I have a chapter to bring to a close between now and my graduation. A final task which lies ahead. Just talking of it summons apprehension. Dissertation. The sounds of the word is slightly sinister. Dissertation. As if a snake would be best suit to say it. Dissertation. Satire aside however; I am also looking forward to spending time reading and writing about; human rights, food security and social justice movements. In the corners of peaceful, antiquated British libraries. Dissertation. In charming British parks with the most hospitable British climate. Dissertation. Drinking tea on smooth running, commuter trains through that nice picture of Britain.
I must confess that I, a young man, considered of half Euro descent, who struggles to express himself in the proper English tongue, studies the legacies of colonialism, wrongful wars (all wars) and has generally been uninterested in British culture; is both shocked and healed to realise that he sincerely longs for that quaint Little Britain and his tranquil Yorkshire, from his temporary home in the Warm Heart of Africa.
Recently I have been falling up a path of informal research, and my praxis is gradually solidifying within (if solidifying is that which this praxis thing does?). However, recently listening to an audio recording of ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’ (Mandela’s autobiography), I prefer the term “political awakening” rather than praxis. I should confess I am in the midst of a sort of Mandela complex and have caught the Mandela fever, as have many other young people before me. His autobiography has given me to a new role model and inspiration, for Mandela is a person who never let bureaucracy put him on hold, and chose pacifism over violence. Mandela!
Whilst I’m thinking about how cultural identities inform praxis, I am also thinking how awakening politically can further enhance cultural identity. For instance, I have begun conducting informal research about the perspectives and understandings of empowerment, simultaneously I am being charged by the power of other people and my own identity is transformed.
To be even more explicit about the transformation; as my Mandela Complex develops, I mean praxis, I have found myself identifying as first and foremost an activist, secondarily a volunteer here. Whilst my placement here will end one day, and I shall be released back to the antiquated and imaginary rose gardens of Little Britain, the activist part of me will remain. That is if, my activism is earthed by ethical reasoning, then it will always be retained in my consciousness; I am an activist, and a happy one.
This does not to subtract from how much I value and respect my placement here. For I sincerely believe that civil societies need individuals who are first and foremost activists and are also students or workers secondarily. Whilst I have previously described myself as a student activist, I foresee this placement will leave me an activist student. This is more than just semantics, or semantics are more than we think, for it changes my very nature to even to write of this.
When I report back indirectly to DFiD (and other stakeholders directly) about the placement; I’ll have the opportunity to tell them how my placement, has transformed me into an empowered activist student, as opposed to the student activist I once was. I’ll have to explain about how this is a very different thing indeed, and if anyone has doubts I’ll start talking about Nelson Mandela, then everyone will applaud.
How I prioritise my identity, will be in the best interest of the donors if their best interest is that of the oppressed or marginalised (but I shall not call them poor) communities we are empowering and also defending. Furthermore, it is in the best interest for all if activists are both nonviolent and compassionate throughout their action and research.
Coincidentally, ‘activist’ is a title I would have previously denied myself because of a lack of theoretical understanding of social causes, and a concern about what impression it would have on potential future employers and peers (like DFiD).
At the same time, I have not been absence from activism and at times, I have been found very close to the heart of some campaigns. I just couldn’t stay away. True however, I felt out of place in such central positions, since I was unconscious of the extent of ethical grounds and praxis behind movements; I would be unconfident in an argument trying to defend the causes if challenged. Although since I’ve started studying again, I have begun to understand in more depth those ethical grounds. However I still had to come here to Malawi; to know first-hand what it is that informs the ethics of social activists? (For those of you who get me; I will now be able to grow into a spiral of investigation; what comes first the ethics or the oppression?).
Now, I feel ready to pick up where I left off and start waging nonviolence, this time more consciously. Any institution, group or corporation which defends or writes the global constitution which enshrines a global apartheid for all; I will challenge with words at least, nonviolent action where necessary, and summon the feeling of empathy from within them in which they will metaphorically choke, which can emerge from even the most myopic, lead hardened hearts! That’ll be a last resort.