José Cossa © Copyright 2011
In the past few weeks, we have witnessed the uprisings of the people of Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt. We have learned how the governments we, at some point, admired can easily underestimate our ability to see injustices perpetrated on us, the people. The institutions and individuals we have once entrusted with our future quickly betray our trust in their promises and the hope we once held becomes shattered by repeated disappointment. This can be true about governments, leadership, politico-economic systems, educational systems, and other institutions or systems.
In my book Power, Politics, and Higher Education... I have addressed five categories of power that speak to the situation in Egypt. Clear instances of hermeneutical power (HP) were evident in the obscurity of meaning in the speech delivered by now former president Mubarak. Mubarak crafted a message replete of evasiveness and obscurity of intention that maintained the people in the shadows and analysts/critics confused as to what the implications were; however, the people's resilience countered this sort of power and demonstrated to the world that it only takes a "no deal" response from the assumed beneficiaries/subjects of negotiations, dictations, and the like arrangements to topple the undesirable powerful systems and the people behind them.
Hermeneutical power is very subtle because those who create documents also carry the ultimate power to interpret them, so the best counter to such power is not to try to negotiate from the terms established (and the language therein) but to completely renounce their legitimacy and assert new terms in which the assumed beneficiaries/subjects participate in their framing. We have witnessed a new strategy to dealing with hermeneutical power; a strategy that can be replicated in negotiations intending to end power imbalances and injustices in various arenas of interrelations between entities and institutions--both nationally and globally. In summary, an African lesson to the world.
Informational power is more readily identifiable, but it is still subtle in that it requires a demystifying of who the guardians of information are, what kind of information is considered legitimate, and what kind of information is to be held as valuable (for well-being, development, enhancement of acceptable knowledge, etc.). For the people, new developments such as WikiLeaks, social networking (e.g., Facebook, Tweeter), and SMS have made once confident and high-level information available in a way that it has not been before. Social media and SMS have also made it easier to disseminate information amongst the so-called ordinary people (as if there are those who are extraordinary!). While these platforms are not per se triggers of a revolution or uprising, they constitute a conduit for communication about ideas, situations, plans, and so forth; thus, while not created with such an end, they provide a platform to counter elitism and information control. It is this counter to government and elite (financial institutions are included in this category) control of information that makes these institutions nervous about losing control of what they regard as not appropriate for everyone to know; in other words, the assumption that there are people who are adequately prepared to handle information about a country's security program and obscure theories and implications of national policies (social, political, economic/financial, etc.) undermines the majority of the population in a given country and the globe at large. Governments and elites have always been keen to filter the information made available to the people; ironically, those who have fought for the liberation of once oppressed peoples have often ended up using the same strategy to cease control of information in order to maintain their acquired (through popular support) position of power. The people of Mozambique understood this dilemma but, unlike the Egyptians and Tunisians, did not endure the government's tactic to shut down SMS as a means to end the uprisings. There was great outrage, but no targeted action against the government's interference in people's right to communicate. My hope is that Mozambicans will, one day, arise to the point of maximizing these platforms as a democratic venue. Egypt and Tunisia ceased the opportunity to access the means of communication and to access high-level (and once secret) information to fuel their courage to stand against elite and government abuses; hopefully, the rest of the oppressed peoples (even those who are still in the road to enlightenment) will cease these weapons (as Amilcar Cabral and Samora Machel would probably say) to counter the complex and almost invisible forces of oppression present in modern-day political systems.
In short, it is essential that the every-day person embarks in an understanding (even if a little bit) of the implications of hermeneutical power and informational power in order for our pursuit of justice to be successful. Complacency with the current systems of government is a death-wish for our civil liberties. We, the people, must constantly advance from a position of suspicion in order to participate in negotiating our freedoms and the respect we deserve.