By Awa Conteh
Many centuries ago, The Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa, was once the envy of every nation. A land of tolerance, peace, and tranquility. A beacon of hope for every citizen, and an admiring haven for every visitor. A gifted land of abundant mental resources and good neighborhood; where all races- Mandinka, Jola, Wollof, Fula, Serere, Aku, Serahule, etc, live together in peace and harmony. Every tribe may have her own customs and tradition, but all people were equally treated and had equal opportunities of biting on ‘national cakes’. A land of sincere acceptance; enjoyed by all children of God.
But few centuries later, the society is weakened. We witness scenarios of tribalism; a sad phase indeed, where discrimination, inter-tribal disputes, and image tarnishing are no longer considered undone. Ethnic insults are rampant, and each tribe searching for its place in high tables. We now live in the era of ‘survival of the fittest’, where the most powerful tribes can even work over the weaker ones. The Gambia has forgotten its foundation, and the principles governing its structure. It is no longer unjust for the members of the governing body to deprive a qualified citizen of job opportunities simply because of his ethnic background. Nor is it a surprise for an employer to choose his employees based on ethnic grounds. We witness cases lacking tolerance and brotherhood, as well as inequality before the law. It becomes just acceptable for a citizen to become restless for fear of not being considered at the end of his toil.
Now is the time to be awake from the dark hours of racism to the light rays of communication and understanding. We must not look at the other tribe as inferior but rather as citizens of the same nation. We must not look upon one another as people of different ethnicity but as brothers and sisters of the same earth. We must not satisfy our thirst for power by drinking from cups of violence and hatred. If The Gambia is to become a great nation, all tribes must join hands, respect one another and bring about reconciliation. We must not allow our quest for power to overcome our mutual relationships. We must invent peaceful resistance towards tribalism rather than anger and brutality. I am aware that some of us are left shattered and wounded; but let us not heal our wounds by causing another. We must not cure our heartbreaks with the medicines of force and power obsession.
Even in our moments of hardship and sorrow, I have a dream, a dream that seeks to change the fate of this nation forever. A dream that will give a rigid shape to the future we all deserve:
I have a dream that one day; this nation will realize the beauty of brotherhood and the value of peace and reconciliation.
I have a dream that one day, on the flat lands of the McCarthy Square, the sons of former presidents and the sons of current presidents will be able to join hands and plan a prosperous future.
I have a dream that one day, even the land of Foni, which is mostly inhabited by Jolas, will serve as an accommodation for Fulas, Mandinkas, Wollofs, and Sereres.
I have a dream that the next generations to come, will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their ethnic backgrounds but by virtue of their character and potentials.
I have a dream today; I have a dream that on the hills of Busumbala, whose governors once languished in pain and anger, will be transformed into a place where little Jola boys will be able to sit with little Mandinka girls and play together as brothers and sisters of the same GAMBIA.
I have a dream that every sad people shall be happy, every rough relationship shall be smoothened, every unhappy face shall be lit with joy, and every wrong done shall be corrected in the most peaceful manner.
My hope is high; I hope to see a smile on every face, on every Jola, Mandinka, Wollof, Fula, and Serere community. I hope to see rays of hope from every corner; so we shall pick out of the hill of hatred a rock of tranquility. I hope to see all citizens sing our national rhythm with happiness, joy, and patriotism. Then, we will be able to prosper and achieve higher heights.
Let RECONCILIATION ring from the mighty walls of our beloved State House.
Let RECONCILIATION ring from the highest altitude of every building in Banjul.
Let RECONCILIATION ring from every hill and highland in the interior of our motherland.
Let RECONCILIATION ring from every riverside, coastline, and from every sandy beach.
Let RECONCILIATION ring from the outskirts of Foni to every village in Jimara.
When we let it ring from every ghetto, every village, and from every town and city, we build a promising nation for all Jola and Mandinka, for every Wollof and Fula, for every Muslim and Christian men and women. Reconciliation at last! Cosmopolitanism at last!
Awa Conteh is a first-year student at the University of The Gambia