Whither the first love which brought us together for freedom?
Once upon a time a people lived under one of the most brutal, inhuman, exploitative, dictatorial and divisive regimes Africa has ever known in its modern history. It killed, raped, tortured, plundered, imprisoned, humiliated, bullied, threatened and massacred opponents, perceived opponents, non-Gambians and diehard supporters. It was a despicable reign of terror, presided over by an enfant terrible who first masqueraded as a Moses but a soi-disant one. Through transactional leadership, divide and rule tactics, carrot-and-stick methods, sophisticated and unscrupulous spy network, high dose of injected fear and intimidation and ever ready sons of the soil murderers, the regime and the Frankenstein monster survived a harrowing, devastating and monstrous 22 even years.
In spite of the fear filled, murderous, choking environment infested by the dreaded and ubiquitous NIA, and all the deadly attendant risks, there were groups of courageous men and women, youth and children, home and abroad, who banded and bonded, actuated by nothing but the desire for freedom and life of dignity and respect, to oppose and fight for democracy. Their differences mattered less. They had their eyes on the common goal. They sacrificed whatever they had; used whatever was in their hands; campaigned together at great personal costs.
They endured imprisonment, torture, privation, exile, property confiscations, humiliation, death, dismissals, and everything ugly and dehumanizing. Some fell or betrayed along the way. Some joined the oppressors and sold their former fellow freedom fighters for positions. But the majority trudged on, never parting company or losing sight of the common good. In partnership with the oppressed masses, traumatised already but highly galvanised and prepared, the Walls of Jericho came tumbling and the Davids, armed with marbles, brought Goliath to his knees in shame. The history of a once feared village warrior and quack herbalist and his marauding henchmen, came to an abrupt end.
Unity, solidarity, fellow feeling as oppressed people, shared history and suffering , commonness of purpose, singularity of vision, “same enemy” objective and desire to live dignified, self-fulfilling and democratic lives catalysed the people. Who wants to live in a golden cage?
But the euphoria, to all intents and purposes, was short-lived. The united camp that drove out a Goliath with all the instruments of torture at his disposal and at cost to life and limb, is now various opposing factions, engaged in cut-throat hostility. What brought them together is now their own seed of discord. It is a miniature Southern Sudan playing out on Facebook though. On Facebook, the virtual world. Multiple groups of Gladiators, armed to the teeth, ready to gorge out each other’s eyes.
Suddenly there is what Paulo Freire calls “fear of freedom”. The once oppressed people are now denying to each other that which they all so gallantly fought to repossess. The oppressed are becoming each other’s oppressors, resorting to the former oppressor’s tactics and methods. They that hated and fought against violations of human rights, intolerance to dissenting opinions, lack of transparency and accountability, seem to dislike the same for each other or rather now find these as anathema. Each thinks that the other group is hell-bent on destroying its “hard-fought” and “hard-won” prize, the repossession of freedom. Shadowboxing; which is as drenching as it is dehydrating. The winner will be the old oppressor unless the proxy war stops.
Democracy strives in dissent but matures to fruition in toleration or tolerance, that respect for the most repugnant, obnoxious opinion or idea; the acceptance that infallibility is not the preserve of humans; that willingness to subject oneself to scrutiny without flapping or being touchy or irascible. A democratic person must adhere to democratic tenets and values, willy-nilly. There cannot be any dissonance between the person and these values. Disagreements we should have for we have different horizons and not just one “truth”. We can avoid being disagreeable. That is a choice we have.
As it was at the beginning, so it could be now too: a common objective to expand and enlarge the frontiers of freedoms and rights, to stand up for what is right, to have a responsible government, to ensure all live in dignity and free from fear, to hold each other accountable, to entrench constitutionalism and the rule of law and to always be fighting on the side of the oppressed.
Securing rights is an everyday struggle, for oneself and others, against the excesses of oneself, others and the State. A luta continua.