The Rebel versus Goliath


T he preface to Frantz Fanon’s 1961 masterpiece – and in using “masterpiece here I am not indulging in any hyperbole – titled “The Wretched of the Earth” is a masterpiece in itself.

Penned by Jean-Paul Sartre, the preface is better than many a PhD thesis that is being written today. It took me a good week to get past the preface when I first read “The Wretched of the Earth” back in 1999, and I am no slow reader.

The preface is just that damn good that you read and re-read it before gorging on the heavier meat of the actual text of Fanon’s best-known work. It is hard to single out a single passage as outstanding, as the entire preface brings clarity to the fairly complex subject that Fanon tackles in “The Wretched of the Earth”. 

But this past week I was fixated on Sartre’s treatment of the rebel – separate from but related to Albert Camus’ The Rebel, who is also mentioned in “The Wretched of the Earth” – and how this rebel relates to oppression from a psychosocial point of view.

Sartre writes: “The native cures himself of colonial neurosis by thrusting out the settler through force of arms. “When his rage boils over, he rediscovers his lost innocence and he comes to know himself in that he himself creates his self… “When the peasant takes a gun in his hands, the old myths grow dim and the prohibitions are one by one forgotten.

“The rebel’s weapon is the proof of his humanity. For in the first days of the revolt you must kill: to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man; the survivor, for the first time, feels a national soil under his foot.”

The mental and physical rejection of oppression is a cathartic act: it destroys the oppressor and the oppressed in one fell swoop. But it is not easy to do. The mere reactions to President Yahya Jammeh’s decision to pull out of the British Commonwealth are ample enough evidence of how far we still are from even thinking of undergoing this cathartic first stage of self-liberation.

“Analysts” have been quick to point out that his country, the Gambia, needs the British Commonwealth more than the British Commonwealth needs the Gambia.

They say the Gambia will lose out on much “aid” and “technical assistance”. They say the Gambia is “isolating” itself from the “international community”. They predict all manner of hellfire-and-brimstone-like Armageddon outcomes for the people of the Gambia.

And they point – fingers trembling in self-righteous indignation – to Zimbabwe, which pulled out of the British Commonwealth a decade ago, saying: “Look at the economic troubles that country has undergone since then!” But has Zimbabwe really suffered from not being a member of the British Commonwealth?

Last time I checked, agriculture and mining had rode the waves of sanctions and were on a firm rebound – without “aid” and “technical assistance” from the British Commonwealth. Yahya Jammeh, unfortunately, is a bit of a maverick (to put it mildly), and thus his decision to pull the Gambia out of the British Commonwealth is being viewed as just another one of his eccentricities along with his brow-raising claim that he can cure HIV. 

He is the man who believes homosexuality, greed and obsession with world domination “are more deadly than all natural disasters put together”. That is a statement that many people viewed as humorous, but perhaps looked at more closely, there is more than a grain of truth in it.

President Jammeh has said: “If you are to give us aid for men and men or for women and women to marry, leave it. We don’t need your aid because as far as I am the President of the Gambia, you will never see that happen in this country.”

He is also the man who has said Britain has done nothing for Gambia except “to tell us how to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep and God Save the Queen”.

Again, a bit on the humorous, side but more than a few grains of truth in that as well.

As Shenali D Waduge has put it, “Gambia has become the child who pointed at the Emperor walking naked – showcasing the hypocrisies of Britain accusing nations of human rights violations when it has yet to apologise for its heinous crimes or compensate for hundreds of years of mass criminal offences and these crimes are far graver than what the UK is accusing other countries of.”

With President Jammeh you never know what will happen next. He might stick to his decision to remain outside the British Commonwealth, or by the time of reading this he will have made a U-turn and rejoined the club of “former” colonies.

What is important is that he has provided an opportunity for Third World peoples to once again evaluate the logic of being part of the British Commonwealth. This is an organisation that was created long before Britain had let go of the majority of its colonies.

It is something that was created to keep the Empire intact. And it subsists today to provide preferential trade arrangements for that Empire of yore by banding together the “former” colonies in a set-up from which the Crown can continue to lord it over its subjects.

The Gambia, like Zimbabwe did 10 years ago, has killed the oppressor and the oppressed by telling the British Commonwealth where it can stick it. These are small countries by any measure, but once in a while – just once in a while – David does get one better over Goliath.

October 2013
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