#Article (Archive)


Mar 21, 2017, 10:37 AM

by Sankung Papa Susso, EdD. Professor of Education Touro College and University System Email: sankung.susso@touro.edu

While change is inevitable, it is a phenomenon that does not come easily. Change agents are often optimistic in public. However, they are privately cautious about the end they seek. An example of such cautious optimism could be traced to the civil rights era in the United States.

By the 1960’s, many in the United States wanted to see a different direction in the nation’s social and political engagement. That is because since the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, many southern states that fought to keep slavery alive, resorted to the use of statutory construction after their loss during the civil war. They constructed state statutes that served as structural barriers in an effort to undermine the intent of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Their result was a lack of opportunity for the newly freed slaves, especially those in the south. Employment was restricted to whites, as were voting rights, civic participation, education, and property ownership. Black people in the south became confined to their continued dependence on whites. Black women were employed as maids, while men worked as street cleaners and laborers. Black children attended makeshift schools that were characterized by overcrowding and lack of resources. Altogether, while the northern states won the battle to free slaves, the south won the war on instituting poverty within the black community. It is an experience that continues to haunt minority communities in the United States to date.

The 1960’s became the era of rebellion. The likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw unevenness in the application of justice and decided to alter history. Fortunately, many civic minded people also had enough with oppression. Americans sought change in various facets of society. The women’s rights movement, disability rights advocates, and civil rights pioneers all fought alongside each other to rewrite the course of American history. They fought to hold government accountable to the people by ensuring that the promise of a classless society that democracy and the rule of law promised, were no longer ignored.

Citizens who no longer trusted their government or the people who ran it, took a stand against segregation, disenfranchisement, economic oppression, and the passive acknowledgement of freedom and equality. In his letter from the Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.” Dr. King and his apostles fought for the right of every citizen. They envisioned a world in which people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs could come together to create a community of equals.

They fought for human and civil right because such rights have been the ambition of cultures and people for thousands of years. Civilizations fought for freedom in order to break away from social hierarchies that concentrated power atop, while keeping the masses under subjugated conditions. While under servitude, slaves built monuments, canals, statues, cultural institutions, and social infrastructures. While their work kept their oppressors in power with privilege, their perceived social status kept them inferior. Even after their emancipation, blacks in America had to fight for basic rights such as citizenship. As citizens, additional struggles belied them. Blacks in America fought for the right to an education, the right for equal employment, the right to be recognized as equal members of society, and the right to participate in public service. Such inferiority complex is what continues to drive generations of underserved groups across the globe to a call for freedom.

Freedom is immaterial. Whether it was in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, the trans-Atlantic or Saharan slave trades, freedom is a unifying force that transcended culture, language, and religion. To benefit from its reigns, diverse groups of people overcame their differences and fought in unison. They fought hand-in-hand because of their collective thirst for hope. Their sacrifices paved the way for a future in which their posterity would be afforded opportunities they were denied. With hope and dream, the oppressed fought and successfully overcame social, political, and economic barriers.

The genesis of a commitment to oneness is essential to overcoming obstacles. We are one when we share a commitment to unity. Whether it is in our words or our deeds, the human faculty is too great to be rendered futile. Democratic principles appropriately condoned open dialogue for the purpose of sharing ideas to enhance the human experience. Open exchanges of thoughts are essential components in a participatory democracy. When people are free, they should be able to exercise their civic duties unencumbered. We do not have to agree all the time. However, we have to be open to diverse opinions. Diversity can become uncomfortable. However, exclusionary alternatives are far too grave.

This article envisions a declaration in support of freedom of thought and expression. It is also an ode to the nation’s youth and underrepresented groups. In particular, it is aimed at projecting a campaign of tolerance amid tension. The voices of reason would argue for a liberal process in which the voices of decent are unrestricted.

 The work to rebuild The Gambia continues to be inspiring. There is a new government with patriotic citizens who are willing to put partisan politics aside in the national interest. It is my belief that every Gambian owes the new leadership an open mind. I remember in the United States when Barack Obama was first elected as president. There were widespread views that with a promise of hope and change, poverty will be eliminated and the culture of racism will disappear. However, the opposite is true.

By the time President Obama left office, poverty in minority neighborhoods remained dense, racism became illuminated, and the country became more polarized than ever. However, those failures cannot be attributed to Mr. Obama. As a nation, every citizen has a role to play in national development. People lost sight of that vision in the United States. Instead, they convinced themselves of an illusion that government could solve all of their problems. Such a mindset is a fallacy. Governments are supposed to help enhance the quality of life for every citizen. How such transformations manifest themselves will depend upon the individual contributions of each citizen.

As the parliamentary campaign is underway, it is baffling to see the lack of youth participation in the process. Sure, there are a lot of people out in the streets, dancing, singing, and chanting for their preferred candidates. Such activism should be commended. However, I would like to task The Gambia’s youth to work towards public service. Today, there is an effort to lift the age limit to serve in certain governmental positions, namely the presidency and vice presidency. I believe that is a commendable approach because an unjust law is no law at all. I equally believe that efforts should be made to include more of the nation’s youth in higher positions within the public service so as to offer the youth opportunities to become future leaders of The Gambia. If the nation’s youth remains unprepared for the task of governing, it will be hard to imagine the future leaders of the country.

I remember back in the early 1990’s when then President Jawara announced his intension to retire. Many in the country welcomed his announcement, even if they would not say it publicly. However, many more citizens felt at a standstill. They were shocked because they could not imagine anyone else running The Gambia at the time.

We were used to the same president and the same government so much that a transition was unimaginable. Because we were unprepared for change, it came as a shock on July 22, 1994 when a coup was successfully staged, leading the country into autocracy. We should learn from history and make the changes necessary today in order to be ready for tomorrow.

The nation’s youth are indispensable. Today, Gambians are taking the so-called backway because of a perceived lack of opportunity at home. Recently, a few hundred were sent home because of restrictions in countries that are willing to accept them as migrants and refugees.

 However, security conditions are making it difficult for most countries to accept refugees. In countries such as South Africa, migrants have now become targets for violence and other atrocities because of a perceived lack of opportunities for its citizens. A lot of these kinds of frictions can be resolved by creating opportunities for increased youth employment. Educational incentives will also help prepare many of the nation’s youth for public service should they choose to do so. This is what I believe the current parliamentary election should be about. It is a view that I share and hope that in support of our nation’s youth.