Riots in Britain showed that violence knows no high culture or low culture

Riots in Britain showed that violence knows no high culture or low culture

By Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi

The riots that have recently rocked British cities such as London and Birmingham have defied what is supposed to be reaction in a democratic society where disagreements are resolved through free and egalitarian processes. The atavistic and gruesome display of violence and almost satanic behaviour by masked and hooded youth and looters calls for a rethinking and need to re-theorize notions of high and low culture, as well as the meaning of what a democratic state entails.


Western textbooks have canonized the notion that violence in society is experienced due to high levels of poverty, where there are no democratic structures and institutions and where people exhibit high levels of primordial (read primitive) instincts. In the psychological analysis of the noble savages from Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America, westerners have always associated violence with failed or soft and weak states. The characteristics that breed violence are by and large explained as ‘Third World’ phenomena, which make the need to reassess such conclusions necessary and urgent.


We can now reject the notion that societies in Developing Countries are prone to violence because their institutions do not work. What is remarkable is that other countries have not send aeroplanes to evacuate nationals of their countries from Britain. Although the immediate cause of the current riots in the United Kingdom have been attributed to the shooting of a minority young man by police, political pundits speculate that there are many triggers predicated on the hard line policies of the David Cameron’s regime, which has pursued exclusionist policies against immigrants and minorities. Labour Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown allowed subsidies to the poor and promoted social programs that allowed the underprivileged to live manageably.


Of course defenders of right wing governments are no suggesting that it due to uncontrolled migration that people with ‘Third World’ mentalities from Eastern Europe and the Developing Countries have arrived and contaminated democratic ethos and good manners in Britain. They are arguing that the riots run counter to the submission of the Freedom House, where in 2010 there were 125 democracies in the world, by which violence and other primitive instincts should have been in the decline.


We know that liberalism represents forms of economic and social violence, through programs that target minorities and other vulnerable groups for marginalization. we know for sure that even though the spread of liberal democracy has become more pervasive since the fall of the former Soviet Union, there are more cases of oppression presided over by democratic regimes such as that of Mbingu wa Mutharika in Malawi and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. it is for this reason that this episodic multiplication of democratic practice in some part of Africa has not made sense, just like it has not made sense to the thousands who have engaged in orgies of rioting and looting in Britain. it is for this reason that westerners should not be too mnuch in hurry to celebrate triumphalism of high society and democracy in the West, particularly among the neo-liberal scholars like Francis Fukuyama who declared capitalism and liberal democracy as the end of history, as the ultimate good.


Western psychological, sociological and political theorists have previously pushed the idea that violence in society was only possible in societies where institutions had failed or did not work. Joseph Schumpeter, Samuel Huntington, Robert Dahl, among others have focused extensively on the liberating notion of democracy, and its panacea to violence and aggression. The riots in Britain have defied this theorising and belief.


The ease with which the practice of democracy has gained ascendancy over other forms of political arrangements in different parts of the world, especially Eastern Europe contributed to Francis Fikuyama’s proclamation in his book The End of History and the Last Man. As it were, democracy has become the unifying discourse which is supposed to tame national and international politics and to foster peaceful coexistence in a world set at odds by the ideological struggles of the cold war. Writers such as Joseph Schumpeter, Samuel Huntington and Robert Dahl have focused extensively on the liberal type of democracy. the view of African scholars such as Claude Ake, Thandika Mkandawire, Mahmoud Mamdani, Bethuel Ogot, Paul Zeleza, Anyang Nyong’o, Archie Mafeje, Adebayo Olukoshi, Julius Ihonvere, Aina Tade, Godwin Murunga, Shadrack Nasong’o, Isaac Tarus,  to be vindicated.



Prof. Amutabi teaches Political Science at the Catholic University Eastern Africa (CUEA), Nairobi –


About African Interdisciplinary Studies Association Website

Prof. Maurice Nyamanga Amutabi is President of African Interdisciplinary Studies Association (AISA), a pioneer professional associaiton bringing together members from all disciplines in Africa and abroad. He is a former Fulbright Scholar who previously worked as Deputy Vice Chancellor at Kisii University and also Director of Research and Professor in Peace and Strategic Studies at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), 2010-2013. He has previously taught at Central Washington University, USA (2005-2010) in African Studies Programme and Moi University (1992-2000) in the Department of Development Studies and other public universities in Kenya. Prof. Amutabi holds a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA in History and African Studies. He received his B.A (Hons) in 1989 in Political Science and History and M.A in 1991 from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Maurice Amutabi is co-editor of Regime Change and Succession Politics in Africa: Five Decades of Misrule (with Shadrack Wanjala Nasong’o) – in 2013. Amutabi also co-edited Africa after Fifty Years: Retrospections and Reflections (with Toyin Falola and Sylvester Gundona) in 2012. Amutabi is the author of The NGO Factor in Africa: The Case of Arrested Development in Kenya (New York: Routledge, 2006). Amutabi is co-author of Nationalism and Democracy for People-Centered Development in Africa (Moi University Press, 2000). He has also co-authored Foundations of Adult Education in Africa (Cape Town/Hamburg: Pearson/UNESCO, 2005). He has written two novels, Because of Honor (a novel on Islam in Africa) and These Good People (a novel on corruption in Africa). Amutabi is also the author of Nakhamuma Stories (a collection of short stories from the Abaluyia community of western Kenya). His chapters have appeared in over thirty books. His articles have appeared in several refereed and reputable journals such as African Studies Review, African Contemporary Cultural Studies, Canadian Journal of African Studies, International Journal of Educational Development; and Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. Amutabi has made presentations at over one hundred national and international conferences. Amutabi is the Vice-President of the Kenya Studies and Scholars’ Association (KESSA), Kenya’s premier research and academic organization. He is the editor-in-chief of Kenya Studies Review and Eastern Africa Journal of Humanities and Sciences. Prof. Amutabi has conducted extensive research on many issues of development. He has taught courses on peace and conflict and gender and development. He teaches in the PhD and Masters Programme in the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at Kisii University. He enjoys blogging and writing and is an avid sports fan, but does not support any of team, preferring to support the team that plays well.
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