THE RIGHT TO SELF DEFENCE: A UNIVERSAL RIGHT TO BLACK PEOPLE (ANGLOPHONES) AS WELL
At the outset of the current anglophone struggle, there have been broadly two camps- those who believe in a ”peaceful protest” with the hope of the ”international community” to come to the rescue and those who believe in a the natural right to self defence even if it means with the use of reasonable force. In a Security Council press conference by UK ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, in answering the Anglophone question, he said it’s not yet a ”threat to international peace and security” which of course speak volume in its own right. The right to self defence is a natural and inalienable right that we all qualify for by virtue of our humanity. It has been enshrined my laws around the world, including important organisations like the UN charter. The reality however is that the right to self defence is being used and applied selectively. The selective application of such a natural and universal principle have its roots well embedded in our slave and colonial history. It is very fascinating that many of our current predicaments have its roots deep down in our slave and colonial history. This is an issue we as black people have paid little or no attention to. And this is very disturbing to me.
In ancient Egypt which of course was black Egypt, the right to self defence was considered as a natural right. They built a well functional army to defend themselves along the river Nile. The Egyptians perfectly understood that their survival depended on their claim over the lands surrounding the river Nile and hence the slogan; ”no Nile no Egypt”. This right was eventually picked up by the Roman and Greek empires after the collapse of the Egyptian empire. In the Digest of Justitian (Roman Law), the Romans were the ones who officially enshrined into law the right to self defence with the phrase ”it is permitted to repel force by force”. Each successive empire that came up officially adopted the right to self defence to include everybody just like the Romans who of course learnt from the Egyptians. Today, the right to self defence is a ”universal” one which is enshrined in the UN charter.
In the current dispensation of the Anglophone crisis, why is the right to self defence considered to be out of place by many? Why is everyone, including the leadership of the Anglophones hesitant to embrace the right to self defence even though such a right is explicitly and implicitly enshrined in universal declarations like the UN Human Rights (HR) declaration? It is extremely difficult to explore these questions without exploring world history and examining interesting concepts like the principles of pre-emptive war and preventive war. By examining these concepts, common sense will tell any person that the right to self defence and pre-emptive war are natural rights, while preventive war cannot be considered as such. According to UN declaration, Article 51 clearly states that the right to self defence and pre-emptive defence are all universal principles. We as black people and Anglophones are equally part of this universe.
”The use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defence of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force …force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self defence only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm…” ( The Lectric Law Library, 2017)
“Pre-emption is the taking of military action against a target when there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack. Prevention is the taking of military action against a target when it is believed that an attack by the target, while not imminent, is inevitable, and when delay in attacking would involve greater risk.” ( Barnes et. al. 2007)
”…Preventive war is based on the concept that war is inevitable, and that it is better to fight now while the costs are low rather than later when the costs are high. It is a deliberate decision to begin a war. Preventive war thinking seems to dominate Bush administration planning about Iraq: It is better to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime now than to deal later with a regime armed with nuclear weapons or other WMD…” (Wirtz et. al., 2003)
The 1967 six day Israeli war against Egypt and the cold war strategies are considered to be pre-emptive wars. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the central position of the Bush administration and the 1981 Israeli raids on the Osirak nuclear facility are all considered to be preventive wars which are illegal according to UN charter and international law (Mueller et. al., 2006). The right to (1) self defence is the first right of any person/group, (2) then the right to pre-emptive defence is the second and (3) preventive war has no moral or legal standing by any standard. History tells us that western nations have used all of them in the furtherance of ”self defence”. A person like Nelson Mandela and the ANC party were branded as ´´terrorists´´ and ´´rebel leaders´´ when they exercised an indisputable right to self defence against an oppressive and murderous apartheid regime. In the eyes of the ”international community”, the white murderous apartheid regime were the ´´victims´´ and Mandela and the ANC were those ´´perpetrating violence´´. Are Anglophones and their leadership also afraid that they will be branded as such? To begin with, how did the world come to this type of unspeakable, twisted and double standard? How did the world come to the point where black people cannot exercise the first right but western nations can all exercise the second and the illegal third right? The history of the origin of the slave codes hold these answers.
The slave codes were a series of pronouncements and laws that were put into effect in the Americas and British colonies in order to prescribe (1) the superior conduct of ´´whites´´ towards slaves and (2) the inferior conduct of slaves towards ´´whites´´. The growing number of slaves in the colonies and the fear of slave rebellion in ally-ship with other poor and exploited ´´whites´´ were the two biggest factors that culminated in the enactment of the slave codes that officially put into law the concept of ´´white supremacy´´. Such codes established into law separate court trials, preventing slaves from owning property, prohibition of blacks from gathering, prohibition of blacks from walking in the night without permission, not allowed to carry any form of weapon like a stick, just to name a few. The slave codes did not only strip blacks from the right to self defence but also cleared whites from any charges against any black person. The Casual Killing Act of 1669 for example legally exonerated any ´´white´´ from killing a slave in the course of exacting punishment because malice could not be presumed. The lives of ´´blacks´´ were virtually at the mercy of ´´whites´´ to the point where laws were needed to protect the ´´white´´ killers of black people.
While the research of implicit bias have revealed that blacks today have internalised such ´´inferior position´´ (Wise, 2017), the research of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) by Dr Joy Degruy explains that such ´´inferior position´´ of blacks have been passed down over the generations within the black population. For example, it is widely held that English-Speaking Cameroonians have inherited the strong desire to question figures of authority as oppose to French-Speaking Cameroonians. Such pattern of behaviour inherited from the slave/colonial masters, is what Dr Joy Degruy refers to as PTSS. The elimination of the right to self defence which originated from the slave codes have been passed down over the generations.
First of all, whites believe they are the ones with the monopoly to the right to self defence and dispense of this right arbitrarily to non-whites. This explains why our state heroes like Mandela, Andre Marie Mbida, Um Nyobe, Felix Moumie, Thomas Sankara, just to name a few, all ended up the way they did. UK ambassador said it himself that our lives do not matter so long as it does not affect ”global security”. And make no mistakes; global security in the eyes of the West is taken to mean the lives of ”white people”. Secondly, through the mechanisms of implicit bias and PTSS, blacks have internalised and passed down such deviant behaviour. This explains why even in the midst of the brutal activities of the Biya administration towards the current Anglophone struggle, many Anglophones including their leadership are still hesitant to embrace the natural right to self defence even though such a right is evidently enshrined in the UN charter.
Paradoxically, Anglophones are running to the UN and Western diplomatic missions to come to the rescue; the same institutions who have in their respective charters the right to self defence. If they can claim it for themselves, why can we not also claim it for our own selves? What this mean is that our right to self defence has been relegated to third parties, who as a matter of fact do not regard us as having an equal right to self defence. Just as in the days of slavery with the advent of the slave codes that legally put the lives of slaves at the mercy of the masters, our lives today are still at the mercy of the same slave/colonial masters. Nothing and absolutely nothing has changed. It is time we start to change it for ourselves. Our lives and identity cannot continue to be assigned by others. We should be able to assert ourselves and claim back into our own hands the natural right to self defence. We as black people and Anglophones in particular should be able to look back in the days of ancient Egypt who claimed for themselves their right to self defence over the lands bordering the river Nile. We have to STOP looking up to the same people who are the architect of the same problems we are trying to liberate ourselves from. This attitude is the height of PTSS.
Honestly, I perfectly understand such a hesitation by Anglophones and the leadership to embrace the right to self defence. The fear is that no one wants to be associated to violence, terrorism or a rebel leader. Here are however the crucial questions: are we as a group more concerned with the preservation of our lives or are we more concerned with the labels that can be assigned on to us? Are we as a group more concerned with the liberation and restoration of our homeland or are we more concerned with labels? Our forefathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery like the black Haitian, Toussaint Louverture, could careless of labels. He took up arms in 1791 and defeated the three major slave powers (USA, UK and France) and eventually became the first to abolish slavery in Haiti and around the world.
Our founding fathers, those who fought for the decolonisation of Africa like Kwame Nkrumah could careless of how they were viewed by the oppressor. All that preoccupied their minds were the restoration of the continent and the liberation of black people from the bondage of slavery and colonisation. The atrocities, repression and oppression that are currently being committed at a scale that burgles the mind in Southern Cameroon cannot be over emphasised. The loss of life, wide scale arrest, collective punishment and abduction in the dead of night in the safest places, that is to say in the privacy of our own homes are all familiar to us. If we can no longer be safe in the privacy of our own homes, who else or what place can be safe? Are we therefore afraid that if we exercise our right to self defence, we can be dragged to the kangaroo courts in Yaounde and the Hague to be charged with trumped up charges like terrorism, treason and insurrection against the master? Our fate is however no better if we choose to stay silent.
There was a time when the right to self defence was truly a universal right, applicable to everyone just like in the days of the Egyptian, Roman and Greek empires. From the inception of the concept of ´´race´´ to justify slavery and colonisation, black people till today have lost the right to self defence. We now expect that the right to self defence should be approved to us by the oppressor. How can this ever be possible? What we fail to understand is that the right to self defence is a natural right that is not given but claimed by the oppressed. Are we slaves or are we humans just like ”whites”, worthy of the right to self defence? This question can only be answered by us. It cannot be answered by the UN or the European Union. It cannot be answered by the so call ”international community” either. The UN can ONLY lay down the framework and surely they have expressly and impliedly done so in their Charter. The Romans, the Greeks and of course the black Egyptians all answered this question for themselves. In modern times, Mandela answered this question for himself and so should we. And if we are dragged to these kangaroo courts, we should even be more resolute to reclaim our natural right that ´´it is permitted to repel force by force´´. If they can claim it for themselves, so too should we. After all, we too are humans who equally belong to this universe and worthy of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Amen.
May God grant us all the serenity to accept the things we can´t change, courage to change the things we can and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
By Che A Abongwa: Affiliate Chartered Accountant, ACCA; Bsc Applied Accounting, Oxford Brookes University, UK; Bsc Social services, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Finland (Che_abongwa@yahoo.com).