There is no doubt that no Gambian should be subjected to discrimination and ethnic profiling by State agents. Indeed, I’ve received some complaints from many people of different ethnicities that they have been treated as non-Gambians by immigration officers on account of their names, complexion, physique and other looks. Members of the Fulani community may have been one of the most affected, if not the most. This is condemnable and the Government has a duty to ensure that its agents do not discriminate against any citizen.
Given the above, one would have thought that this matter should have been raised by any Minister in Cabinet to be discussed so that necessary institutional or administrative measures are taken to handle it. Hamat Bah is already a key Minister in that Cabinet and a party leader as well and he has all the right and duty to raise the matter there. After all, this malpractice is committed by public officers of a Government in which Hamat Bah is a leading member. Why then complain when he should have fixed it, officially.
Therefore, it begs the question as to why Hamat would decide to use a political rally to raise this issue and then connect it to voting by calling on Fula voters to be careful of ‘rats’ who are lurking around. Who are these ‘rats’? Clearly, Hamat’s intention is not about the discrimination of the Fula, rather Hamat is now doing political campaigning for votes. He only used this story to generate fear and victimhood in the Fula hence trigger tribal sentiments in them so as to push them toward a certain political platform. This is what is called tribal politics and it is dangerous.
Given our background where we had a Despot who employed tribal politics in the most vicious manner that continues to threaten the cohesion and stability of this country until today, the comments by Hamat Bah are indeed concerning and should therefore be condemned in the strongest terms. None more than the President should be the one to do so first! Yet it is now 72 hours since Hamat made such a bigoted and insulting comment without the President standing against it. This is indeed a demonstration of poor leadership that must be equally condemned.
While the Constitution of the Gambia guarantees freedom of expression and the right to political participation, however political participation in a democracy is also built on values and standards that must be upheld by all politicians and their supporters. The Constitution states in Section 60(2)(a) that no political party shall be formed on the basis of ethnicity, sections, religion or region. The Elections Act under Section 91 prohibits the use of slander and insult. Yes, one can criticize one’s political opponents but this must be at a level that it does not injure the dignity of people. For that matter, to label political opponents as rats is indeed below political decency that is not expected of a Government leader. This is language that is a clear violation of the Elections Act.
We recall a time when the Despot Yaya Jammeh would call opposition leaders, journalists and human rights defenders names like donkeys, illegitimate sons and daughters, unpatriotic, bastards, rats, idiots and such other unpleasant names. He went further to even call other ethnic groups foreigners, cockroaches and flies and who deserve to be slaughtered and buried six feet deep. It was this mindset that gave birth to a culture of abuse of power when those unchecked remarks were translated into direct action where our citizens were subjected to all forms of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, enforced disappearances, rape and summary executions.
Such bigoted language indicates intolerance, disregard for the rights and dignity of Gambians and indeed an attempt to undermine constitutionalism and democracy by building public hatred for political opponents. It is such language that builds up tribal sentiments and thuggery in people such that they would be prepared to do anything, illegally and violently, to promote personal and partisan political objectives. It is such language that divides the people by building up suspicion and hatred among them which can be seen to be case in our society until today, thanks to Yaya Jammeh’s tribal politics. Some of the testimonies at TRRC are enough lessons from which to learn.
Furthermore, such remarks are counter productive for the Fulani community as it undeservedly distinguishes them in a controversy for which they will become the recipients of all sorts of reaction. Some of this reaction could be demeaning that might force any Fula man or woman to want to defend his or her ethnic group. In that regard the tendency for such situation to boil down to conflict between any two people is high. Where that escalates to a community level, it is when tribal conflicts become a reality hence the potential for genocide.
Therefore, not only is Hamat Bah sending this country back to dictatorship by fomenting ideas of social and political exclusion and hatred, but by so doing, also triggering tribal conflict. It is precisely for this reason that Pres. Barrow should have immediately stopped Hamat in his speech the moment he made such tribal and insulting comments. Having failed to do so at the right time, it is still not too late for the President to call Hamat Bah to order by asking him to unconditionally withdraw his comments and fully apologize to all Gambians or get him sacked immediately. This is what Pres. Adama Barrow should do right now.
As Gambians, we must be wary of any politician who stands on a platform to make comments that undermine the rights, dignity, unity and security of citizens. Such language must be rejected by all Gambians. Until we are prepared to hold politicians accountable for their words and actions we will only find ourselves in another ditch sooner than later. We must not take for granted what politicians say just because they are our preferred leaders and parties. Equally we must not rationalize the words and actions of politicians with the intention to minimize the inherent dangers they pose to society.
Finally, a conscious, patriotic and honest citizen should not love a party and a politician more than the country such that you fail to detect their dangerous words and actions. Rather a good citizen must stand against any politician, no matter how much one loves that politician, if that politician engages in ways that undermine the rights, dignity, unity and security of Gambian citizens.