Embracing democracy with civic education

Monday, February 12, 2018

December 2016 was arguably the most crucial period in the history of The Gambia. The people of the Smiling Coast of Africa decided to change a government that had ruled them for more than two decades. The nation rejoiced to a new democratic dispensation with high hopes of economic transformation, good governance, greater security etc. The events that ensued before and after both the presidential and parliamentary elections will continue to resonate in the minds of Gambians for many years.

As the country overwhelmingly embraces democracy, I’m of the conviction that, civic education is needed today more than at any other time, for obvious reasons. This is so because the concept of “Democracy” can be greatly misconstrued especially in a third world country such as The Gambia where just a little above 50% of the populace have some form of  formal education. The chances of people exceeding the limitations of their rights to encroach on that of others or at worst  on national security is high.

Thus, the National council for civic education (NCCE) must spearhead a massive enlightenment campaign on the nitty-gritty’s of democracy and shed more light on the citizens’ role in protecting the constitution of the country. This is in line with the councils constitutional mandate. One of these as stated in section 199 (1)(d) of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia is “to formulate, implement and oversea programmes aimed at inculcating in the citizens of the Gambia awareness of their civic rights, duties and responsibilities.”

This campaign is even made more urgent because of the alarming scenarios that have unfolded in The Gambia over the past months. Which are, to a large extent, peculiar to the country. The knife attack on the policewoman by a group of thugs in Piccadilly who thought it was part of their freedom, the assault on a Journalist at a press conference, the Kanilai incident, the assault of officers and damage of property at the Farato incident, the mob attack on officers who were arresting people suspected of possessing marijuana  in Bakau etc underscores this very fact. And the confrontations between the different political party supporters that sometimes resulted in serious bodily injuries are scary. A friction of that kind among people living in the same communities could trigger a chain reaction. Apparently, these confrontations seem to disappear but cognizant of the fact that elections are continuously held in a democratic state means people would soon wear their party hats. Has the anger of those that suffered injuries or property damages evaporated? If not, what are those party militants planning for one another in the subsequent elections? Are we going to see a repeat of those clashes? The answers to these questions are crucial as far as moving forward as a stable, progressive and a cohesive nation is concerned.

A phenomenon that has raised its ugly head in the country is ethnicism or some may call tribalism. The fact that some of the incidents mentioned above had ethnic related elements puts an entirely different complexity to the problems we face as country. Never have I come across any concept more ridiculous, irrational and costly! to Africans as ethnicism (tribalism). It has plagued the continent for far too long. Seeing such a thing manifest itself in its slightest form in a beautiful nation as The Gambia; so ethnically diverse and interconnected, increases my fear in no small measure. Scary because the tiny West African country enjoyed relative peace; devoid of civil unrest in a region that has witness numerous wars.

Therefore, these incidents clearly indicate an urgent need for redressing. History has thought us how devastating ethnic conflicts can be. The Rwandan genocide which took the lives of  an estimated 800,000 was a conflict between ethnic groups (Tutsis and Hutus). Many other places in Africa and elsewhere are crippled on this basis.

The main focus of the major actors should be emphasized on the solutions that would remedy the situation, rather than the cause(s) of its surfacing. Which is of less importance for the meanwhile.

Critical to this end, requires a rigorous  and sustained enlightenment campaign. The NCCE must set the motion to create awareness on some key issues around ethnicism in politics. In The Gambia, there exist nothing like a registered ethnic-based political party nor does a political party figurehead represent a single ethnic group. Not even religious-based political parties as has other countries like South Africa (The African Christian Democratic Party); Germany (The Christian Democratic Union). This should be a key message in the campaign. A clear distinction must be made between politicians and their party activities from their ethnic identities. Otherwise, there is a tendency that people would associate an individual’s actions, whether good or not, to his ethnicity. Thereby, making it one or a few rotten potato(s) destroying the rest of the bag. This is a recipe for division. Everyone must know that, that bag in any given republic, which we are, is the nation at large. So no one must pay for another’s actions.

The NCCE must make this a priority because politicians will always act in ways that would advance their party interests or at least would hardly do anything ,even if the correct thing to do, that would reduce their votes. Having said that, the arduous task of dissecting this misconceptions cannot be entrusted with them. Although, they are key players that must be involved in this endeavor.

The role of the youth is indispensable in this process. Several youth organizations in the country host summer camps, leadership trainings, symposiums, public debates etc that attract a significant number of young people who can be catalyst for eradicating this negative vices. The NCCE has to capitalize on these avenues by making itself felt either by sending resource persons at those platforms or by distributing relevant reading materials conveying to the eminent national leaders the precepts of democracy. This, I believe can greatly aid in the enlightenment of the youth who form nothing less than 60% of the population. They must be made to understand that, they will be at the helm of affairs in a few years to come and that actions of the leaders today will determine what kind of a country they will inherit. The council must work closely with the National Youth council (NYC) as the body responsible for coordinating and supervising youth activities; With structures that stretch across the country. This gives the NCCE the opportunity to easily reach out to the youth in all nooks or crannies of The Gambia especially during the biennial National Youth Conference and Festival (NAYCONF). This event is unique in the sense that it brings together youth and their leaders, politicians, security officers, entrepreneurs ,Activist etc from different tribes ,regions and political afflictions in one place. It’s the perfect forum to send messages of enlightenment and it will certainly permeate through society.

For this council to expand its tentacles, it requires more resources especially financial and human. The government and its development partners should increase their support to this important institution in order for it to successfully embark on this arduous crusade because the peace of the Gambia is its first and most precious asset.

Musa Baldeh is a student of School of Journalism and Digital Media, University of The Gambia. 

Source: Picture: Musa Baldeh