Our beloved country, the Gambia has gone through a terrible twenty-two year dictatorship and repression. Divergent views and opinions were stifled by the regime to such an extent that no one dared speak their mind. We lived in a police state where one did everything to hide one’s feelings of indignation towards the regime. Hundreds, if not thousands, fled the country because they felt suffocated by the lack of the ability, and or, opportunity to express their views because they were considered ‘politically incorrect’. Many were arrested, detained, tortured and some were even killed. All this instilled fear in the hearts of the citizenry. This has had a lot of negative effects on the psyche of the individual citizens and the nation as a whole. Let us examine the effects and what are the possible solutions.
It is a proven fact that when a people undergo repression and violence for long, they begin to be violent themselves. This can be learnt from the Biblical and Quranic stories of the Israelites who lived under a brutal repression at the hands of the Pharaohs for long. When finally they regained their freedom, they became hardhearted to the extreme. The story of the Jew who demanded a pound of flesh comes to mind here. Coming closer to home and more secular, we have observed what South Africa became after doing away with the horrible rule of the Apartheid Regime. According to some studies, South Africa is currently the second most violent country on earth second only to Jamaica. This tendency can be observed in post APRC Gambia… remember journalist Kebba Jeffang Jnr.’s incident with the UDP supporters? Then again, the post electoral violence we observed of late in the Fonis, Diabugu and reportedly, some villages in Badibu. There is a problem.
There is absolute lack of tolerance and the ability to entertain divergent views among our citizenry. We are not ready, or willing to, listen to, or tolerate any view which is not in line with what we think is the truth. When someone says something, instead of looking for the merit in it, many of us jump to conclusions and attack the person, instead of the issue, as if he were an enemy! This is what has become of the Gambia after twenty-two years of suffocation under the dictatorship.
Many there are who cannot distinguish between constructive criticism and criticism just for the sake of criticism. When Yahya Jammeh was here, people could not speak directly so some went into exile, some hid and spoke to friends and trusted ones and other used coded language in essays and poems to at least hold onto something and avoid losing their minds. I was among those who chose poetry to speak out and express my feelings. But even that, attracted some form of censorship! Some people would call me and urge me to stop writing, at least to be safe. Others were a little bit sinister in their approach. But we kept on!
The struggle continued until we were able to vote the APRC regime out… Good riddance! But hey, what are we experiencing today? Some people do not seem to understand that governance is participatory and we all have a role to play in the Barrow-led administration. When I decided to use our fallen heroe, Deyda Hydara’s ‘Good Morning Mr President’ to convey my views, I was aware that there would be people who will seek to silence me. And Lo and Behold! Some go to the extent of calling me a hater!
The country is polarized. People are on two opposite extremes. If you say something, you are either branded APRC sympathizer or a hater of the United Democratic Party. Let us not forget that there can be an intense desire in a citizen to see only Gambia… no party, no tribe, no ethnic affiliation, just the love of Mother Gambia.
What is the solution to these problems? What therapy do we need? Civic education and good examples from leaders are the answers to both questions. We must seek knowledge of our democracy. We must learn to understand the role and responsibilities of the citizens. Once we have this knowledge, we will know that divergent opinions are not bad, but necessary for progress and prosperity. But the teaching of these values alone will not be enough. The politicians must take the lead role in acting in the correct ways. They must be above board and set good examples so that the citizens will learn from these examples.
Another form of therapy is that we must seek to redress the wrongs done to the victims. We must seek justice for all the victims of the previous regime and bring the perpetrators of the crimes to book. That is the second pill which will also usher in reconciliation and act as a healing balm in the minds and hearts of Gambians.
We must be open to criticism for as the saying goes, ‘Two good heads are better than one!
God bless the Gambia!
By Musa Bah