By Baaba Sillah mu Sabel
Time passes quickly and without written and readily accessible records, we forget the events of our past!
When the custodians of that past pass; records become distorted, confused and the truth falls between nebula and mirage.
Bereft of our inheritance, our knowledge of our past and ourselves, become liable to err! Who do we turn to for redress?
To those that have monopoly and control of the means of definition?
How do we reclaim the selves we were and make meaning of who we are and the selves we might become…?
The relics from our past still linger in their own queer and quintessential ways!
The big build-up!
The Gambia is witnessing an unprecedented build-up towards the first elections of its kind since she was carved out as a nation state in the 1880’s. This is true for all the municipalities throughout the country.
The altered involvement of large and mixed numbers of candidates do reflect our ethnic, religious and gender diversities, the multiple political parties they represent and those that have struck out on their own as independent candidates. Each of them presenting their own agenda for change. Consequently, they have kept afloat our flagging spirits for optimism for the future of politics and the making of a pluralistic society in this sleepy land, all length and no breadth. Though potentially a vibrant country, her political resonance and sparkle are yet to be fully tested. Thus far, to me, the majority of the candidates are unknown quantities but time will tell especially when new dramas unfold and new reality set in, that is when they will nail their colours to the mask and we will get to see them for what they really are and what they stand for.
Importantly, the involvement of the dynamic social movements having obvious enabling and catalytic effects in creating paradigm shifts amid the noise and haste, the push and jostle of the candidates are hugely valuable and enchanting to the electorate. Consequently, the level of the debate has risen although limited in scope and thoroughness! The issues being raised are many and varied. Some of them go across party lines. Some concerns raised are age-old bread and butter questions while others are perennial in nature. Sadly, I did not hear much serious matters pertaining to ideology and long term visions of the candidates but the stench of ethnicity and narrow nationalism reek and dwarf the battle of ideas and argument! Although disguised, smothered and, thus far concealed; matters pertaining to the ethnic divide (that have long since been brushed quickly aside and or pushed under the carpet), are beginning to rear their ugly heads, emerging, surging and soaring over the land. This is the subject of this article and I will return to it later.
Apart from a sprinkling of the old party hacks and cronies here and there with their old bags of tricks in the fray, the majority of the candidates who have thrown their hats and scarves in the ring are mainly young people orchestrating for genuine change. It is indeed very heartening to see all these youngsters raising cross-cutting issues aboveboard even if many of them are not really alive to the geo-politics and the machinations of the big players and the big issues both from within and from without. What has become apparent to all and sundry is that there is no going back to repression and resignation.
The Gambia is going through a new awakening and a new self-hood following two decades of dormancy and a state of fear and jitteriness. At the very least, the overthrow of the Jammeh regime has unleashed some synergies in the communities; has triggered a new drive for political emancipation, made for a new broadening of political participation (especially among an between an undaunting youth). The same youth that have left on the mass hijra to languish in the make-shift jails of Libya, to be mangled and maimed and duped by traffickers and their agents along the long and torrid sand dunes of the Sahara desert, to die in vain amid the waves of the Mediterranean and for the survivors winding up seeking refuge in hostile and uncharitable territory.
The generation before mine, my generation and the generation after have failed them. Yes indeed! Ever since we ceased to set our own goals and standards; shape their minds and even to parry the mishaps of a misspent youth, we have failed them in not taking responsibility as their rightful guardians and nurturers.
Little wonder why they took to the so-called back-way to affirm their dignity and to reclaim a lost sense of their own individuality. All of these and many more have heightened the contradictions in the Gambian body politic.
Some more upheavals can be expected as people realise now that they can roll back the frontiers of change and can pull off the blinkers from their eyes. Take their destinies in their own hands and usher in the changes that are yet to come and must come. Above all events will come and go as they will and would naturally let lose a potpourri of things that the society will have to address in spite of everything and without due thought or consideration as all of them will demand appropriate responses.
I was up and about the West Coast Region during the past week and in Banjul at the week end and witnessed firsthand the growing mutual tolerance of divergent political persuasions. I felt a little rattled for an old cynic. I could immediately catch glimpses of a burgeoning political coming off age even if what I felt could have been an illusion…, a self-fulfilling prophecy…perhaps? I daresay, maturity among people especially the youth. I was also quite pleasantly surprised to learn that at least four of the candidates vying for the mayor’s seat, pitched up on Saturday the 18th March in Banjul at the debate in order to market their manifesto commitments to their constituency. It will not be long before we will have cause to hold them down to these as the debate continues to rage.
The new office holders will soon start to grapple with reality!
A little over a year ago, I had made, an assessment of the state of the nation in an article published wholly in the Point and in the Foroyaa in part and because of its extraordinary length, it was serialised over several issues. I had in the article, made a postmortem of the Jammeh decades of terror. I had also made reference to, among other things, the nonchalance and the pandemic corruption of the preceding regime that had spanned three decades earlier. I had argued that the Jammeh regime was nothing but a natural consequence of development from the first republic; an offshoot, an outgrowth of three decades of misrule. The article was entitled, ‘The end of an era-two scores and two’. I tried to contextualise the grounds for the dire-straights we were herded en-masse into with the gun and other coercive instruments and means of terror but, a year later, I find little else that is comforting and different in terms of the practice of the new leadership and the situation of the run off the mill Gambian. Yes, the state house has been renovated; people have regained their ‘freedoms of speech’ though I quicken to add that these were freedoms fought for and won by both the Diaspora and the Gambian people at large. Freedom was not brought by the new regime I might add. By the way, ‘Freedom and democracy’ are not things you package and hand over to a people. They are not manufactured in the shores of the West so, we need not try to prove to anybody that we are democratically minded and we respect human rights).
The early morning and after work sirens continue to blare and become a nuisance to all; the motorcades, the pomp and the pageantry of officialdom, the marching of the boys in uniform, the mutual ego-massaging, the praise-singing, the masses of jet-setting officials travelling abroad in a bid to cajole investors to come and rescue us and the collective jaw-hanging; demoralised, besotted populace, still caught up in a quandary. They are all wondering where they are heading to? The prevailing sense of befuddlement hangs in the air and you can cut through it with a knife. it might pay off for you to revisit the write-up because in there, I had argued that the most logical thing that the political class, the elite of the society would do, as they have done is to re-group, forge new alliances, and continue much as before until kingdom come. In many instances, they become the sit-tight, comprador elite who will define, act as the divine mediators and interpreters of the needs and aspirations of the masses. They will continue to entrench their positions and procure their interests. They will also whip-up emotionally charged sentiments closely allied to matters in the chest, not in the head to further misguide and bamboozle the masses until at such time that they are jolted and booted out of their treachery through a rude awakening. Now that there is a vibrant popular movement of the masses. The change we are witnessing is not a stagnating change. It is a liberating change and it will carry on for as long as we continue to tune into an alien frequency that has little or no bearing on our material circumstances.
I suggest this revisitation pointedly because I would like to shift your focus on the main subject of this discourse.
Here, I will argue that the phenomenon of tribalism is a hang-over and indeed a practice akin to the earlier explorers and colonialists. They came to Africa with firmly held mind-sets about the racial superiority of the Europeans on the one hand and deficit models of the Africans on the other. Although prevalent, today as it was since the advent of slavery in the early seventeenth century, tribalism and racism are the two sides of the same Dalasi. I will propose that racism and tribalism are interchangeable. The contexts and perpetrators may differ but the difference is in style, not substance. They are both deeply rooted in prejudice that finds expression in an irrational attitude or in an attitude cluster.
I will further demonstrate the similarities in methods employed and their origin.
I realise that often, we take it for granted that people are familiar with the terminology we use. I would like to offer some working definitions of certain concepts that have been bandied about to the extent that they may mean different things to different people in different contexts but let me indulge you with the following in order to clarify our terms of reference in this write-up:
Ideology: This is a general system of ideas, beliefs and theories, a way of thinking, based on a particular interpretation of society and history.
Tribalism: This hairy, thorny, derisory, divisive term is the invention of Western anthropologists. It is used to describe only African and other powerless, dispossessed and disenfranchised people who were denied the means of self-definition. We have ourselves imbibed the term and it is very much part of our local lingo.
Have you ever heard of an English tribe? A Welsh tribe? A Scottish tribe? A Germanic tribe? Swedish? Norwegian?
This innovation, among several other ideas, were whetted and transformed into sciences. Do the following drop a butut? ‘Eugenics, – This is the theory of the innate superiority of white people. According to this theory, only certain people or groups of people ought to be allowed to have children.
Class: Crudely defined means, if a group of people share or have the same relationship to the means of production, that group constitutes a class. The modern day sociologists will substitute means of production with ‘scarce resources’.
Anthropometry was the term that was coined-up by Europeans for the measurement of the heads of Africans to see how much room they have for brain-capacity. By the way even among the Europeans themselves, the attitude of supremacism prevailed as was the case with the persecution and suppression of the Samis, the Tartars, the Gypsies and so on.
All these racist ideas and theories filtered through the ages in songs, the stories, the pictures, and even in music.
To be continued….