On Liberating the Concept of Liberation…!
On Liberating the Concept of Liberation…!
Is there a difference, in the manner in which they rule, between rulers who previously resisted colonialism and granted their countries independence by force and those who made nice with colonialism until they came to be considered, in the eyes of some, as colonial agents?
Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s passing a few days ago prompted reflections on some of our region’s political state of affairs and contemplations on some meanings and concepts, especially the above question.
The former Algerian president entered public life as a youth involved in the Algerian “National Liberation Front’s” resistance. He then rose to prominence during Houari Boumediene’s long presidential reign, serving as the latter’s foreign minister. Bouteflika was thus seen as the “revolution’s diplomat” whose youth spoke to its youth and whose enthusiasm echoed its enthusiasm. It was often said that as he gave voice to independent Algeria, he also gave voice to the “Third World,” whose aspirations to independence, as well as ownership of its resources and national wealth, Algeria tried to lead. However, domestically, Bouteflika was a pillar of the regime from which a military dictatorship and a cult of personality sprung, making political life impossible.
Much has passed through these waters. Boumediene died and the civil war of the 1990s erupted and took its various forms. It ended with Bouteflika eventually becoming president. However, the young man moved by revolutionary ideals ended up with the presidency, which he wanted, as his mentor Boumediene had, his forever. His loss of consciousness during the last few years of his rule did not prevent him maintaining his position. He spent twenty years in office between 1999 and 2019, and it has been reported that he intended to die as president. As for his many terms in office, they were marred by corruption of an astronomical scale, and it came in both familial and non-familial variety. And so, a second Algerian revolution broke out, and this time, it was against one of the symbols of the first Algerian revolution. Bouteflika was removed from his throne and disappeared from the scene.
The events mentioned as part of this quick recap tell nothing new. However, what matters is the following: whether or not you fight colonialism has little bearing on nation building and has no noticeable impact on how the country is run. What applies to colonialism also applies to imperialism, racism, occupation, reaction, etc.…
What could be said of Bouteflika could also be said of many others, most recently Jacob Zuma, who was a militant against apartheid in South Africa, struggling and languishing in prison alongside Nelson Mandela and his comrades in Robben Island. When he assumed South Africa’s fourth presidency, his time in office was marked by terrifying corruption.
In other words, what merit to govern is granted by resisting colonialism, to which the conduct of Bouteflika, Zuma and others testify? How does the governance of these corrupt politicians differ from that of many South Korea’s rulers, who were described as appeasing colonizers and imperialists?
That is precisely the point: there is no connection whatsoever between one’s stance on colonialism and how they run the country after independence, keeping in mind that the country could be run more viably and less corruptly under colonialism. What that means is the struggle against colonialism and imperialism, in this case, becomes totally detached from politics, usually becoming antithetical to it, as this old association with struggle is used to establish “revolutionary legitimacy” that undermines constitutional legitimacy, prevents the transfer of power and the renewal of elites.
When the struggle against colonialism becomes far-removed from building states and societies, it becomes fair to deal with yesterday’s revolutionaries as mere avengers whose objective had been ascending to power, alongside their kin and community, in the place of the colonial powers. Kinship ties’ replacement of the state and the nation thereby become understandable. So do the fact that the Msholozi clan is always mentioned alongside the name of Zuma, and the significance of having been born in the city of Oujda in Morocco mentioned alongside the name of Bouteflika, the Alawites in Syria with Assad, the Sunnis of Tikrit and the “Sunni triangle” with the name of Saddam Hussein, and so on and so forth.
These experiences and those like them leave us facing the need to distinguish between affirming peoples’ unequivocal right to national liberation or social change on the one hand and, on the other, the limited awareness about that change and liberation among many of those demanding them and their leaders. This dearth, the dearth in contemplation about building a homeland and a state, is not averted through the national anthem and the flag, nor by paying tribute to years of struggle and the number of martyrs who had fallen and those who may fall. The issue is bigger, deeper, and more convoluted than that, but the first step is certainly doing away with the sick and misleading literature that leaves our world brimming with cheap noise.