Revolutionary Nonviolence: Statecraft Lessons from the Global South

Twenty-first-century political analysts are increasingly realizing that militarism is a dead end: it has become obvious that the ongoing global expansion of the military industrial complex has not brought us peace, and new research on the effectiveness of civil resistance as a way to expel intruders and topple dictatorships has sparked wider interest in the idea of nonviolent statecraft. But it would be a mistake to see nonviolent statecraft as a new idea. Indeed, the last half of the twentieth century was peppered by creative and often effective attempts at nonviolent policy making in the Global South. Political theorists in the United States have much to learn from a more careful study of the victories and failures of movements in Zambia, Ghana, India, Grenada and elsewhere.

A 1970 statue by Zoltan Borbereki.

A 1970 statue by Zoltan Borbereki commemorates the involvement of the African National Congress in the struggle against South African apartheid. Credit: Creative Commons/Allie Caulfield/Zoltan Borbereki.

A Nonviolent Revolution in Zambia

In Zambia, after almost a century of largely nonviolent struggle, independence leaders successfully wrested their nation from colonial control, transforming the British colony of Northern Rhodesia into an early example of the power of positive action. The year was 1964. The Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa had threatened to launch an international mass mobilization and pressured the colonial powers to ultimately succumb to the demands of Zambia’s United National Independence Party and their leader, Kenneth Kaunda. From prisoner to party leader to president, Kaunda’s rise to state power was nothing short of meteoric—an especially unusual feat for an avowed pacifist!

During the few years between the jail cell and the presidential mansion, Kaunda traveled to the United States to meet with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He worked closely with leading nonviolent activists, including political leader Rev. A. J. Muste, conscientious objector Bill Sutherland, and peace campaigner Michael Randle, but understood the limitations he’d have once assuming national office. In our cowritten book Guns and Gandhi in Africa, Bill Sutherland shared the torment and challenges that Kaunda shared with him and the other nonviolent activists on the eve of independence. “How, using nonviolence,” Kaunda questioned, “am I going to be able to defend the country against all the spies and agents from Southern Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa attempting to destabilize us?” Together the leading nonviolent activists worked long into the night, struggling with this question, but were unable to provide a clear and well-defined answer to what Kaunda would later call “the riddle of violence and nonviolence.” It is a question we are still struggling with today.
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