleh Jallow

Every revolution is inspired by outrage. Outrage at the specter of a small minority in power oppressing a large majority of citizens. Outrage at gross injustices and often unbelievable socio-economic and cultural hardships majorities endure under oppressive political regimes. Revolutions succeed not only to the extent that they are also inspired by a burning desire to politically empower the powerless majority so that never again will they be oppressed by a minority, but also to the extent that they genuinely follow through and actualize such popular empowerment. The nation always bears within itself the resources requisite for its own empowerment.

Revolutions fail to the extent that they fail to look sufficiently forward. They fail to the extent that they miss the need to look carefully beyond the moment of empowerment and critically engage the challenging idea of what comes next, of how do we fix this. They fail to the extent that they loudly talk of what they have come to fix and how to fix it, but give little thought to the practical challenges involved or how to sensibly overcome them in order to actualize what they proclaim as their mission. Revolutions fail when at the moment of empowerment their top priority is not what they proclaim but the glittering promise of fantastic power and glory.

One is tempted to suggest that a failed revolution is no revolution at all. It is rather a power-grab that, like everybody else, may freely choose to proclaim itself a revolution and insist on being called and hailed as a revolution simply because it can do so. A true revolution, by definition, cannot have failed. A revolution is a flexible constant that manifests itself in an ongoing, never ending process of positive renewal and growth. A power-grab on the other hand, is an unfortunate political event that remains unchanged for as long as it lasts. Where a revolution actively looks forward to and creatively seeks to actualize popular political empowerment, a power-grab forbids looking forward and promotes a culture of obnoxious political subjection in order to prolong its stay in power.

A power-grab often assails our senses with the free and ubiquitous rhetoric of revolution. Through a vernacular of offensive and parochial jingoism, it makes lofty pronouncements of revolutionary cause and intent and roundly condemns all the colonizers and neocolonizers that ever existed on earth. At the very moment of its empowerment, the power-grab already thinks of the nation as composed of friends and enemies, so-called patriotic and unpatriotic citizens. This unfortunate bifurcation of the nation-body betrays the power-grab’s fractured and utterly disjointed misunderstanding of national mission, national empowerment, what revolutions are all about. The power-grab prides itself and often loudly brags about the frequency and efficiency with which it severely deals with traitors and enemies of the nation, always the one percent who must never be allowed to destroy the 99 % at State House. Like a large iron tent with great iron walls, the power-grab plants itself firmly upon and over the national space even as it perfects its damaging politics of insults and enmity. The power-grab grows, nurtures and sharpens its sweet tooth for power even before the moment when it actually grabs power. And because all other motivations and justifications for the power-grab are marginal to the power-grab itself, they are manifested only as flamboyant rhetorical devices to be swished and rattled around to deflect attention from embarrassing failures and to justify the power grabber’s only real expertise: a politics of insults and enmity.

The power-grab never really captures the essence of political power beyond the physical act of grabbing power and installing itself as a government. True political power is manifested not in a state’s monopoly and misguided application of force over its citizens, but in a state’s demonstrated willingness and capacity to generate and actualize a culture of popular political enlightenment among its citizens. A state is only truly powerful to the extent that it presides over an empowered nation. It is the crippling powerlessness of the power-grab that explains why it is so obsessed with demonstrating just how powerful it is. The power-grab fears the very idea of an empowered people, and because it is inextricably part of the people, it cannot help but feel as powerless as the people. Rather than seek and discover its proper station and role in the national scheme of things, the power-grab assumes what it feels is the most convenient position at the top of the human pyramid and insists on staying there no matter what. From its illusory citadel of power, the power-grab manufactures enemies left, right and center and criminalizes looking forward and the very notion of popular political empowerment. Through a deliberate series of brutally repressive measures, the power-grab forcibly imposes its parochial identity on the nation.

By discouraging a forward looking politics and criminalizing popular empowerment, the power-grab inadvertently feeds and fuels the real revolution. It galvanizes opposition to itself by provoking questions over the limits of political power and authority, questions over ownership of the nation, and questions over what comes after the inevitable decline and fall of the power-grab. The politics of repression inspires thoughtful engagement with the practical challenges of the nation and a burning desire to actualize a politics of universal mutual respect characterized by universal citizen empowerment. It highlights the need to look forward and nurture a genuine understanding not only of our future practical challenges, but especially of our present political realities. Repression drives home the important lesson that the challenges of the future are really the challenges of the present.

The revolutionary culture that emerges from political repression manifests itself not in the pursuit of numbered visions (e.g. Vision 2020) or of numbered goals (e.g. Millennium Development Goals), but in persistent critical engagement with current socio-economic and political problems which, in turn, inspire a constant search for answers and solutions to such problems. In essence, what most inspires the revolutionary consciousness is how to transcend the ugly and damaging politics of the day and actualize a politics of natural justice, which is only possible in a nation of politically empowered citizens, not only in terms of being able to vote their national servants in and out of office, but especially in terms of being reasonably conversant with their constitutional rights and responsibilities. The revolutionary consciousness eagerly and enthusiastically engages the challenge of empowering the people politically not through moribund civic education commissions, but through concrete and coherent national institutions and processes geared towards actualizing a nation of politically empowered citizens.

Many power-grabs pay lip service to the important task of political empowerment by setting up moribund civic education commissions. Faithful cronies and mis-inspired loyalists of the regime – all without adequate civic education themselves – are hand-picked to chair and sit on such commissions. A solemn inauguration ceremony is held where the unspoken understanding is firmly established and confirmed that only “patriotic” lessons in civic education must be given. The civic education panel makes a few public appearances and falls forever silent which, paradoxically, was the idea all along. As far as the power-grab is concerned, all people need to understand and always keep in mind is that “we are in power because we enjoy the mandate of heaven not of the ancient Chinese kind which could be lost, but of the kind which could only be lost when heaven itself expressly says so to everyone’s hearing and physically intervenes to make it happen.

Unlike the genuine revolution, the power-grab hates the very idea of political empowerment because it might suggest stepping down and becoming ordinary citizens again – as if it is ever possible for any citizen to be anything but an ordinary citizen. Refusing to imagine the day when it will step down, the power-grab fights anything that tends to suggest the idea of such an unimaginable day. Concepts like national equality, natural justice, informed voting, freedom of expression, freedom of association, human rights and the rule of law are branded vestiges of colonialism and the obnoxious neocolonial stooges who are identified and neutralized to enhance the longevity of the power-grab. On the other hand, the genuine revolution is inspired and fed by these very concepts. It creatively engages in measured contemplation, looks steadily forward and beyond the period of the power-grab, and thoughtfully plans for the actualization of a better and brighter nation of politically empowered citizens who will never again succumb to a power-grab.


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