Jun 22, 2009, 9:18 AM
few years ago, let’s say in 2015, it would have been inconceivable to have an
honest public conversation on the importance of patriotism in nation building
in this country. If such a public conversation were held, it would have been
one at which patriotism would be defined as love for the state and the head of
state. The patriotic Gambians would have been those who unreservedly supported
the state in all its actions – just or unjust – and the unpatriotic Gambians
would have been all who dared demand fair treatment of the nation within a
regime of unwavering truth and justice.
Under a political regime in which the leader personifies the nation, true patriotism is branded unpatriotic and blind, unthinking loyalty to the leader as patriotic. The logic of the nation is subverted and all what appears like nation building is in fact a person building process in which everyone must participate or be branded unpatriotic and worthy of destruction. Where genuine patriotism is punished and fake patriotism or parochial chauvinism rewarded, the nation becomes pregnant with political hostility. The culture of hostility propagated by the state inevitably pervades the nation and turns citizen against citizen, party against party, ethnic group against ethnic group, and faith against faith. Hostility becomes ingrained in the political culture, and manifests itself in repressive state actions and a politics of hostility and insults in which citizens rip each other apart and the zealots among them propagate toxic ideologies of gradation and difference among human beings and belief systems. Here again, the logic of the nation is subverted because as one indivisible entity, the nation cannot help suffering when any of its individual members suffer.
Simply defined, patriotism is love of nation, devotion to nation, and support for nation. It is intrinsically present in the nature of every citizen. It is what manifests when as Gambians we collectively support our national sports teams in international tournaments and wish that they bring home the trophy. This love of country is common to all citizens and no citizen can rightly claim to have more of it than another citizen. But while this common love of nation cannot be diminished, our devotion to nation and support for nation may often be corrupted. Such corruption happens when devotion to and support for the nation are reduced to unquestioning devotion to and support for the state and all state actions – just or unjust. Or when devotion to and support for nation are reduced to unquestioning devotion to and support for a political entity and all the actions of that entity - just or unjust. Devotion to and support for the state or any other entity within the nation must never take precedence over devotion to and support for the nation – which means devotion to and support for all members of the nation – regardless of all political, ethnic, religious or other differences we may have.
Today, in February 2020, we thank God that we all can have an honest public conversation on the importance of patriotism in nation building without fear of being branded unpatriotic enemies of the state. The fact that freedom of expression so suddenly blossomed in The Gambia after the impasse points to the fact that Gambian patriotism refused to be silenced throughout the dictatorship. Yes we are in transition from a political dictatorship to a political democracy. But we are not in transition from an absolute dictatorship to a new democracy in The Gambia. Democracy is not new to The Gambia.
And so The Gambia’s current transition is more about nurturing that democratic spirit and patriotism that predated the dictatorship, defied the dictatorship, and survived the dictatorship than about taking care of a baby democracy. Yes, protests, open criticisms and opposition to the state inside The Gambia were dangerous activities under the dictatorship, but they occurred nonetheless, alongside more daring challenges to that regime of impunity. It was the relentless expression of an already existing democratic patriotism that eventually ousted the dictatorship after 22 years of struggle when patriotic Gambians stubbornly stood their ground and insisted on having their rightful say in nation building, much to the annoyance of the intolerant dictatorship.
Now that the dictatorship has ended, it is no longer dangerous to say that patriotism demands that we all contribute to the building of functional state institutions and that we all insist on respect for human rights and the rule of law. These are important aspects of nation building and should go hand in hand with other aspects of nation building such as the provision of infrastructure and health, educational and other facilities and services to the nation. Equally important if not more so, we should all engage in the deliberate nurturing of that democratic spirit and patriotism that animated the struggle against the dictatorship. Nurturing that democratic spirit and patriotism is an important challenge of Gambian nation building and requires that we all consciously do what we can to promote social integration for the welfare of the nation as a single indivisible entity whose members share the same national identity and the same national destiny.
Promoting social integration does not mean insisting on total similarity. That is what dictatorships try to do and that is why they always fail because it is contrary to human nature for people not to have differences. What patriotism demands is that we embrace and respect the integrity of our differences as the only sure way to peaceful co-existence and national progress. Yes, we embrace different faiths and support different political parties. But we are united by our love of country. That love of country and our common humanity requires that we should never manufacture political, ethnic, religious and other hierarchies within which we place ourselves above our fellow citizens. It helps to understand that we demean ourselves and by extension our nation when we demean our fellow human beings, because we are all part of the nation. It also helps to understand that we affirm our own humanity and dignity when we affirm the humanity and dignity of other people, and therefore of our nation.
True patriotism demands that we recognize the indivisible nature of our existence as a nation - an indivisible entity which must rise together or sink together – and in which an injury to one is an injury to all, and that we make the conscious effort to individually rise above the politics of acrimony and conflict that cause us to hurt each other and therefore hurt our dear Mother Gambia. The mantra of every patriotic Gambian should be One Gambia, One Nation, One Family.
Note: Due to time constraints, this statement was only presented in summary at the event.