And the dogs were silent
I think it was Aristotle who said something to the effect that poverty is the father or parent of revolution and crime.
It’s a basic wisdom, and like most such seemingly trite sayings, it has a simple truth to it.
But somehow, we seem to not appreciate such simple wisdoms and instead try and rationalise revolution and crime; attributing the former to all manner of ideologies and the latter to human inclinations towards avarice and evil.
Most people rebel – either as criminals or as revolutionaries ‑ because of poverty. Simple.
And that reminds me of Albert Camus’ very important work titled “The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt”.
Camus was a man of contradictions: a strong proponent of human freedoms but also something of a supporter of French colonialism in North Africa. It is that contradiction, I read somewhere, that caused his great rift with another great thinker of the time called Satre.
Anyway, Camus wrote in that essay that, “Rebellion cannot exist without a strange form of love”.
We rebel because we love, because we want something better for ourselves, our family, our land. Mankind, if I may venture to say so, is always in a state of rebellion. Or to borrow from Camus again, playing on Descartes, “I rebel – therefore I exist.”
The act, nay, the process, of rebellion has been the subject of study since Eve ate that fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Negritude writer Aimé Césaire did a beautiful dissection of rebellion in his epic “And the Dogs Were Silent”.
It opens with the lead character, The Rebel, emerging in the imagery of Osiris with Césaire deliberately using Egyptian mythology to assert the primacy of this continent’s civilisation over the Greeks.
The most powerful moment in the epic is when The Rebel, speaking to his mother after having slain his blue-eyed slave master, declares: “There is not in the world one single poor lynched bastard, one poor tortured man, in whom I am not also murdered and humiliated.”
These days this sentiment is more popularly captured in phrases like, “We are all Trayvon Martin” and the likes.
It is a declaration of solidarity by the world’s oppressed, a call to arms, and a call to action.
Césaire’s The Rebel refuses to be a slave and takes it upon himself to change his condition despite the pleadings of his mother and his lover to compromise with the establishment.
They urge him to reject the certain death that comes with rebellion against the slave master, and The Rebel points out to them that acceptance of oppression is swifter death in itself.
But to achieve the total freedom that comes with successful rebellion there must be unity among the oppressed.
An aspect I particularly enjoy about this epic is Césaire’s choice of title: “And the Dogs Were Silent”.
Barking dogs were associated with the slave plantation. The slave master used dogs and guns to quell rebellions on the plantations and to enforce discipline among the enslaved.
So the act of silencing the dogs on the part of the slaves indicates victory over the slave master, it means the war has been won and the slave is now master over himself.
And where am I getting with all this? To be honest, I really don’t know. Césaire just came to me as I reflected on the elections that Zimbabwe held on July 31, 2013.
I thought of The Rebel as I pondered on the Western dogs that have been furiously barking about what constitutes a free and fair election in Africa.
The Rebel came to mind as I watched a defiant Mugabe declare that come what may, he could not compromise on the principles of sovereignty, empowerment and the dignity of the African.
It was The Rebel I visualised as hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans attended rallies and declared, much like Che and Castro all those decades ago, that it is “motherland or death!”
And it was the barking dogs that worried me as some people spoke of compromising on some of the tenets of our rebellion against colonialism just so that we can get FDI and boast of other high-sounding nothings like GDP and BOP.
Césaire’s The Rebel dies in the end, he is killed by the establishment because it does not appreciate that poverty causes revolution and crime.
But there is something poignant in The Rebel’s death: he falls dead among blossoming flowers in fecund soil.
The revolution will not die no matter how many “rebels” you kill: there shall be a rebirth. And one day, the dogs will be silenced.