Civil Disobedience: The Morality of Civil Disobedience in an oppressive and repressive environment. 

St. Augustine of Hippo once asserted that “an unjust law is no law at all.” This brings to us an understanding of why, in historical and contemporary politics, peaceful and, in certain times and ways, violent infringements of the law have been used as a way of prosecuting the struggle for freedom. But this premise forwarded by St. Augustine will be irrelevant and immoral in the ways of thought of Martin Luther King and Gandhi if, at the cockpit, there’s no discussion on non-violent attainment of the end (justice). But without anarchy and violence, can the wielders of power succumb to non-violent pressure and listen to the plights of the oppressed?

The elites in the government (wielders of power) make the law and the state is mainly responsible for law enforcement, but maybe to really understand the possibility of having a law that does not reflect social justice, let’s examine the emergence of the state itself. The state in its conception, from Marx’s philosophical standpoint, is a product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms, and the elites, in its emergence, get the privilege to be part of the state itself. This implies that the state becomes an instrument of domination, an instrument of oppression for the oppressed, and an instrument of class rule. From this understanding, in many instances, the laws are created by the elites (state) to coerce and subjugate the lower class in a way that advances the privilege of those in power (state), and this necessitates conflicts between the two classes, with the latter fighting for freedom and equal privileges.

The struggles in historical society explain the use of the state as aforementioned. During colonialism in Africa, the state enacted and enforced laws that enslaved black people and deprived them of education and land for agriculture. During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America, the Jim Crow laws were actually laws that were constitutionally underpinned, enacted, and enforced by the state to subjugate the Negroes. In this instance, civil disobedience was used to gain independence for the former and voting rights for the latter.

Civil disobedience can be defined as the moral responsibility to infringe on unjust laws as a means to attain good social ends. When society deprives people of certain needs because of the colour of their skin, where they come from, gender, and economic status, it is necessary to employ means that usher in a just society. The morality of the means is defined by the desired end. And in this context, the means equal civil disobedience. If it takes breaking what is constitutionally underpinned to achieve a just society, let it be, but not in a way that ceases to recognise the presence of authority and the superiority of the Constitution as a whole. But what defines a just end, which is a society with just laws?

A just society exists when it is governed by laws that align with the consent of the governed and serve to protect and advance their individual rights and improve material needs. Therefore, a just society comes through the Social Contract, as pronounced by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as opposed to the maximisation of utility or happiness in society, as believed by Jeremy Bathem.

In our contemporary politics, acts of civil disobedience have been able to achieve touchable results. In 2015, in South Africa, the Fees Must Fall movement managed to mainstream the plights of students, which caught President Zuma’s attention, who later announced a decrease in tuition fees. The movement was also associated with acts of violence because of the nature of civil disobedience. Its non-violent doctrine attracts folks from two distinct ideological inclinations and understandings: first, those who actually believe in addressing societal injustices with the use of non-violent ways, and second, those who share the discontent but not the ideological inclination and commitment to non-violent doctrine.

 In some instances, civil disobedience is used to dramatize an issue to attract attention. In Uganda, opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, led a protest against poor road infrastructure by planting banana trees in all road potholes. This exposed and popularised the poor road infrastructure in Uganda. 

Comrades in our hitherto existing society, the elites use terror, error, and harvest of fear to impede the transfer of power through civil disobedience, the over-reliance on political institutions and systems to organize civil disobedience has also demobilized and disorganized our society. Citizens should feel the urgency to organize themselves to do egalitarian actions. In Africa, leaders are corrupt, elections have lost their meaning where the winners are determined not by the electorate but the selectorate, poverty has dehumanized our people, unemployment is high and inflation skyrocketing, these are good conditions that necessitate and give morality to any kind of civil disobedience in the African society. 

Comrades, at the end of the day, when history remembers, history focuses more on what is just and unjust than what is perceived as legal or illegal. It’s a question of what you would want the next generation to think of today, will they be more worried about the legality of our actions or the justness of the hitherto society?

In the quest to ideate and provide clear standpoints for the realization of freedom and justice in Africa, writes


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