By Tabora Bojang
The Minister of Tourism, Hamat Bah has warned that the prevalence of tribal associations using their languages to promote tribal identities on media platforms poses a danger to national unity.
He also warned that government will not hesitate to apply the law on any group of people who behave in a manner that threatens national unity.
Minister Bah was speaking at a day-long workshop on the development of a national language for the Gambia within the context of the Language Plan of Action for Africa organised by the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) which supports AU member states to develop and ensure African languages assume their rightful role in the development programs of member states.
Bah noted that while he agrees that African languages need to be cherished and promoted to ensure diversity and unity, he has recently made observations of a disturbing trend in The Gambia with some tribes forming themselves into groups using radio platforms to fan tribal differences.
“Coming up with an association to promote a particular language and to keep it together is no harm; but using a language to generate tribal sentiments is unacceptable and will not be accepted. Get me right on this and I am not mincing my words. You can promote your associations, promote your languages, develop them, celebrate them, have festivals, but do not bring tribalism by using your language to disunite the country,” Mr Bah said.
He said it is very disturbing for tribes to form themselves into groups, called Fulani this, Mandinka this, Serahule that, etc etc . The minister went on: “I happen to listen to one phone-in programme on Star FM radio in Fula and I was very disturbed. The way I heard them promote this ideology is discriminatory, threatening national security and national unity and government will not sit idly by and watch any group of people speak and behave in a manner that threatens our national unity. As long as I am the minister responsible, it will never happen in this country. The law is very clear and we will invoke the law against any group seen to be promoting tribalism at the detriment of national unity”.
Minister Bah said he followed this programme on Star FM radio and could not sleep. “They were calling over a particular meeting that was held in Niamina and I was extremely disturbed because I don’t think that is what we want to promote,” Hamat stated.
The formation of associations in tribes, he added, should be used to ensure “our national languages are promoted, maintained and embraced but not to incite divisions.”
“We owe it to the people and it is our responsibility to make sure that we preserve national unity at every level. Yes, form your association to promote your language, form your association to make sure that your language is spoken and written but avoid using tribal sentiment that divides our country. I am going to make a pronouncement on it when these practices does not cease and I will use the provisions of the law to maintain sanity about this. And I can assure you that no group of people will be spared no matter how powerful they think they are. The law is here for everybody,” he stated.
The minister also cautioned radio presenters to ensure they vet callers to avoid them inciting discord.
“All the crises in Africa were caused through the radio and TV and I think you owe it to our people to maintain peace. You just cannot use the microphone and the pen just to be abusing people. You cannot allow people to just pick up a phone and call the radio say whatever they want to say to people. It does not happen anywhere,” the minister said.
The Standard called up a human rights activist who said Minister Bah made a very frank statement and government should deregister all associations with tribal names. “Can you imagine there is even a football tournament named after a tribe in which only members of that tribe play. Others called themselves warriors. It must be said also that it is politicians who exploit this division for their self-interest. But one must commend Hamat Bah for doing the right thing. He has done a very good job to condemn this trend,” the activist said.