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The Star

Resistance is the only road to liberation for people exploited and suppressed by those who have state power and control over wealth and resources. However, resistance does not mean disregard for the law. Nor does it mean resorting to violence. The means must be just and peaceful. The desired end might take a long time – a long, long time – but its effects are also long lasting.

Introduction: Laboratories of street resistance

These three cases are laboratories of peoples’ resistance against the power wielded by the Central authorities. In the cases of Kenya and Venezuela the Centre is backed by the Anglo-American Empire; in Catalonia the Centre is backed by the European Union. The people resisting the Centre and the imperial hegemony have moral and solidarity support that cuts across oceans. The three cases are emblematic representations of our times. They will help us understand where we come from and where we are going.

Kenya’s story goes back to the Mau Mau uprising from 1952 to 1960.  The current large scale resistance against the newly re-elected government of Uhuru Kenyatta is, in many ways, a continuation of the same struggle - two generations down the road from the days of the Mau Mau. Catalonia and Venezuela, if you want to go back to history, are products of the Spanish Empire that reached its peak in the 16th-17th centuries, 400 hundred years ago. Spain's colonisation of mainland Venezuela started in 1522, and the resistance against Spain began in 1811 under the leadership of Simon Bolivar. Venezuela became independent from Spain in 1821, but by the beginning of the 19th Century, with the discovery of oil, it became neo-colonised first by Britain and then the United States. Catalonia was, of course, part of the Spanish Empire, now wanting to secede from Spain for a separate nationhood.  History lays its indelible marks on the present in mysterious ways – Venezuela and Catalonia are accidental allies in our times.

The politics of resistance


Britain accepts responsibility for human rights violations during Mau Mau resistance

In 2009 the Mau Mau veterans pressed claims for compensation for violation of their human rights by the colonial government. The British government argued that the claim could not be pursued because the statute of limitations had expired. But the court ruled against the government. In June 2013, the former colonial power agreed to compensate more than 5,000 Kenyans tortured and abused during the Mau Mau insurgency.[1] On 12 September 2015, it went further and unveiled a Mau Mau memorial statue in Nairobi's Uhuru Park that it funded "as a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered". [2]

Kenya – a neocolonial state

The neocolonial state is a contested site between the empire and nationalist forces. Here are its principal features:

1.     A neocolonial condition does not negate the rule of the international financial oligarchy. The petty bourgeoisie arising out of the colonial period is blocked from becoming a fully fledged national bourgeoisie, their interests locked up with monopoly finance capital. 

2.     A neocolonial state and economy are sustained by corruption, which comes in two forms: institutional and personal. The state (like Kenya) is institutionally corrupt; in return for the so-called “development aid”, it is obliged to pursue the donor-imposed policies of free trade liberalisation. This is reinforced by the institutions of global governance - the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The second form of corruption is personal; these are bribes mainly to state officials. In 2005, for example, an anti-graft Kenyan official (John Githongo) claimed that corruption under the President Kibaki had cost the country $1 billion. Following his revelations, he had to flee from Kenya to save his life.[3]

3.     Nonetheless, political independence is a significant step towards liberation from the empire. It makes it more cumbersome for the empire to control the neocolonies compared to colonial rule. Instead of ruling directly, the empire has to work through local agents, called "compradors".[4] Also, the neocolonial condition deepens the contradiction between imperialism and the people. The struggle for national self-determination reaches a heighted level.

Contradictions of the electoral process

In March 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta - the son of Kenya's first president- won the presidential election with just over 50% of the vote. His main rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, petitioned the Supreme Court (comprising of six judges, headed by the Chief Justice) to nullify the elections on grounds of massive vote-rigging.  However, the Court dismissed the petitions for “lack of evidence”.

On 8 August, 2017, Uhuru Kenyatta (leading the Jubilee coalition) and Raila Odinga (leading the National Super Alliance - NASA) again contested the presidential elections.  Once again, Uhuru won. Odinga again petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the elections. This time the Court, in its judgment of 1 September, nullified the elections on the grounds that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had failed to meet constitutional and legal requirements of the poll. The Chief Justice said “the anomalies were of substantial nature and any court would have no option but to overturn the results”.[5] It ordered the IEBC to conduct a fresh poll within 60 days as provided for in the Constitution.

On 8 September NASA tabled a list of 9 "irreducible minimum" reforms of the electoral process ahead of the revised poll. However, NASA made it clear that it was “not a personal feud” between Uhuru and Raila. It was a matter of democracy; as such it was a national issue. NASA called for a national dialogue; adding that peaceful protest by the people was an inalienable political right as provided for the 2010 Constitution (Article 37).[6]

NASA’s "irreducible minimum" reforms were not made. So, predictably, NASA boycotted the 26 October rerun of the poll. NASA refused to recognise the outcome to the elections; Kenyatta became the President by default.

Imperial interests masquerading behind “free and fair” elections

What line did the United States and Britain take on the 2017 flawed elections?  Having given its seal of legitimacy to the earlier 8 August poll through its elections observers who declared that the election was “free, fair and credible”, the imperial states issued a statement following NASA’s rejection of elections that "both sides" should stop interfering with the electoral system.[7] With much at stake in Kenya, ably managed by the Uhuru administration, this was not surprising.  In her article, “Who's Cheating Kenyan Voters?” Helen Epstein argues that their geopolitical interests demands that Kenyatta stays in power.

“Why isn't the US doing more to pressure Kenyatta to address these Odinga's concerns? Geopolitics could be one reason. Kenyatta's militaristic approach to the crises in the neighbouring countries of Somalia and South Sudan aligns closely with Western security policy. Odinga, however, is more inclined toward a negotiated resolution of these conflicts. If it favors Kenyatta's strategy, the US may not be as neutral in Kenya's electoral contest as it claims to be.”[8]

The NASA leader Raila Odinga decided to speak to the imperialists directly. On 13 October, he addressed a meeting at London’s Chatham House on “Kenya’s Next Test: Democracy, Elections and the Rule of Law”, chaired by Dr Alex Vines OBE, Head, Africa Programme; Research Director. Among other things, Odinga said: “We are living in a new global order in which security and stability concerns overshadow the long-held Western commitment to support democracy and the rule of law. But any policy which puts security and stability over people’s democratic freedoms and rights is very shortsighted and indeed counterproductive.”[9] But the English, masters at this game of duplicity, listened to Odinga (even clapped!), but they had no intention to change their mind that it is Kenyatta who protects their interests, not Odinga.

NASA launches Peoples’ Assembly and resistance movement

Faced by Kenyatta determined to hold on to power - backed by imperial interests - the outcome of the renewed poll on 26 October 2017 was anticipated. Before the poll, Kenyatta had threatened to "fix the problem in the Supreme Court"  ... and he did. Only two of a minimum five Supreme Court judges turned up to rule on a petition to postpone the elections. It had no quorum. So the petition was not heard. As for the Parliament, it had already become a rubber stamp of the Executive as it was under President Moi’s one party system

Odinga had called NASA to boycott the elections. People did, and not just in areas where Odinga had an ethnic majority. The IEBC was in a dilemma. With the Jubilee coalition pressuring it to declare its electoral victory, it started playing a numbers game. On the electoral turnout, IEBC’s chairman initially announced a figure of 48 % which translated to 9.4 million voters, but on realising this was not credible, he revised it downwards to 6.55 million which translated to 33 %. But even this was a rabbit out of the hat.  

On the other side, also predictably, NASA declared the election a “meaningless exercise, a charade”. In response to it, it announced that NASA would launch a “resistance movement”.[10] It created two organs: a Peoples’ Assembly (PA) and the National Resistance Movement (NRM). It launched the PA - “until a legitimate presidency is restored” – comprising of workers, civil society organisations (CSOs), religious leaders, women, youth and economic interest groups. As part of the People's Assembly, NASA created a Task Force to look into the systemic governance weaknesses that have precipitated the political crisis, including but not limited to:

i.               The systemic continuing failure of electoral bodies, and the electoral system in general

ii.              Performance of national security organs and the abuse thereof by the Executive.

iii.            The political architecture and the structure of the Executive and Parliament in particular.

iv.             Protection and safeguarding devolution.

v.              Exclusion and discrimination in the allocation or distribution of public resources.

vi.             The continued inability of the State, and our society in general, to deal with the root causes of political strife in particular poverty, unemployment, extreme inequality, economic marginalization and historical grievances.

The Task Force would recommend constitutional amendments that would be presented to the People's Assembly for adoption, and thereafter to the County Assemblies for ratification.

As for the Resistance Action Programme, it would include economic boycotts, peaceful processions picketing, and other legitimate protests.  “If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government”, NASA declared at the launch of the resistance, but it insisted that the resistance has to be peaceful, not violent. The boycott of milk products belonging to the Kenyatta family companies has forced them to change packaging hoping to dupe the people. Safaricom – a mobile telephone and internet company - also linked with the “royal” family, has lost thousands of subscribers. The CEO pleaded with NASA, in vain, to suspend the boycott. NASA has a growing list of companies whose products should be boycotted for allegedly supporting the Jubilee regime at the poll.

The state, for its part, has attacked civil society organisations (CSOs) – among them Kenya Human Rights Council (KHRC) and the Katiba Institute that seek to promote the understanding and implementation of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.


Catalonian declaration of independence

In Catalonia, the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) - Centre-right, pro-Catalan independence - has been the main ruling party since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975. The CDC has been marred by allegations of corruption, with a former leader and six-time premier, Jordi Pujol, facing tax-evasion charges. At the January 10, 2017 elections, Charles Puigdemont, CDC mayor of the regional capital, was elected premier of a Together For Yes government. This has brought Catalonia and the Central government in Madrid on a face-to-face political confrontation.

Here is a brief chronology of the main events leading to the declaration of Catalan independence and its aftermath.

·       January 2015: After a non-binding referendum-style opinion poll the previous year showed high support for independence, Catalan President Artur Mas calls new regional elections as a further test of support. 

·       September 2015: Catalonia’s regional parliament votes for independence, pledging “disconnection from the Spanish state”.

·       December 2015: Spain’s constitutional court in Madrid rules that the Catalan parliament’s vote for independence infringes the national constitution.

·       January 2016: Carles Puigdemont takes over from Artur Mas as president of the Catalan regional government.

·       June 2017: The Catalan government calls an independence referendum for October 2017.

·       September 7, 2017: The Spanish constitutional court declares the Catalonian referendum illegal. 

·       September 15 – October 1, 2017: Spanish police seize ballot boxes hidden by the Catalonian government, and occupy Catalan government ministries in search of evidence that the Catalan government is breaking the law. In response, thousands of Catalans take to the street occupying polling stations, keeping them open amid police crackdown. 92% of people who vote in the referendum back independence on a 43% turnout in spite of Central Government crackdown.

·       October 3, 2017: King Felipe VI condemns the Catalan government in a strongly-worded television address, followed by protests and a general strike in Catalonia.

·       October 11, 2017: Spanish Prime Minister Mario Rajoy sets the Catalan government a deadline of 19 October to clarify whether they have declared independence or not. 

·       October 21, 2017: Spanish government suspends Catalonia’s autonomy and says it will impose direct rule.

·       October 26, 2017: President Carles Puigdemont of Catalonia opts against declaring independence himself and says he will leave the decision to MPs.

·       October 27, 2017: Catalan parliament meets and unilaterally declares independence by 70 votes to 10, in a vote boycotted by the opposition.

·       Later that day, by 214 votes to 47, Spain’s senate approves new powers for the Madrid government to impose direct rule on Catalonia.

·       Meantime, a Belgian court has deferred a decision on extradition of Puigdemont and four members of his former government. The case would resume on 4 December.

Is Catalonia a “nation”, and has it a right to self-determination?

In the Spanish Constitution of 1978 Catalonia - along with the Basque Country and Galicia - was defined as a "nationality". The same constitution gave Catalonia the automatic right to autonomy, which resulted in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 1979. The Statute is the fundamental organic law, second only to the Spanish Constitution from which the Statute originates. The Preamble of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia states that the Parliament of Catalonia has defined Catalonia as a “nation”, but that the Spanish Constitution recognizes Catalonia as a “nationality". If it is simply a play on words, it has nonetheless raised a complex array of legal conundrums.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, described the declaration of independence as "a criminal act”. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, have said the Catalonian crisis must be resolved within Spain's constitutional order. They are for the status quo. On the other hand, there are those who argue that it is a political, not a legal, issue. They support Catalonia’s right to self-determination, a basic principle of the United Nations Charter. Aidan Hehir, Director of the Security and International Relations Programme at the University of Westminster, UK, poses the question: “Is a host state's approval essential if a country is to declare independence?” He says: “The answer must be no, because to argue otherwise is contradictory - and clashes both with international law and common sense”. Even if Spanish government abides by its constitution, he argues, to say that this alone disqualifies Catalonia's claims is deeply flawed. This is not to say, he adds, that Catalonia should secede; this is only to say that they have a right to self-determination.[11]

Disobedience and resistance

As tension increases in Spain, there is widespread civil disobedience against the Spanish government.  Among those who support disobedience and resistance is the Platform for the Mortgage-Affected (PAH).  The PAH was founded in Barcelona in 2009 in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The movement arose as a response to hundreds of thousands of Spanish households facing mortgage defaults, evictions, homelessness and lifelong debt. PAH now has around 200 groups across Spain.

On 15 November 2017, a pro-independence general strike in Catalonia  brought chaos to dozens of the regions’ roads as protesters blocked traffic with sit-down protests.[12] The strike was originally about minimum wage levels, but was quickly adopted by secessionist associations. On the high-speed train link between Barcelona and France, protesters in the city of Girona - a Catalan nationalist stronghold - moved onto the railway lines chanting “Freedom, Freedom”. At one of Barcelona’s biggest stations, Sants, trains stopped when protesters occupied eight different platforms until well into the evening.

The exiled Catalan leaders are in Belgium. Belgium has its own potentially separatist “nations”.  Jan Jambon, a Belgian politician affiliated to the New Flemish Alliance, has criticised the “silence” of the European Union on the issue of Catalonia.[13] Carles Puigdemont is charged by the Spanish government with sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds and perjury – which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment on conviction. In defiance, Puigdemont has called for a coalition of the separatist political parties to present a united front in elections to be held in December 2017. An online petition calling for unity for the independence movement had, it was claimed, gathered 50,000 signatures within a few hours.

It is early to say how the situation will evolve itself. The old CDC ministers associated with cuts, austerity, corruption, cover-ups and police violence have gone. They have been replaced with younger, more female, Catalonian independence activists. It looks that Puigdemont’s popularity will increase, and that Catalonia might well win its independence from Spain, sending shockwaves to political forces in Europe that fear similar breakaway nations in the continent.

Venezuela: Resisting the Empire

From 1999 until his death in 2013, Hugo Chávez presided over the launching of a "Bolivarian Revolution" in Venezuela and in the region. In April 2002, he was ousted from power in a military coup backed by American corporate interests, but he returned to power as a result of mass demonstrations by the working classes and poorer sections of the society. The corporations retaliated through the market. The GDP fell 27% during the first four months of 2003, costing the oil industry $13.3 billion. But Chávez survived until 2013.

After his death, Nicolás Maduro was elected President in 2013. The corporations hit back: their counter-action led to hikes in inflation (more than 100%) in 2015; a rapid downturn in the economy; street protests against hyperinflation, chronic scarcity of basic goods, and corruption. In the 2015 parliamentary elections the opposition gained a majority. And matters worsened for the poorer sections of the population. In July 2016, President Maduro, using his executive power, declared a state of emergency. In March 2017, the opposition branded Maduro a dictator after the Supreme Tribunal more or less took over the functions of the assembly overturning most National Assembly decisions since the opposition took control of the body.

However, under pressure from the propertied classes, the Supreme Court backed down. Maduro was left with very few options. He called for Constituent Assembly elections; these were held on 30 July 2017. About two-thirds of the Assembly members were elected by municipal citizens, while members of seven social sectors - including trade unions, communal councils, indigenous groups, farmers, students, and pensioners - elected the remaining one-third. On August 30, 2017, the Constituent Assembly stripped the National Assembly of its powers. Mauro's success in overturning the hold of the corporations over the political process was hugely criticised by the United States and the European Union. An ex-CIA Collaborator, Raul Capote, said that the political upheaval in Venezuela is a continuation of a long standing destabilization US strategy against popular left-leaning governments in Latin America, and that the US will stop at nothing to maintain its imperialist reach around the world.[14]

Maduro's allies - including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua - congratulated Maduro and called for foreign non-intervention in Venezuelan politics.

As I write this, the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, escaped to Spain. He had been under house arrest since 2015 for leading the opposition to Maduro.  On 18 November, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy received Ledezma and his wife at Moncloa Palace. On getting news of Ledezma’s escape, Maduro said, laughing: "The vampire, protected, has gone to Spain -- to live the great life."[15]

It may well be that Carles Puigdemont in Catalonia is laughing too, as Rajoy seeks to arrest him while he is hiding a fugitive - Antonio Ledezma - from Venezuela. Rajoy’s chickens have come home to roost. As I wrote earlier, the irony is part of the “History that lays its indelible marks on the present in mysterious ways – Venezuela and Catalonia are accidental allies in our times”.

Conclusion: From street power to state power

What do we learn from these stories of resistance against the Empire and its agents not only in Africa and Latin America but within the heartland of Europe?

1.    Law, authority and legitimacy

It is important to understand the difference between these political-legal concepts. The distinction between them lies at the heart of the issues confronting the above three nations - as indeed between all nations struggling for self-determination. The legal system that provides rules of governance is embodied in the nation's constitution.  However, for the law to be legitimate, it must comply with certain moral values of the people. In other words, the obligation to obey the law does not follow automatically. The government has "authority" to rule, yes, but that authority is not absolute. The government expects obedience, but that obedience is conditional on the government conforming to the values and norms of the bigger society. If the government repudiates these norms, then it should not be surprised if the people put up resistance against state authority.

2.    Human progress is based on peoples’ resistance against illegitimate state power

The Mau Mau, Maduro, and Puigdemont are sterling examples of resistance against centralised, undemocratic, uncaring, illegitimate state power. There are other such peoples’ movements –environmental, women’s liberation, Black Lives Matter, war resistance, and scores of others. Especially significant are everyday forms of community resistance.[16]

Resistance is the only road to liberation for people exploited and suppressed by those who have state power and control over wealth and resources.

However, resistance does not mean disregard for the law or the constitution.  Nor does it mean resort to violence.

3.    Non-violent resistance to illegitimate authority

The state authority can – and in my view should – be challenged by nonviolent active resistance. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, for example, were law-abiding activists, and set a sterling model for civil disobedience of an illegitimate authority. Violence by the ruler does not justify a counter violent response. Ends, I strongly hold, do not justify the means. The means  must be just and peaceful; the desired end might take a long time – a long, long time – but their effects are also long lasting. This is not the same thing as “offering the other cheek” when you are assaulted; you must defend yourself, of course, but – and here we are talking about a political conflict – mass mobilisation for a nonviolent resistance against oppression and exploitation is a more effective and just way of struggle.

@Yash Tandon

End notes


[2] The statue shows a woman handing food to a Mau Mau fighter.


[4] The term “compradors” was used by the Chinese revolutionary leaders to describe agents of the empire that controlled the coastal regions of China.