Looking beyond SARS will necessitate an understanding of intersecting and inherited struggles. We are inheritors of Haiti’s revolution, whether we choose to be or not, and we are dependent on the Movement for Black Lives in America as we are on the movement against Gender-Based Violence in Namibia.
Those who are blessed with power,
And the soaring swiftness of the eagle
And have flown before,
Let them go.
I will travel slowly,
And I, too, will arrive.
— Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, 1968
Watching the mass mobilization of #EndSARS protesters for the sixth day I began to think, naturally, of anger. The kind of anger that sustains a movement beyond its expected limits. Which abounds in potentiality. An anger unrelenting, precise, reinforced every time it is rebuffed. The kind of anger Aimé Césaire speaks about in Euzhan Palcy’s 2007 film, Aimé Césaire: The Voice For History, a ‘cosmic anger, a creative anger’. Even as bodies grow tired, and voices strain, what can be fashioned in this moment that bears what even a thousand bodies cannot bear? How does anger become creative? How does it become visionary? How does it embrace the full extent of its vision?
All I have, mostly, are more questions. And it is precisely what feels different about these protests. They emerge from a place of deep questioning, not merely of the government, but of the ‘movement’ itself, what it should or can mean. And whatever the outcome of these protests, what will become apparent is that the questions we have asked and are asking, about power and who can wield it, how it should be used, will form the material basis of a future which cannot yet be known.
‘To Face Squarely the End of SARS’
The unknown or unknowable future of resistance, rather than the foreclosure of vision, is the crystallization of vision. To face squarely and consistently the end of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or ‘SARS’ is to face the conditions which make SARS possible. It is to call the entire carceral state into question, as well as its foundation in anti-blackness and imperialism. All manifestations of Empire. We are speaking, of course, of abolition. Abolition, specifically within the Black radical tradition, and specifically within the Black feminist tradition. Its rich and long history, spearheaded by such pivotal thinkers as Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, provides a framework for contending the unknowable future. It emphasizes the centrality of policing, imprisonment and surveillance (the Prison Industrial Complex), in global dispossession and disenfranchisement. Abolition addresses the constitutive violence of the state.
Considering the vast and deeply incriminating evidence against SARS, it is understandable to think of their excesses as exceptional, but as the theorist, Giorgio Agamben, reminds us, ‘Police is the relationship of a state with itself’. Put differently by Guillermina Seri, ‘Every police agent embodies a minute replica of the state . . . the police are the state’s most condensed governing organ.’ And governments are differentiated from all other organizations, Charles Tilly writes, ‘by their tendency to monopolize the concentrated means of violence’. The essential and fundamental work of police is violence. In the photos and videos which have emerged since the protests began it has been rightly noted that SARS officials are issued assault rifles. If the Nigerian police are under ‘normal’ circumstances, militarized in the manner of an occupying force, the suggestion of reform is absurd. You cannot reform police in a police state. It has been interesting to watch, both online and offline, a significant portion of protesters grapple with this conclusion without the language to articulate it.
A Generation Radicalizing Itself
In the absence of broad political education, we are witnessing a generation radicalize itself in real-time, forming its strategies as quickly as it implements them. Momentum of this intensity allows for an anomalousness and experimentation which is difficult to anticipate but it is also very easy to subvert. The place of political education is to help make plain the rationale, to be sure that we want what we say we want, and make plain the implications, to be sure that we know what it will demand of us. Our cosmic anger, our creative anger must also be a conscious one for it requires great vigilance to not recreate what one has escaped. Looking beyond SARS will necessitate an understanding of intersecting and inherited struggles. We are inheritors of Haiti’s revolution, whether we choose to be or not, and we are dependent on the Movement for Black Lives in America as we are on the movement against Gender-Based Violence in Namibia.
Locating #EndSARS within a larger historiography of resistance is crucial because it allows us to refine our questions instead of asking the same ones over again, to resist the blinding euphoria of symbolic victories and a false sense of exceptionalism. Most importantly, it forces us to see that the work is long, that it involves not only commitment, but hope, and hope, Mariame Kaba tells us, ‘is a discipline’. It is decolonial work, and feminist work, and anti-capitalist work, and eco-conservationist work, and yes, abolitionist work. Abolition, Ruth Wilson Gilmore writes, is a theory of presence, not absence. Which means it is ‘life in rehearsal’; we are constantly making and re-making, remapping the geographies of freedom, redefining the scope of the unknown future. By our actions now we create and further its advancement. If a week ago the majority of us could not conceive of an alternative to policing, we need only look at the systems of mutual aid, facilitated to a large extent, it must be noted, by women, which have galvanized the #EndSARS protests, in which communities across states and in the diaspora have contributed to catering, legal, logistics and medical services with the efficiency of long practice.
The Threat of Young Nigerians
Young Nigerians are looking to themselves to validate their power, and potent in this communion is not merely the ability to refuse and to demonstrate this refusal but a willingness to transcend what has been refused. To imagine otherwise, to make something else. In Tractatus Theologico-Politico, Spinoza argues that fear of the multitude circumscribes sovereign power, for ‘every ruler has more to fear from his own citizens […] than from any foreign enemy, and it is this “fear of the masses” [… that is] the principal brake on the power of the sovereign or state.’ Even the most poorly run state is adept at recognizing the threat posed by the social body, and will always attempt to maintain, through whatever means, a feeling of meekness and ambivalence among its citizens. Woe, then, should a cosmic anger overtake them, and they become restless⎈
The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected]