With Mohammed Hassan Loum
On 18 February 2018, The Gambia celebrated 53 years of independence from colonialism. The Gambia is now a handsomely ageing middle-aged man (or woman), figuratively speaking. As an independent and sovereign nation, we are growing older and shall soon become very old. Do we however truly understand what colonialism is? The scramble for Africa and how Europe divided, partitioned and colonised Africa? How Europe and its allies perpetrated the greatest, most sophisticated and perhaps longest period of slave trade recorded in African history? How our forefathers suffered and struggled against slavery, exploitation, deception and other forms of intolerable oppression.
Should this portion of history be swept under the carpet and we masquerade our Independence Day celebrations with senseless partying and merriment? I am not saying that we depend upon lame apologies and blame colonialism for all of Africa’s woes and worries, but history should not be totally forgotten. Perhaps there should be even lengthier newspaper series about ‘the youth should be told be truth about colonialism and independence’. So what are we really celebrating and being all merry about? Spending millions in the celebration of freedom from oppression, when these monies could have perhaps been diverted to worthier national development causes. No doubt certain opportunistic and capitalist companies would definitely profiteer from such occasions and organise very loud public parades and carnivals, dancing all through the night and disturbing public peace, promoting promiscuity, immoral dressing and the lewd behaviour of our youths. If you were to ask the youths about the political parties and their leaders who struggled for The Gambia’s independence, I am certain that many won’t go past naming former president Dawda Kairaba Jawara and the PPP. The whole point of this essay nonetheless is about how and how not to celebrate Independence Day.
This is how I would have celebrated Independence Day. I would organise a series of public symposia and open debates (in English and vernacular) and invite Gambian historians, academicians, public inspirational speakers, youth motivators, national development entrepreneurs, writers, teachers, seasoned politicians and let them teach the masses, especially the youth, about what true independence means. I would organise and award winning prizes to the best school essays on celebrating true independence. We would collectively look back at our history as a continent and a country with the right frame of mind and eye. We would endeavour to learn about, fully appreciate and endeavour to positively restore our lost culture, lost history and lost identity. It is important for us to truly know who we are and what we are capable of achieving together.
We would learn to appreciate the efforts of our forefathers, some who brutally died in struggles for our independence believing that we as a continent, country and people could do better for ourselves. The celebration of true independence would be about the deep inculcation of sustainable national development spirits and true sense of self-recognition by being aufait with our true national and continental histories as rewritten by Africa’s own.
For 53 years now, what can we truly show as tangible national development achievements qualitatively and quantitatively? We could perhaps name few. Our youths are still embarking upon the perilous ‘back way’ journey to Europe, forsaking family and country. Why is this still so? Our youths are said to be more than 60% of the national population and yet majority of them are unemployed even after graduation. What self-sustaining state-owned industries do we have or plan to have as a country in order to facilitate very large scale youth employment? Such are the questions I believe we should be asking ourselves and try to find the right answers for. If the past failed, then let us ensure that the future does not fail. Failing to plan is simply planning to fail and the starting point of such failure is the lack of self-recognition of self-worth which possibly could be attained by what I term as the celebration of true independence. Some of us do fully understand who we truly are and what we can do and achieve together if truly united. Words must now be transformed into true and realistic actions. Our youths should know that the proverbial greener pasture on the other side is not always that green. Let us work first at home by irrigating our own lands and transforming our own pasture to become greener and better.
Do you know why we are insulted as a people and our continent called a ‘shithole’? It is because we force ourselves down the throats of peoples, nations and systems that despise us and we do not take ourselves seriously. Instead of talking to and helping each other as Gambians and Africans, we talk to and help others, more so craving for their recognition, attention and acceptance. We acknowledge the contributions of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans, Ghana and Ghanaians, Nigeria and Nigerians, Senegal and the Senegalese in The Gambia’s teaching, law, health and other development fields. From kindergarten, primary to high schools, these nations and their citizens have immensely contributed to the advancement of The Gambia’s education system. Many of The Gambia’s premier university and college graduates studied at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, University of Ghana, University of Ibadan in Nigeria and Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal. Nowadays at the slightest opportunity, we ship across and pay for our children to study in expensive schools and universities abroad in Europe or America, forsaking our African colleges and universities.
Instead of spending summer holidays in Senegal, Sierra Leone or Nigeria to get in touch with some of our West African roots who are closest to us as neighbours, kith and kin, we rather spend our holidays abroad in Europe or America. Instead of buying made-in-Africa goods and products, we rather go for more expensive made-abroad products which may not be even the real deal. Some would prefer their children to be born abroad instead of at home or somewhere in Africa. Seven months into their pregnancies, some of our Gambian mothers would take off to Europe and America for their deliveries. They say the healthcare delivery, ante- and post-natal systems abroad are better. But hey, our fathers and forefathers were not born abroad and they had longer and healthier lifespans than we currently do. Our words and our actions are definitely a mismatch.
Our actions simply cry out; Africa is bad, Europe and America are good and better. If we do not develop Africa and its countries then who else will?
Racism and the stratification of society are very real. Some people (and not all people) justify the hate of and for others by virtue of the others’ race or ethnicity. Some nations believe themselves to be superior over all others due to their race. This is perhaps the god-complex now much talked about in sociology. The fall of Nazism, fascism, communism to cite few examples were all because of misplaced feelings of superiority complex of one nation above the rest. Now we have the rise of the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, the Zionists and groups like them who openly campaign and build their empires upon hate and racism.
Yes we as Africans and Gambians can be tolerant, objective, peaceful, loving, and welcoming as long as we do not forget who we are. Let us love ourselves first before we go about loving others. Proper self-love and self-appreciation of self-worth will indeed facilitate the proper expression of love for others, which shall avoid the two extremes of loving too much or loving too little, but loving in the right way by maintaining a middle path, thus not harming oneself or the other. Allah stated in the Noble Quran; “O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [appointed] angels, harsh and severe; they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them but do what they are commanded”. [Surah At-Tahrim 66: Verse 6]. The Qur’an clearly states that such a protection from the fire starts with oneself first, then families and others. Only by protecting ourselves can we truly be able to protect others. The drowning man will desperately clutch at a straw. So for the one who plunges into the water to save a drowning man, be sure to exercise great caution on how to pull him out safely, otherwise in his desperation the drowning man may pull you down with him into the depths of the ocean. Similarly, we must learn to love, protect and develop ourselves first before others.
The history of every nation has its dark and bright sides. If the era of former President Yahya AJJ Jammeh is considered by many as the darkest chapter of Gambia’s history, then so be it, but we cannot definitely totally erase from the history books the President of The Gambia’s Second Republic who ruled this country for 22 years. For some, Jammeh’s 22 years of rule may well be better since one man’s meat could well be another man’s poison.
We are yet to see and know how this current regime shall perform in order to make a fair comparison. We pray for their success always. If we choose to deliberately omit and forget former president Jammeh during this recent 53 years Independence Day celebrations, and simply acknowledge only the first and current presidents, then are we really saying that there were 22 years of The Gambia’s history that went in complete vain and was not recorded? If you subtract 22 from 53, how much shall remain? Are the current findings of the current Commission of Inquiry not based upon documented or undocumented evidences from the 22 years history of Jammeh’s rule or misrule? We could reject Yahya AJJ Jammeh as a person, hate him for the many wrongs and crimes he committed (even against his own self), but we cannot erase him from The Gambia’s political, cultural and socio-economic history books (from July 1994 to December 2016) how hard we may try.
Efforts to do so would be to hopelessly mock at our own selves. We may attempt to rewrite our history, but not totally erase it or certain parts of it. Let us not be too bitter to accept certain truths and realities even if they go against us. This is all part of that self-recognition, self-worth and self-love we are talking about here.
My good old mum used to say and may Allah bless her; “there is no bad bush to throw a bad son”. A good parent can give birth to and raise a bad son. Let us learn from the good lesson of Prophet Nuh (Noah) and his bad son. This good father and prophet of Allah never lost hope that his bad son could change and become a better person. Therefore the good father continued to call his son toward goodness up to the very end when the huge wave swallowed up the bad son. Prophet Lut (Lot) had a bad wife who disbelieved, but the good husband and prophet of Allah maintained her in goodness and always tried to guide her to the right path until she was destroyed along with the corrupt people of Sodom.
Asiya the wife of pharaoh, had a very bad husband who tortured her because of her belief in God, but she remained steadfast in her belief and prayed to Allah for salvation and good delivery until she met her end. According to the hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas and recorded by Imam Ahmad, Asiyah bint Muzahim is one of the four best women of Paradise who reached the level of perfection in worship. Her supplications which were answered by Allah are narrated to us in the 11th verse of Surat At-Tahreem. Some of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and all of the aforementioned prophets) were disbelievers, then they entered Islam and became good Muslims and were not rejected because of the wrongs they committed in the past.
Allah stated in the Noble Qur’an in [Surah At-Taa-Ha 20: Verse 82]: “And verily, I am indeed forgiving to him who repents, believes and does righteous good deeds, and then remains constant in doing them (till his death)”. Allaah says: “Every son of Adam is prone to err (make mistakes), and the best of those who err are those who repent.” [Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2499]. The Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The one who repents from sin is like one who did not (commit) sin at all.” [Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 4250]. So to former president and all those who aided and abetted him in wrong, we say repent and become righteous before it’s too late. Sincerely ask the Gambian people to forgive you, and ask Allaah for strength, guidance and acceptance of your and our repentance. We ask Allaah to forgive us and you, and to bring us all back to the right path until death reaches us in goodness. So I would have begun my celebration of true independence with sincere efforts towards true self-recognition, appreciation of self-worth and a genuine move towards appropriate self-love, and then conclude it with great clemency and leniency which shall be much more magnanimous than the best of Amnesty International.
God bless and to The Gambia ever true.