“We were once the beacon of human rights in Africa”, my Kotokeh shouted to me, in nostalgia.
There was a halcyon period he wanted to go back, a certain flesh pot of Egypt….. But it was busted twice, in 1981 and 1994, by soi dissant “revolutionaries”; one a tragedy, the other we now know was a farce.
And the cliché “The Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa”. We sold it to ourselves and others, but more to others. Destination Gambia.
Under the weight of the Wellington Boots of a tin god we endured agony indescribable; the Smiling Coast a near garrison state.
We smiled, nay grinned, under the weight.
Like the Spartan boy who endured the biting of the fox.
The thunderous voice of Hector and the stern warning “we would not compromise the peace and security of this country”.
It was the mantra.
For “peace and security of the country”, children were massacred, parents murdered in cold blood, bread winners banished or imprisoned, intellectuals cowed into submission or forced into exile.
And the “Million man march for peace”, a crowd of few thousands. But a march for peace…
The Gambia, of the First Republic, was touted the most “peaceful” country in Africa, stable, democratic.
But the “peace” was punctured twice, the last a long spell was endured.
In that peace resided poverty, underdeveloped, corruption. But there was “peace”.
The Second Republic, it too claimed it was “peaceful” or had peace.
We were peace loving. The President jealously safeguarded the “peace” of the country
. We reveled in it. We shouted “give us economic development; damn with political rights”.
We has just dawned on us that the road to economic development but way of political dictatorship is the most costly the folly of man has ever created. But we had “peace” and in its preservation we endured untold suffering, privation and pain.
And post-2016, we are hearing the same, if not more vociferous, the same claim and stake to peace. Only difference though is that some are arguing we have “lost” the peace.
Or that we lost the peace between 1994 and 2016. Lost in our innocence?
Are what we are witnessing currently carry over from the past: political polarisation and animosity, caste based conflicts, “development induced violence”, high crime rate, conflicts over land, etc.? Or they are telltale signs that something is fundamentally wrong with the foundation of the State?
Have we ever been peaceful, at the intra, inter, group and national levels? Or it has been fear induced peace, a behaviour which coerced us into submission, makes us submissive and meek? Otherwise what can explain peaceful people’s acceptance of injustice and dictatorship, antithetical to peace?
There is the general belief that when we have “security”, we have peace in return and equal measure.
Thus, we continue to hear the hooting “the security of the country will not be compromised”.
It is the language and belief of men and women in whose hands lie our “security”.
Check points all over town, iron clad soldiers armed with AK47, gun totting PIU armed with bayonets and truncheons, marching of Wellington boots, fisticuffs with protesters; these are how security is maintained and peace endured.
Peace then is seen more than the absence of violence and conflict; and its maintenance by any means. The presence of justice, social, political or economic, is immaterial.
The respect for human rights plays second fiddle. Protecting people’s freedom from fear and want is unimportant.
Reducing youth unemployment and poverty aren’t crucial. The emphasis is security and that cannot be compromised.
Aren’t we getting it wrong? Can we maintain and sustain “peace” with the current thinking and mindset? May be it is high time we held a national discourse on the term “PEACE”, its various connotations; how we can achieve and sustain it; how each individual, in his or her dealings with the other, can live by its tenets; how we can be peaceable and peaceful individuals. Just may be.