By Baaba Sillah mu Sabel
Similarly, inter-ethnic feeling was fomented by slavers and by the trade itself and the weak suffered in the hands of the powerful overlords. They were bought and sold by European trading companies under a system of bartering. Generally though, guns were used as currency in exchange for slaves.
The evil triangle thrived mainly through Europeans using Africans to do their bidding. Agents (invariably chiefs) were appointed to trick and capture slaves for the slave dealer. More often than not, the chief-agent will raid other neighbouring ethnic groups overnight, capture and sell them as merchandise at the fort or at the factory depending on what the dungeons were called. In some instances, churches were built over these monstrosities to bless the souls of the human cargo destined for the middle passage and eventually to the new world.
The same methods of ‘othering the other’ was used to justify the dehumanisation of the slave. He did not have a name! It is a thing; a trade good, a property to be owned, a tool to be used and disposed off. It has no past, except at its entry into the market on a bill of sale.
Slavery came to Africa with a hideous baggage! That baggage was racism. This is the institutionalisation of the ideology of racial superiority of one set of people over the inferiority of the other. This was enshrined in law, in popular culture and even in the belief systems of those that uphold the practice. To the victims, in spite of being at the wrong end of the stick, many, if not most of them had imbibed the practice and accepted their inferior status as lesser beings. Racism became the practice and racialism the ideology.
Fast forwarding into colonisation, the colonialists used the same methods to rule the African. Feeling threatened by the marabouts for example, the British swung to the side of the Soninkes. Much the same way that when they felt that there was some resistance in West Africa, they brought in the West India regiment to put down any resistance or rebellion.
At ‘independence’, we were given a constitution that caused utter mayhem and confusion! A parliamentary system that failed to speak to the geo-political realities and even worse, an electoral system based on ‘winner takes all’. One set of elite was set against the other. One ethnic group was pitched against the other and we were at a loss as to how we should rule ourselves.
The elite were quick to pick up the relative advantages of the system and therefore used it to their best advantage.
We had abandoned the systems of seeking internal general agreements; consensus building, gentle persuasion, devolution, all of which existed in the past. The opportunistic elite saw that it was best for them to encourage people to vote on grounds of ethnicity rather than being driven by the strength of their own ideological convictions. The majority ‘tribe’s political party’ will always win the elections and put their own ‘tribesmen’ into positions of authority in all the arms of government on the ground that they constitute the majority. Aren’t there more adaptable electoral models that are more all embracing and user-friendly that we can try? The Westminster model is by any stretch of the imagination alienating and not suitable.
Is it surprising therefore that in Africa, the party that no one votes for ceases power and rules? The records are there for all to see but somehow, we always think that it will never happen here and we never learn from history. Worse, successive civilian governments continue to put on the pedestal and parade former rulers and present them as our heroes of modernity. Up till now, since the fifties, well over eighty coups have taken place in Africa. Was this not the case here when Jammeh and his cohorts were thoroughly incensed by the excesses of the practice of rampant nepotism and corruption that made them take over the reins of power by force? Are we heading in that direction yet again? Think about it and speak out sooner rather than later.
As humans, we are all endowed with several abilities not least; the capacity to learn from experience, the ability to predict the turn of events and their outcomes, the ability to see the wood for the trees and the war for the battle?
Finally, let me try to bring the foregoing to some form of closure.
During the build-up towards nationhood, the countries in the African continent marched towards their freedom in different ways, befitting to their own contexts and peculiar local idiosyncrasies. Nationalism was what fired up the peoples imagination to rise in order to take back their countries from the colonial establishments that controlled and dominated their economies, their politics, in short their lives and livelihoods.
In the main, the majority of African nation states started clamouring for their independence in the mid forties after the Second World War. Although some historians date the rise of African nationalism to 1935 when Italy invaded Abyssinia. Faced with formidable resistance, the Italians resorted to using poisoned gas against Asmara.
Is it not ironic that the war veterans’ experience from the killing fields of Sidpur, Murdok, the Arakan and the kaladan etc. had ignited the flame of nationalism within them and in gingering up the feelings of their compatriots to cause them not only to initiate action but also to lead the anti-colonial marches to government houses in Accra and other government houses in African capitals to force the change. Gambia’s own ‘Bread and Butter’ march was one such example having demystified the invincibility of the white man in battle and after the Africans themselves had figured out that Lord Lugard’s ‘dual mandate was a ploy. Lugard’s real intention was to enter African territory to extract Africa’s resources. The resources were never for Africa’s benefit but solely for Britain to use those resources to feed the European industries.
The mandate was therefore a singular mandate. This relationship goes back to slavery and the same relationship has taken on different forms, different shapes and guises over time! To say that that relationship has changed and that was a long time ago, one must be really ill-informed or one is inhabiting a fool’s paradise. Be this as it may, can we quickly shift our focus on what is engaging our minds as we look to the future. To outline the historical origins of the phenomenon we now either deny vehemently that it exists or timidly mutter in the safety and privacy of our minds or in the quiet confidentiality of those within our private spheres of intimacy.
I would like you to pause here for a moment and ask yourself the following questions:
· Do I harbour any negative or positive feelings towards others simply because they belong to another ethnic group?
· Is there a prevailing attitude among my ethnic group about other members of other groups?
· Do I harbour any stereotypes about people of other ethnicities as for example: ‘Soose du sausal ken’; Surwaalu mee fang long’; Fuloolu, jamfaa dorong’; Aku bopam rek te du anda ak Olof; Sarahule … xalis rek, seetunj mboka’; Jolas stick together and speak with one voice’. By the way, do you know that the term jola comes from the mandinkas? It means that they pay you back in like measure. The term fula means that the Pular speaking people speak with two tongues.
I am sure you can add to these stereotypes which in time become firmly entrenched and become steeped in our everyday attitudes.
We all have private prejudices! What is important is what we do with them. Do they guide our conduct or do they govern our behaviour towards others?
Psychologists have identified three components of attitudes.
· The first is the cognitive component, the second is the affective component and the third component is what they call the action-tendency!
The cognitive component is the rational side of the attitude. For example when we hold the thinking that the Aku’s are miserly, the jolas are a proud group of people and the fulas pilfer, the wolofs are big-mouths and so on.
· The affective component is that part of us that feels the thoughts we have about something or someone. I do not know why but I feel that this girl is a gold-digger!
The man with the felt hat next door is a crook! I feel him from the distance.
I feel that the pharmacist round the corner is a distant admirer of mine and so on. We hold on to these feelings until something else changes to make us reverse our feelings.
· The third component is called the action tendency. This is the part of us that does something about how we think and feel about something. This is where we act on our attitudes.
We promote someone unfairly on the job because he is a Mandinka or Wolof like us.
You tell your constituents that they have to watch the Wolofs because they are very divisive people. Can you think of other instances vis-à-vis their component?
In the early sixties; after the formation of political parties and the general build-up towards the national elections for independence, the verbal abuse, the haranguing of political opponents was so rife that the Banjul elders summoned up all the leaders of the political parties and their stalwarts to a meeting at the ‘Rittz cinema at Fitzgerald street. The goal of the meeting was to persuade the party spokes-people to tone down their verbal, at times physical abuse, character assassination and irresponsible rhetoric of hate, anti-ethnic sentiments and derisions closely akin to caste origins.
This initiative did not stop there! In the mayhem, emerged a very out-spoken group of four gallant patriots called the Committee of gentlemen comprising K.W Foon, M. Siise M. B. Jones and Idrissa Samba.
They were a loose gathering of patriots, activists that rose above ethnic nationalism, the colony and protectorate divide, the emerging political disquiet and crisis. They were clear and forthright in their thinking. They were opposed to all the machinations and chicaneries of both the prevailing political party leaders ciphering, gimmickry and the stalling tactics of the establishment. They wanted to set The Gambia on the right foot and on the right path to political independence.
Lamentably, these men of honour and conviction have fallen into oblivion and I have not come across any record of their timely interventions anywhere in the political discourse of this country nor have I found it even in our history books in use even at the tertiary and higher education?
As a nation, we are now at a threshold when plain speaking is crucial.
I have quickly reviewed the new national development plan. I cannot fault it! It is a good plan, a well intentioned plan that speaks to our needs and aspirations. However, my problem is its implementation? Do we have the wherewithal and importantly, the capacity to make it work without transforming the nation into a nation of paupers and debt slaves? How can one plan on other people’s pockets? If we lived in a world of good all round Samaritans and these Samaritans will give you all the resources gratis then, we can put our feet up and pass the hat around. Unfortunately, we live in a world where no such thing as disinterested aid exists. The rate at which we are going is yet again on the track to more and more debt from the Bretton woods institutions and from bi and multi-lateral agencies and loan sharks from so-called development partners.
The sooner we come to the realisation that nobody will give you the best of what they have got the better it is for us. The lesson is for us to plan from our own pocket! The plan itself articulates it even better than I would. More so, it points at the ramifications of debt-servicing and how it militates against development. Our creditors know this well but they continue to hold the hare and chase with the hounds! When will we learn?
To date, “the country is in external debt distress: it has an unsustainable public debt, which stands at GMD 48 billion ($ US 1 billion) or 120 per cent of GDP. Because of this, debt servicing consumes a huge amount of government revenue, leaving very limited fiscal space for financing critical infrastructure and human capital development needs and denying our private sector access to finance and credit, vital for its growth and expansion”.
To be continued….