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Gambia: Tribal bigotry towards Mandinkas, and faux Mandinkas

Gambia: Tribal bigotry towards Mandinkas, and faux Mandinkas

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By Maa Touray

This article is about politics and tribalism. Not political tribalism as such, but politics of ethnic tribalism.

Facts: Politics in The Gambia is ethnolinguistically based. There is upsurge in denunciation of tribalism as the December 4th presidential election approaches. Question: Who are the tribalists in The Gambia? Facts: Every individual is inherently tribalist. In The Gambia, there is no tribe that wouldn’t want the president to come from them.

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So, it therefore befuddles me how tribalism in The Gambia is Mandinka, only. And, when for those to whom it is, their very utterances and actions tribally are tribalistic, and (tribal) bigotry towards Mandinkas. When it comes to their tribes, for the very reason they condemn Mandinkas, they will cherish and celebrate. They encourage and celebrate tribal baiting against Mandinkas; and would still feel justified. And still not feel part of the tribalism they ‘lament’ about in The Gambia. How hypocritical!

It is never seen a problem when a Jola supports a Jola, a Fula supports a Fula, Wollof supports a Wollof, etc.  In fact, these are celebrated and encouraged. However, when a Mandinka supports a Mandinka, speaks their language, celebrates their culture, it becomes tribalism. How hypocritical!  Mandinkas are the ones accused of ‘baading ya faasa’.  99.99% of Jolas supported and voted for Jammeh. So were the Manjagos and Karoninkas who align themselves with Jolas. Most of the Fulas who supported and voted for Mamma Kandeh did so because he was Fula. Most of the Wollofs who support Halifa Sallah do so because he is Wollof.  And these very people who support the above politicians because they belong to the same tribes with them would turn around and label Mandinkas who support Ousainu Darboe for being tribalists. How hypocritical! One would be hard-pressed to come across a people who traffic in double-standard, and are two-faced, two-tongued and duplicitous like the aforementioned.

How come to most of these people, the idealized belief of people voting based on best policy argument in democracy should only matter when it comes to Mandinkas? In democracy, people can vote for whoever they want based on their choices. Those choices may not be  ‘ideal’ to you but they are still their choices. And, efforts geared towards for people to vote based on best programs and policies should be across the board.

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If you indulge in, or encourage conversations or utterances which begin with “Sosseh yi…” which almost always would end with either insulting or ridiculing Mandinkas, and still think you are not part of the tribalism in The Gambia; if you are part of those who would say “as terrible as President Adama Barrow is, I would prefer him to continue being president, The Gambia to go to hell and burn to ashes, than have a UDP president”, by which you mean a president who is Mandinka; and you still think you are not part of the tribalism in The Gambia; then even Sigmund Freud wouldn’t be able to psychoanalyse you. And you are part of those I called ‘hardcore tribal hypocrites’.

Hardcore tribal hypocrites are the ones who will not miss a beat in bashing, hating on, and ridiculing Mandinkas, and turn around and celebrate their own tribes for those very the same reasons they condemn Mandinkas. These are the ones I’ve seen liking and sharing the following, as insignificant as they may look, tribal baiting against Mandinkas: A King Jobies writing on Facebook in February 2018— “Who organise the welcome of Banka Manneh open [sic] his arrival at the airport? I watched the video but only found one particular tribe”. Anna Grey-Johnson asking, sarcastically, on Facebook in February 2018— “So is Mandinka now the official language of The Gambia?”— just because President Barrow spoke to Gambians in Ankara in Mandinka. The video of Sheikh Ebrima Jarju bashing Mandinkas for being the only tribe in Rawdatul Majaalis during their dispute with the Supreme Islamic Council. The video clip of Omar Cham, The poet, at the Youth Connekt Gambia Summit 2019, where in his piece “Peace the Ultimate Need”, he chose (deliberately) to speak in Mandinka when condemning and warning against tribalism, then switched to other languages to say hilarious things.

The level of tribal and political hypocrisy towards Mandinkas is astronomical. Not long ago, General Lang Tombong Tamba, and sometime back, Borry Colley (in the speech he ended with “Foni! Foni! Foni!”) called on Jolas, in essence, to politically safeguard their interest; and to support the NPP which will be the way to bring back Yahya Jammeh, a Jola. No problem. Hamat Bah, at a Fula tribal meeting at the State House, called on Fulas to vote for President Barrow; and in Baddibu at Njaba Kunda, bashed Mandinkas in front of President Barrow. No problem. It was interesting to see Hamat Bah being applauded and extolled by the same Fulas who will turn around and support the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and Cellou Dalien Diallo for the very reason they condemn the UDP and Mandinkas in The Gambia. When they are called out on their double standard, they will tell you “You don’t understand Guinea politics”. What is there to understand, using Occam’s razor, than Fulas thinking, being the majority and being their spiritual home, they own Guinea and therefore must become president? Like a colleague telling me: “The day a Fula enters Sékhoutouréya (the presidential palace), that will be a special, special day in Guinea”. Furthermore, some of these individuals who extol Hamat Bah today, were in fact calling him a “bastard” on Facebook, because to them, a real Fula wouldn’t cozy up to the UDP or Mandinkas as he was doing when President Barrow was still Mandinka in the early days of his government. 

When the GDC held their congress in Basse in 2018, during his speech, Mamma Kandeh stated one of the reasons he formed his party was to fight against tribalism. But within a minute or so of saying that, he thanked Cellou Dalien Diallo for sending a delegation to his congress.  One could only imagine if Ousainu Darboe were to say at a UDP congress that Alpha Condé sent a delegation to grace the occasion. One thing, for sure, Gambian social media would explode, the earth in The Gambia would quake, and the sky above The Gambia would fall down! He would be called a tribalist and involving other countries in our politics. Well, we all know what happened when Aji Yam Secka said Mandinkas should vote for Ousainu Darboe.

People like Pa Modou Bojang have been hated on and called tribalists and belong to the UDP just because they are Mandinkas. Why should being a Mandinka and belonging to the UDP be seen as a crime in The Gambia? A Mandinka they want sacked, would be labelled UDP. How ungrateful! A party that compared to none when it came to fighting against dictatorship. The UDP sweated, bled, went to prison, were maimed and died more than any other party. And yet, you hear people saying “they deserved all that”. “Solo Sandeng deserved what he got. Why did he have to go out without a permit?”

Pa Samba Jow, an activist, identifies himself with, and supports the PDOIS party — no problem. If Madi Jobarteh, an activist par excellence, were to identify himself with the UDP, the Gambian sky would crash. If Madi says anything good about Ousainu Darboe or the UDP, he is insulted and labelled a tribalist; but when he criticises the UDP or Ousainu Darboe, he becomes the man. And this applies to all Mandinkas—when you demean your tribe, you are celebrated; when you celebrate it, you become a tribalist. How ironical! And by the way, why is that it is only in The Gambia where people believe activists should not belong to a political party or movement?

And when it comes to President Barrow and his presidency, it is interesting how Fulas and Sarahules (especially), who if it was left to them, Barrow wouldn’t be president in the first place, now claim ownership of him — he belongs in them — to exclusion of Mandinkas. But as the saying goes (in Mandinka) “it is not the dog, but the bone giver”.  All the hating on Mandinkas especially from around President Barrow is because of Barrow himself. He sowed that seed of discord, and continues to water it with occasional application of fertiliser to it. How unsmart and ungrateful! When one stumbles, falls down and finds gold, the advice is for them to look back to where they stumbled. Seedy Njie became his relative because he (Barrow) ended up assuming the mantle of the presidency. Dr Baboucarr Sowe became his doctor because he ended up becoming the president. When Dr Sowe became his doctor, there was concern for his safety. Here was a guy who, together with his wife Binta, proudly and openly hated on Barrow on their Facebook pages around the time of the 2016 election and during the impasse. Of course, they cleared all those postings once the prospect of becoming his doctor came up. How disingenuous! And what a joke for Gambian security. No country will make any one the president’s doctor without a background check. And, with the social media footprints of Dr Sowe and his wife on President Barrow, no matter what, even if Dr Sowe was a blood relative of the president, and the only doctor around, he wouldn’t have been allowed near the presidency. Therefore, if President Barrow believes that he is well secured, he will be in for a rude awakening should push come to  shove. For without doubt, in terms of security, President Barrow is an emperor with no cloths.

True, members of all tribes voted for President Barrow. However, one doesn’t need to be a political scientist to know that it was Mandinkas who made him president — going by votes he received per constituency. Here is the statistic. President Barrow won in like all Mandinka majority constituencies —with a majority in almost all of them. He lost in like all the Fula and Sarahule majority constituencies. In all of the Janjangbureh administrative area, he only won in Sami which is a Mandinka majority area with a plurality. In the Basse administrative area, he won with majority in Tumana, Wuli West and Wuli East — all Mandinka majority constituencies. In his own home constituency of Jimara, which is Fula and Sarahule dominated, he only did not win, but came last! In the subsequent National Assembly elections, they still voted against him. How interesting! How could people who rejected you and massively voted against you, turn around to love you more than those who stood by you and made you president? The main reason they’ve always voted against him was they’ve always seen him as a Mandinka. And some of these are the people bashing Mandinkas for tribalism. By the way, I’ve always wondered how people of Jimara never knew Barrow was Fula all along. The man they’ve labelled as a “slave” and bulel (sa bunang’o in Mandinka).

And why would President Barrow invite other tribal groupings to the State House and had meetings with them but not Mandinkas? Why should Hamat Bah have the courage to insult and ridicule Mandinkas in front of President Barrow? Why should almost every other day, audios, especially by Sarahules, come out insulting Mandinkas especially those in the NPP (the same party with them)? With the way Sarahules are behaving, one can only wonder what would happen should an actual Sarahule become president.

Mandinkas, unfortunately, don’t learn. It was the same story with Yahya Jammeh.  After Jammeh and his group illegally came to power, Ba Jamba Bojang or Ba Kalifa Sano of Brufut was his first chosen ‘father’. He then associated his lineage with that of late Chief Mama Tamba Jammeh of Baddibu. Mandinkas spearheaded his so-called “I was begged to put down the military uniform to become a civilian and contest for the presidency”. I can still see Chief Bakary Dembo Santang Bojang throwing his hat in the air celebrating when Yahya Jammeh ‘accepted’ their pleadings.  Well, we all know how Yahya Jammeh eventually showed his real hatred towards Mandinkas. A tribe he hates with passion, with every fibre of his being, and to the marrow. He relishes in hating Mandinkas and baits other tribes to do so. His swansong in this album of Mandinka hatred was performed at Tallinding, June 3, 2016, when he referred to Mandinkas as “enemies and foreigners” and threatened to kill them like ants and nothing would come out of it.

This anti-Mandinka bigotry was widely condemned all over the world, yet it was celebrated in some quotas in The Gambia, with the audios being happily shared by people who still think tribalism in The Gambia is Mandinka. In fact, well before the Tallinding rally, Yahya Jammeh had had said he preferred five Wollofs to work for him than one Mandinka; and four Fulas to work for him than one Mandinka. Therefore, Fabakary Tombong Jatta and Ousman ‘Rambo Jatta, where are you people at? You will be deluding yourselves to think Yahya Jammeh loves you people. He doesn’t, and he never did. All he has been doing was using you as an end to a mean. You see, after holding the fort for him for all these years, once he believes you people are no more as useful to him, he humiliated you by ‘sacking’ you in public. And put Jolas in charge.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Fabakary and Rambo and their ilk to know better; for these are people whose souls have been consumed, and their minds too clouded to be able to see beyond their noses. And this is where ‘baataro’ comes in.

Faux Mandinka is being used here to mean those Mandinkas who besmirch, demean, disparage, ridicule, and insult their own tribe for political reasons. It also includes those who are members of group or parties where Mandinkas are openly insulted and they don’t do anything about it. Most of these faux Mandinkas are currently in the NPP. This is one party from which almost every other day, one will hear audios of Mandinkas being insulted, mostly from those identified as Sarahules. Faux Mandinkas include but not limited to: Dembo By-force Bojang, Majanko Samusa, Ebrima Sillah, Fabu Sanneh, Salihu Kemo Barrow, Ahmad Gitteh, Ousman Rambo Jatta, General Lamin Bojang, and so forth.

One would expect these people who all hailed from traditional Mandinka communities to draw a line

should someone attempt to demean or ridicule their tribe even if they are in the same political parties with them. But unfortunately, these people believe that they will become much more politically relevant by demeaning their own tribe; and for those in the NPP, to appease President Barrow and those non-Mandinkas around him.  Selling the dignity of your tribe for short live political recognition. What a pity!

These people, however, are not just limited to politics. They are in every sector of our society. Where they will not just condone Mandinka bashing or demeaning but will perpetuate it by contributing to it. These are the ones you hear saying “so and so is Kombo Mandinka”, or “Baddibu Mandinka”, etc. Like I heard Majanko Samusa, in an interview, saying “all the Mandinkas you see around Ousainu Darboe are from the provinces, you will not hear or see Kombo Mandinkas around him”. Some of these people will pretend they don’t speak Mandinka well; or, wouldn’t want to be heard speaking Mandinka so they could be seen or told that “they are not like the other Mandinkas”. What an insult for a person to take for compliment! There are those who think opposing the UDP and being disrespectful to Ousainu Darboe will make them look politically sophisticated and gain the adulation of others. How delusional!

Mandinkas are the only tribe that will come out in public sphere to insult, castigate, and shame their elders and leaders.  You don’t see any other tribe do that. When a Mandinka is put in a position, his fellow Mandinkas will be among those who will undermine him. While other tribes rally around their people, even when they are found wanting in manning those positions; Mandinkas, on the other hand, would tear theirs down, even when they are performing well.  Do they need any more wake-up call to their self-hate than that of Yahya Jammeh, a man who doesn’t miss a bit in hating them, being concerned for Mandinkas as he threatened to wipe them out by stating: “What worries me about the Mandinkas is that: The Mandinkas hate themselves? You don’t like yourself.  Jawara has been in power for over thirty-one years and his worst opponents and enemies were Mandinkas”.

Mandinkas! Accept and be appreciative of who you are. Never compromise or apologise. Refuse to be put on defence for being Mandinka. For one thing, to the people you are trying to appease, you will always be a Mandinka, and all that means to them.  Take a cue from Pa Modou Bojang. He doesn’t apologise, nor compromise for his Mandinkayaa for which, he gets a lot of stick and labelled tribalist. Despite all that, he continues to have the highest number of listenership and viewership on radio and online respectively in The Gambia for his programmes. Unfortunately, people spearheading to have him cancelled are Mandinkas. Sad and pathetic!! And the first people who will come after this piece will be Mandinkas.

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