On Thursday, May 6, 2021, I watched the recorded editorial comment of Bernard Koku Avle on the #Fixthecountry moment. I have known Mr Avle, obviously a brilliant journalist, for years. We first met about a decade ago in my community (Maamobi, Accra) when my “brother”, Mahmood Jajah invited him for a programme.
The programme was held at the Nima/Maamobi Library. Following his advice to the advocates of #Fixthecountry and the political elite, I want to say a few things about why I think social movements and revolutions fail in the long run. I will conclude with my own set of recommendations.
l love to be part of moments that advocates change. I support moments that promote social justice, for that is what most of the prophets and sages did. But, social moments, sometimes crystalizing into revolutions, are mostly not successful in the long run. Historically, perhaps the two greatest revolutions we have had are the French Revolution and the American Revolution, both happened in the eighteenth century. Both challenged power and authority, leading to the secularization of power in the century. The truth was spoken to power.
The logic of the revolutions was to, inter alia, promote human flourishing and liberties.
But were these lofty ideas achieved? Temporarily, yes, as l said, there was a radical shift from monarchism to republicanism. Republicanism promises to offer more liberties to individuals, against the iron rule of monarchs. But did that really happen? Well, a few elites benefited, usually the kingpins of the revolution, but generally more people were impoverished.
For example, the American Revolution led to an important declaration about all men (in the generic sense) being created equal with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While this declaration was tantalizing to the ears, it did not work, in the long run. Some of the kingpins of the declaration, including Thomas Jefferson, continued to hold Africans as slaves! It is even reported Jefferson had amorous affair with some of his enslaved women. Of course, the sexual abuse of enslaved women was part of the architecture of slavery.
In France, a bourgeoise class emerged soon after the revolution that literally followed the path of counteracting the spirit of the revolution. After all, power is sweet. You never know how power potentially corrupts until you taste power yourself. Here, I refer to John Dalberg-Acton's wisdom that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
The failure of revolutions implies that every revolution needs a counter-revolution until we phase out of here.
Maybe we might think if revolutions were led by religious leaders, such revolutions would be successful. Anyways, one of the greatest revolutions in Christian history happened in the sixteenth century. It was led by many individuals, with people like Martin Luther, emerging as the kingpin.
This revolution, or reformation, if you like, was powerful. It did not just break ecclesiastical powers, but it significantly paved way for modern science and human rights - which crystallized after the end of the so-named World War II.
But, did the reformation have a lasting effect? No. Today, almost everyone agrees that Christianity needs another reformation. It appears we have undone the spirit of the reformation. Arguably, some Church leaders, are now more powerful than the Papacy. The increasing of the powers of pastors is of a universal concern but more pronounced in many countries in Africa.
Let me say something that also affected Muslim countries. In 2010, a social movement began in the Arab World that sought to secularise power, possibly like the French and American revolutions. This movement, partly aided by social media, became known as the "Arab Spring". It had the appearance of reforming the Arab World by toppling perceived political autocrats.
Did the moment succeed? Well, they caused a stir that gave the world a false political orgasm of hope. But, as far as my reading and following of events in the Arab World is concerned, the "Arab Spring", like other revolutions, failed.
The above leads to the question of why social moments and revolutions fail. This is certainly a complex question that needs years of brain-racking to disentangle. But, as my current state of knowledge allows me, l would surmise that the fundamental issue in all revolutions is human nature. For me, the emphasis on human nature is very critical because, I discern from my readings of most of the classical scholars of the social contract theory – forming the basis of civil society – were dealing with the complex issue of human nature. We can reread Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Niccolò Machiavelli, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, etc.
Over the centuries, we have tended to have either a high or low view of human beings. In terms of the high view, we have seen humans as gods, who are fundamentally good, but superficially bad. This has been the position of many social and political reformers, including our own "hero" Nelson Mandela.
Based on this theory of innate human goodness, the argument follows that our fundamental goodness gets corrupt by our environment. So, advocates of this position would see revolution as a possible means of advancing the innate goodness of human beings.
My reading of Karl Marx leads me into thinking that he thought the problem of the world was a result of a corrupt few individuals, the bourgeois class. This class exploited the poor. So, Marx was convinced that a revolution from the exploited class against the "capitalists" would bring about the expected utopian world of classlessness. But did Marx consider whether the working class were of any different biological genes?
Even with this exciting vision of a possible classless society that makes us hit the street, we are all too aware that the "beautyful ones" have not (or may not) yet been born. Not even my country Ghana.
The second view of human beings are held by those who have a low view of humans. They see human beings as nothing but dogs - or advanced apes. This position sits well with evolution theory that my first namesake, Charles Darwin, popularized in the mid-nineteenth century. Since Darwin was a Cantab, I visited Darwin College, named after him, a few times.
While the theory of evolution continues to shape most of our intellectual life – both in the sciences and humanities, we are all aware of how this theory fed into social evolution that alongside politicized religion rationalized racism, slavery, and colonialism. In fact, we are still not out of the woods of the side effect of social evolution theory yet, given the social injustice that social evolution has created for the world.
Coincidentally, Marx and Darwin were products of the nineteenth century – the era that witnessed the secularization of culture, with people becoming more excited by visiting museums than religious spaces. But their theories continue to exert influence on human beings in different ways in our contemporary world.
Perhaps, let me add the last bit of how human beings have been constructed. For recent scholars including Yuval Noah Harari, in his book "Sapiens", humans are nothing more than a concatenation of random chemistry. We are, therefore, more emotional than rational. We are the product of our body chemistry rather than our moral conscience – reason. If Harari and his colleagues sincerely trust their theory, how then do we sustain ethics and social justice?
Amidst all this, there is the last view that I identify with. This view is creationism, based on the Bible. The Bible says humans, beginning with Adam and Eve, were created by God and endowed with innate dignity. From the Bible's perspective, and with God's creating humans in his image, humans have inherent dignity, not acquired dignity. This position negates slavery, racism, and all forms of exploitation of man by his fellow man.
Humans were also created, as dependent being, to always have fellowship with God. God ensured this by putting the first human beings, Adam and Eve, in a beautiful garden called Eden. But sin entered the world (we can discuss the ontological origin of sin later). Suffice it to say that it was out of human disobedience.
With that gargantuan disobedience - which humans thought they would be like God in power and knowledge - things never remained the same anymore. Soon after Adam and Eve had sinned, the family, the fundamental basis of society, collapsed.
Adam failed his personal responsibility by accusing his wife - whom he had earlier called the "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh". We all take over from Adam by seeing our wives differently on our first date or wedding day (marked by joy and use of flattery words) from the rest of our living together (marked by accusations).
His son, Cain, failed the moral responsibility test by killing his brother, Abel. He asked, "Am l my brother's keeper?" Of course, we all ask that question in a deeply late capitalist world.
Noah failed the collective responsibility test. He could not positively influence his generation against sin which led to destruction from God. While he was called a righteous person, he was not a leader. This means righteousness does not necessarily translate into leadership, to recap the philosophy of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Like Noah, we all pretend to be preaching righteousness when in reality when are only interested in saving ourselves and families.
With human failure, God had to begin all over again with another man, Abraham. He passed all three tests his forebears failed. He accepted responsibility in his own home; protected his nephew, Lot (moral responsibility), and interceded for his generation, Sodom and Gomorrah (collective responsibility). Abraham's success partly explains why all the three religions from the East are referred to as Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all claim entitlement to Abraham. But in our quest for social justice, do we do as Abraham did?
Out of Abraham, God called Moses to establish a nation - Israel. God gave them the Ten Commandments with the promise of Sabbath - a taste of life before sin. If the Israelites had dutifully kept the Ten Commandments, they would have had the Sabbath - God's rest, manifested in the serenity of Eden. Alas, Israelites kept failing God. They corrupted their way and never entered God's rest – Sabbath (Hebrews 3:11).
Finally, Jesus Christ came. He came to deal with the real issue of social injustice - the human heart. While all revolutions against social injustice are based on externalities, particularly the environment, Jesus focused on the heart. For out of the heart springs all evil, including social injustice, that calls for revolutions (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:19).
To settle that problem, Jesus Christ paid the price for Adam's sin, including those the Father elects for salvation. He came to save us not to refine us. And to consolidate His redemptive work, He gave Christians the Holy Spirit as a seal of our salvation and enabler of our righteousness.
So, after salvation, one of the leaders of the early Church, inspired by God's Spirit, penned down the virtues that must govern a follower of Jesus Christ.
Followers of Christ, are in all things, expected to pursue whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
These virtues raise the stakes for moral integrity (to avoid social injustice) high for the followers of Jesus Christ. It calls for perseverance and a daily dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is largely based on these virtues that history is littered with instances where the followers of Christ have blazed the trail in all fields of human endeavours.
Nevertheless, Christians have not always had things right. Some of them, as part of politicizing religion, supported slavery. I argue that the use of Christianity to support slavery or even the Apartheid regime in South Africa by the Dutch Reformed Church was a perversion because of the lives of some other Christians.
For example, the narrative of John Newton, the composer of "Amazing Grace" points to the fact that Christians who visit social injustice on others contradict their faith. He was a captain of slave ships, whom Christ saved. It was after his salvation that he composed that beautiful hymn that speaks volume of a repented heart. Indeed, I must also add that even during the era of slavery and Apartheid in South Africa, there were Christians who protested these evils of the human heart. For more on Christianity and conversion, I strongly suggest Augustine's “The Confessions”.
In all of this, I aim to argue that human civilization – routed through social movement and revolutions – would hardly be any better without God. As l have pointed out social moments and revolutions would have temporary success stories to tell. But they all fail in the long run. That is why every revolution needs a counter-revolution until the end of the world.
I must mention that the reason why revolution and social moments fail is because of the human heart. In many cases, most social movement advocates and revolutionaries do not see themselves as part of the problems they are fighting. So, they hardly think about how they can avoid becoming the persons they are fighting.
This reminds me of my days at the University of Ghana (2009-2013). Some of my colleagues bitterly lamented against the alleged maltreatments from some of our professors. Ironically, when some of these colleagues of mine became only Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants, not even lecturers, they treated their students worse than they had complained against our professors.
So, for all social movements and revolutions to even sustain temporary success, the advocates must strive to act differently from the ills they fight against. Definitely, they should hold leadership accountable, for they voted leaders into office. But holding leadership appears quite easy in all regimes, including dictatorial regimes. On this score, the #Fixthecountry movement is well placed.
Nevertheless, what is more difficult - usually serving as the aporia of all social movements and revolutions, is advocates holding themselves accountable. It is easier to see the speck on your adversaries' eye than the pluck in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3-5). In fact, sin is better seen in others than in us.
This means that people should not hide behind “collective” gathering to accuse anyone. We have done that for years and still not succeeded. For example, we all say Ghanaians are corrupt, as if we are not Ghanaians. I agree with the late Ghanaian professor, Kwame Gyekye, that corruption (and I will add all social evils) is a moral challenge.
To fight moral challenge and better succeed, we must in addition to calling for institutional reforms, be personal about issues. We must, in addition to the easiest claim that Ghanaians are corrupt ask ourselves individually, “Am I corrupt?”
This emphasis on self-accountability is one of the quintessential attributes of Christianity. It sets Christianity apart as fundamentally different from every other worldviews ever known in history – especially fighting social injustice. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, called Christians to personal responsibility as follows:
You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols do you rob temples? You who brag about law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? (Romans 2:21-24).
As a Christian, therefore, I would humbly call on the #Fixthecountry to also heed the call for #Fixyourselffirst as equally necessary. So, that, in the end, we must all fix Ghana, according to the lyrics of the venerable Ephraim Amu.
In conclusion, I would say that social movements and revolutions would always fail in the long run. Nevertheless, we must strive for social justice. More importantly, we must strive against becoming the people they are accusing. For, we are all humans. We don't become angels after any revolutions or shouting against a corrupt regime.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra