Keep quiet or I will smack you!

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With Aicha

This is how bullies act; they are not interested in what others feel, in their opinions or complaints. Bullies are only interested in themselves, their own wishes and needs. It doesn’t matter for them if the complaints from others are adequate, as long as others are of a second opinion they need to learn to shut up. Harsh words, don’t you think? Well, that is actually what the bill created by the Minister of Justice is telling us: shut up or I will smack you! Making a bill like this is a sign of low self confidence, a fear of the truth. It has nothing to do with people using a bad language; it has all to do with a wish to silence people. It doesn’t matter that the Government made a statement, trying to make the bill a bit softer by erasing the parental part of it.

I ask you to look at the long-term consequences of this bill. Where is it going to end? Who decides what kind of insult or sign of dissatisfaction will be punished? Who decides how severe the insult is? Will they have a rule-book where we can read a lot of different examples of insults we should avoid? What if people are really creative and find out new insults no one has heard of before? Will the rule-book be updated once a year, once a month or even faster? Can we find this rule-book on the internet if we Google for it? What are the search words for it? ”Bad language in the Gambia”? ”No-no words for naughty Gambians”? ”Don’t say this in the Gambia or you will never say anything again”?

What about the parental insults part? Is it common to insult someone’s parents in the Gambia? Isn’t that what small kids do when they argue about who’s daddy has the fastest car or who’s Mummy is cooking the best food? Are you still on that level? If so, then people need to grow up, but we don’t need to bang them in the head with a law anyway. This part of the bill is now withdrawn, but why did it appear in the first place? Are the parents of our Public Servants more sensitive than others? Who decides that any Minister’s mother or father is more important than the hard working men or women in the fish market or those cleaning your bathrooms? Is it okay to insult someone who is poor and can’t defend himself but not someone who has more wealth? This is nonsense, and it doesn’t matter that this part of the bill is withdrawn because it has already insulted the Gambian people!
Remember, members of the Government and other public officers, who are paying your salaries. You are not privileged in any way; you are common people who happen to earn a lot more than the ones you are supposed to serve. Get a thicker skin, because “he who gives himself in the game may endure the game”. That are the rules of the game you are playing, and if you can’t deal with it there is always a way out of it. I agree that it pains to hear insults and some people really don’t know how to express themselves in a civil way, but you need to learn to ignore it. You can’t expect that everyone will like you, and in the best of worlds everyone would use a civil language but that’s not how it works.

Remember that there has not been democracy in the Gambia more than about two years. People are still not completely used to it and don’t always know how to handle it. Around 50% of the Gambians are still illiterate; this means that those who know how to read and write are not the majority of the people. Those who insult members of the Government are definitely not a majority of the Gambian citizens. You really need to chill down a bit and think before a bill like this is written. Isn’t it enough to discuss matters among you and agree that some people are really stupid? We are a lot of people who get to hear insults every day, but if we would react on everything we would get crazy after a while.

I work as a teacher and sometimes it feels as us teachers are some kind of legitimized spittoons. Everyone has opinions about us and they are definitely not polite all the time. Pupils are demanding, their parents are demanding and we have to defend ourselves all the time. We serve our nation by giving our pupils a good foundation of knowledge. We get angry, we get sad, we speak with each other or our spouses and then we go back to work again hoping for a better day.

It’s not possible to work as a teacher and having a thin skin; it must be the same for you who are involved in politics somehow. If you are that afraid of criticism, then begin to think of what is behind the insults. Why are people angry or dissatisfied? Are their complaints fair, or is it only blah blah? It must be as obvious for you as it is even for us in the Diaspora that people are not satisfied with the current government. Have you thought of why, or do you only brush off the comments and consider people as stupid? Are you proud of yourself and your achievements this far? Are the people well fed? Have the school teachers got higher salaries and the schools better equipment? Education is the foundation for a developing society. Does that mean anything for you? Well, you can afford to put your children in private schools so you don’t need to bother.

You can afford to send your kids with taxi to school or let your driver take them there. Why should you bother about the kids who walk several kilometers to school every day, kids with broken shoes and empty stomachs? These kids risk their lives every day in the hard traffic because nothing has been done to improve the infrastructure. Do you care about that? What about the healthcare in the Gambia? Not many can afford to go abroad and get the best healthcare there, instead they die at home because they live too far from a hospital OR they couldn’t afford going to the hospital OR there are no ambulances that could take them to the hospital OR even if there were ambulances it wouldn’t be possible to pick up patients because nothing has been done to improve the infrastructure.

Is this what you don’t want people to complain about? It’s always those with the thinnest skin that get scared when they get criticized. They would never admit that they are afraid, so instead they get angry. Anger leads to a will to control the situation and if you are in power you will create laws or regulations to control the people. This is not democracy; this is to go back to dictatorship. You intimidate people so they fear to speak their minds. This is to go back to how people once were treated by the colonizers, begin to ponder this for a while and you will see that I am right. You are supposed to serve the people of the Gambia – for the love of your country. Right now you act more like you love the benefits and the power you have.

What are you afraid of? That it will become more and more obvious that the government hasn’t done a good job? That the promised transparency is nowhere to be found? It feels like this bill is a smoke screen that covers things you wish to hide. This is the same method Donald Trump is using in the US. As soon as something becomes a bit rough and the media has dug up some new mistake done by him, Mr. Trump causes commotion somewhere else in an attempt to make people forgetting the first part. This is the same method a naughty child is using to avoid getting spanked by his father. He begins to blame someone else, and make up stories about them, in the hope of not getting spanked. Dear Minister of Justice, you are really not fair to the people of the Gambia. You need to be understanding instead of punishing. You need to be communicating instead of threatening. This is how you make people to like what you do.

It saddens me to see that the Gambia is taking one step forward and two steps back. Wise people learn by their mistakes but they also learn from other’s mistakes. Not all mistakes need to be repeated, but when you choose the action you also choose the reaction. Dear Minister of Justice, what kind of reaction did you expect on your bill? That people would cheer and applaud? Some people might do that, but there will always be troublesome people like I and many others, who look at things from different angles. We don’t only see the obvious, but also what is hidden behind it and where it can lead. People like us are a pain in your behind, but that is also a part of the game. It’s not good to always get praise; constructive criticism makes you gather more and better arguments for your case. Who says that you are always right, just because you are a minister? Sometimes it’s good and healthy for you to be forced to think again, and next time – do that before you create a new bill. Remember – when you choose your actions, you also choose the reactions.