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Opinions of Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Columnist: Noah E. Tetteh

Sacred right of the Sovereign – An invitation to an African tea party

File photo: Protests against the arrest of Bobi Wine File photo: Protests against the arrest of Bobi Wine

From Namibia to Nigeria, from Zimbabwe to the ‘Democratic’ Republic of Congo, children of the continent, with loud voices cry for liberation.

Despite the scare of a global pandemic, waves of youth keep flooding the otherwise lonely streets protesting bad decisions of governments, which have become a settled feature of the African experience. It is not the first time that this cry for deliverance has permeated the curtains of the heavens; yet this time around, Africans are calling for salvation from their very own.

This change Africans seek, they seek from leaders. Those they chose to oversee their utmost wellbeing. It seems the change shall come only when the governed decide to make matters of their collective wellbeing personal, and not leave it in the hands of these leaders. In trying times such as this, it is exciting to note how the youth of Africa have demonstrated their love for community and self-preservation by agitating strongly and in unity against appalling governance.

Do not get it wrong, the joy is not in the agitation, but the results it shall bring. Had we right-thinking and loving leaders who do good by us, our energy and time would not be spent on the streets seeking for the better life that is rightly ours. Unfortunately, that is not the case; hence, the resort to our best and only ally -the unpopular right of protest.

For too long, the cloak of misconception we have worn is that, our best tool to show dissatisfaction at terrible governance is through universal adult suffrage –SCAM! LIE! The next election is too far off to wait and suffer.

In my opinion, the primary purpose of elections is not to secure accountability; at best, it gives a legal mandate to successive governments to serve and act on behalf of the electorate. It is therefore unreasonable that, within the period of ‘supposed service’cthe electorate are unable to demand accountability. Accountability must never be deferred to the contents of a ballot box that leaders prefer.

Albeit understandable, it is unfortunate to note that, most democratic dispensations run parallel with protests no matter how peaceful. The right to protest is an intrinsic part of any proper democracy. Leaders keep mute at the apparent lack of knowledge on the part of the electorate.

It is of little wonder that protests are deemed “crimes” in most countries. The legislation does little to improve the matter.

You find that many a country’s National Constitution barely has express provisions on the right to protest. The argument is that it is subsumed under human rights such as Freedom of Assembly or Freedom of expression. My position is neither one of denial, nor do I seek to debate this undeniable fact. The matter, however, is that such narrow appreciation of the right makes it seem subordinate to other rights even though in principle, it is not. I suppose this hidden yet intrinsic nature of the right to protest is what political leaders are uncomfortable with when triggered by the people.

If we agree that human rights are entitlements inalienable and inherent in persons and the deprivation of which reduces their essence as a human, then the proof of this assertion lies with the right to protest. If lives are taken, or we are deprived of education or any such human right, the only employable means to secure all these others is the right to protest. It is therefore my firm conviction that the right to protest is the glue that holds the security of any other right.

Not only do protests tell how bad our lives are by revealing the many shortcomings of governments; in protest lies the power of the people. Hence, you find that, leaders who are filled with folly enough to believe they are powerful and that their power is limitless shudder at the thought of rivalry or encroachment on that power. Little wonder they resort to measures that prevent the exercise of the people’s powerful right.

We must remind ourselves that the fulcrum on which political leadership revolves is the running of a conducive society where individuals and groups can pursue their individual and collective aspirations. Besides this, there is no need for political leadership.

Inherently, every leader has a duty to account to the people and the people have a right to be accounted to. This idea is vividly captured by John Locke when he states that the state derives its existence and justification solely through its guaranteeing of the protection of the rights of the people.

Sovereignty resides in the people and leaders are only servants employed to do the bidding of the people. This is the mindset we need to have as citizens. We need to reorient ourselves into the actualization of the truth that democracy creates a master-servant relationship; we are the masters and government is the servant. As masters, we must pay particular attention to the safeguarding of our interests. The chief means to do this is to protest against any ills instigated or perpetrated by the government.

Our elders say: “if you do not engage your barber, you leave the salon with a bad haircut”. We must take interest in the actions of the government. Fortunately, technology has helped redefine protests. Technology was touted to unite the world and improve business and economic relations. The world, most likely, never anticipated the immense role it was going to play in the rediscovery and redefinition of the right to protest.

The globalisation of the world through technology has encouraged a regime of peer comparison. The people can compare their lives to that of others elsewhere and know they deserve better from their leaders. Again, through technology persons who cannot join protests physically can contribute to it wherever they are. Technology through social media has helped globalise localized struggles.

Many have joined global protests from the comforts of their couches. Protests have now taken a dimension which is almost impossible to be impeded or prevented by the governments. It is a thing of the past now for protests to be prevented or delayed for lack of police logistics or national security concerns. Social media has fixed the problem such that, one needs no such logistics and allows protests to carry on forever.

A country is only as strong as its civil activism. The more empowered the civil society, the clearer the path to progressive development. The French and American Revolutions bear testimony to the fact that a nation’s development starts on the back of radical revolutions.

As people seeking change, we must not shy away from protest. For, in ridding ourselves of any misconception that protest is an impediment to democracy or development, we shall radically create the Africa we deserve through our united Voices.

Noah E. Tetteh is a civil rights activist, political writer and social commentator.