Justifying violence: the KNUST student protest by Shafic Osman

Argued within a vacuum, the utilization of violence in every struggle will have a strong appeal. Especially when the supposed oppressor/oppressive system is one built on flat out non-communication with the oppressed. When all channels of conventional means of communication fails, violence, which in of itself represents a unique manifestation of communication seems like a legitimate tool to utilize. In independence struggles the world over, some modicum of violence was relied upon to get the oppressor to the table. Even if it was not done in a coherent and collective manner, hit and run schemes of violence did materialize itself if full and all-out war was not made use of.

Fully cognizant of its potency, civilized societies quickly moved to monopolize violence by consolidating it into the hands of the central government/sovereign but granted marginal allowances for the populace to make use of violence in cases of self-defense among others. So even in societies like the United States of America where the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) is repeatedly touted by the NRA (National Rifle Association) and its supporters in the GOP/Republican party, resorting to violence as a means of communication  is still significantly restricted. In Ghana, the language of Article 4 of the 1992 constitution seems to allow for the use of violence by granting citizens the right to defend the constitution and resist persons who seek to subvert constitutional law in Ghana.

Regardless of the traction it might bring to a matter, violence/the use of force, is universally abhorred except in the most extreme of situations. At the macro level, Article 2 paragraph 4 of the UN Charter prohibits the use of force by countries in their international relations with other country but gives some exceptions which largely revolve around the idea of self-defense. It is thus evident that violence at every level is not regarded as a legitimate tool of expressing and registering displeasure at anything, except of course in life threatening situations. The reality of state practice as well as the actions of individuals and grouping alike indicates that abhorrence of violence is not widely held by all and sundry in the global comity.

Take Ghana for instance. Our pre-independence as well as post-independence struggles points to a myriad of instances where violence was utilized with significant support from the masses. From the boycotts led by Ga traditional chiefs to protest price hikes by Syrian merchants, the riots that were fallouts from the Positive Action declared by Kwame Nkrumah, to the many coup d’etat after independence, violence has been welcomed by many sections of Ghana for the alacrity with which it resolved deeply seated problems the country was facing at different points in time. However, the 1992 Constitution with its ambitious and thus far successful goal of grounding the country in democratic credentials, has at its roots together with a host of other principles, the noble idea of ensuring that violence is not used as a means of communicating whatever form of frustration. In spite of this, violence has been used and continues to be used to express dissatisfaction. The question to be answered at the end of the day thus becomes, if the violence brings attention to your plight, does it become valid?

The answer we have gotten from the SRC of the KNUST as well as students from the said institution seems to be in the affirmative. On TV, social media and every other corner where the discussion has been had, the rhetorical question thrown in response to a condemnation of the destruction of school property and that of bystanders has repeatedly been at least you are finally hearing about what we were going through.

Valid as it may seem, violence of the kind which led to every property in sight being vandalized was not a necessary tool in bringing to fore the plight of students. One wonders for example, what the Icy Cup vendor had to do with all of this. Or the taxi parked at the administration block which had its windscreen shattered into smithereens. Like I stated earlier, when argued within the confines of a whatsapp group or an ideological safe space, violence seems like a very plausible root to getting heard. But that is devoid of a toll taking account of what that violence left in its wake.

At the point when student leaders were able to call for a demonstration and hundreds if not over a thousand followers acquiesced, a significant success was achieved by the student front. For a community which for so long had sat in the doldrums and taken everything it was fed, this was a significant upgrade. It was like the Parkland students rising up to protest against the NRA. But when everything went haywire and the protest descended into the usual show of Conti-Katanga free for all melee, it then lost its focus and became a senseless show of depravity. It only solidified the school’s position that the all-male halls were breeding grounds of violence.

Admittedly, the militarization of campus security and the ensuing brutality meted out to students needs to be railed against. The Conti-Katanga fights and the recent reports of threatened sexual abuse and harassment directed towards female residents of the formerly all-male halls probably merited some tough response but it did not have to manifest itself in the arbitrary manner it was reported to have occurred.  School authorities need to be heavily criticized for the manner in which they were reported to have gagged students over the period. But criticizing students for their rampaging behavior does not detract from the aforementioned.  

The reason why violence as used in independence struggles the world over is different from the overturning of cars and mindless destruction of everything in sight on the KNUST camp is that for the former, the ultimate authority i.e. colonial government was the one being resisted while for the latter, the authority being accused of oppression was not the ultimate authority. This distinction is of essence as it shows that while one was effectively and totally gagged because no one will listen to it, the other had other outlets it could resort to. It is also important to note that while one could not even protest without being fired upon and rounded up for longer jail terms, the other could do that and had effectively done that before it allowed the whole movement to descend into violence. A sit-out by these students for instance, would not have led to an Alabama Lunch Counter protest incident!