Jobe (author of the original title) demonstrated good intentions when he calls
us to reflect back on what it means to be a country, a nation state, and
neighbors. These good intentions are the principles on which we must build our
country because it means that we must at all times assume good intentions in
our countrymen and women no matter how difficult the situation is.
To begin with, I want to underscore the ills of tribalism as well as the dangers of undifferentiated claim of tribalism. I will dwell on why “it took Centre stage in Gambia before and after election”, I will move on to the aspect of diversity and the crucial roles positive diversity enhance development. I will highlight the notion “what Gambia is known for” and add my voice to the debate “the way ahead”.
If we break the concept of tribalism or ethnic belonging into its molecular characteristics, what it tells us is that a particular group must be 100 % homogenous in terms of language, blood, culture, area inhabited etc. If one is missing or lacking, then we cannot even talk about tribalism. If one of these characteristics is missing, what we have is people living together as a unit defending, sharing available resources, or in worst cases fighting for access to the meagre resources. A particular person in a community is motivated by many factors with the sole aim to survive and to breed family within that community. Hence it is common knowledge that the makeup of the Gambian communities are far from homogeneity. 1/3 of each of the language groups are made up of people who have one biological parent belonging to another language group.
Therefore the claim of tribalism in every setting can be erroneous. People can maltreat other people for different reasons and for different motives other than tribal affiliation. If we categorize the actions of people solely as a direct result of their tribal belonging, we are also creating a homogeneity that never existed and will never exist. Unfortunately in Gambia today, the notion is widespread that the Mandinka speaking people are somehow by nature tribal oriented. The state under the outgoing regime cultivated this resentment towards the Mandinka purely to mobilize the other Language groups into a block to defend against, what in the regimes eyes, is the “arrogance” of the Mandinka so-called people (there are no such people). The ultimate aim, as in most cases, is all about entrenching one individual in power. For example, if the goal was to benefit all other tribes except the Mandinkas, why was it not possible that the presidency change from one language group to another within “the block” in the duration of 22 years? With this modus operandi, the regime only enhanced and created a sense of Mandinka belonging that never existed. As a result, people will identify themselves to be Mandinka even if they don’t speak the language but felt obliged to classify themselves as Mandinkas. They may even have other motives.
A nation state must avoid such cynism at all times. To have responsible citizens, as Adama Jobe idealized, the state itself must be the furtherance of tolerance not the negator. A state that has an interest in the development and tranquilly of the communities must be an example for inclusiveness and never let itself misused by one person for his personal benefit. It is never sustainable but always at astronomical expense for the common good! We all knew from onset that Gambia cannot maintain such a marginalization of a part of the populace for long. But the energy and cost blown towards that effort is horrendous. Thus we must focus our attention to the credibility of people who use the sentiments of the people to cultivate resentment and distrust among the language groups by dismissing one group or the other as tribalist.
That is why responsible citizens are deemed the bedrocks of communities. They stand for common good and they know that it is only through looking beyond one’s own immediate surroundings, is it possible to create something bigger like a community and a country. Thus the question: where were the responsible citizens when the incumbent started to abuse people, insult other tribes and regions, declared Islamic state thereby relegating our fellow citizens of Christian faith to second class citizens? Imam Baba Leigh, Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh, beside the institutionalized political parties, come to mind. Too little if I can’t even fill this paragraph with names out of a population of nearly 2 million people.
Positive tribalism doesn’t exist. What is and what must be encouraged is the capability of everyone in a community to nurture diversity and see the positive in diversity. We are rich if we encourage diversity. We are poor if we reject diversity because then we are just stifling interchange of everything natural. We will be sowing resentment, enviousness, and counterproductive behaviors detrimental to progress.
What Gambia is known for, to me, is good neighborliness. There is no substitution for good neighborliness. As our saying goes “what affect a neighbor concerns his/her neighbors”. Good neighborliness requires from us circumspect in our daily dealings with our neighbors and closing of ranks in times of attack on the inalienable sanctity of human life. That entails that it should not only be “smiling coast”but also about “not looking away” when others are incarcerated because of their political beliefs, journalistic work, language affiliation, or religious orientation. If we look away, or remain silent or even collude with the powers that be, we gravely betray the sacred responsibility of every citizen to be one’s“brother’s keepers“. It is a grave miscalculation to believe that a terror regime will last. It has never and will never be sustainable. The sooner we close ranks, the sooner we can collectively see off tyranny.
The aftermath of this unprecedented defeat of the incumbent is one of joy, freedom, and optimism. We breathe the air of freedom that was in short supply. We are joyous because we thought that the outcome would be bloody and finally we are optimistic because we have restored some semblance of normalcy in the political dispensation of our country. We have chosen a coalition of parties and people from the cross-section of the society. To that end, a Kemo Bojang and a Fatou Jobe, for me, represent todays Gambia. I say this because just by their family names, it will be difficult to ascertain which ethno-linguistic group they emanate. Both emanate from a group but what is important to us is that they both belong to a community call the Gambia. This fact we nourish and defend even in difficult times.
THE WAY AHEAD is paved by this election. NO to militarism; no arbitrariness, no to impunity, no to marginalization, no to disappearance, no to disregard of our laws and norms, no to silence and looking away while members of our communities disappear in the night. YES to space for all, yes to diversity in a framework of rule of law, yes to religious pluralism, yes to intermarriage between our peoples, yes to cooperation and enhancing our social capital so that our transaction cost go down because we increase trust among ourselves. Yes to people`s power and the strengthening of our democratic institutions. YES we can!