The necessity of social structural change for Gambia


By Ousman Jassey

The current Political conflicts involving angry ethno-nationalist groups in The Gambia had sprung from the breakdowns of old arrangements of peaceful coexistence and ethnic diversity that held the fabric of peace in The Gambia for many centuries. This is caused by the egoistic attitude of Devil Jammeh in order to feed his tactic of divide and rule. This needs for social structural change results in a call by generations of the Gambians for new or revised political constitutions and social structures for the betterment of new Gambia .

It is paramount important that the Gambian authorities and the new leaderships to understand that social and political institutions set the context for individual and group behavior and are meant to provide the resources individuals need to survive and so as the Gambians. Currently, it is fair to say how people act and behave is shaped in large part by the social structures in which they find themselves in for the last 52 years of the country’s independence but the main radical shaping occurred in the last 22 years of Yaya Jammeh’s rule. Obtaining social and political justice in The Gambia should be a matter of ensuring that the social structures and political institutions do in fact satisfy basic human needs of the Gambian.

In The Gambia for the last 52 years but worst in last 22 years (July 1994 to January 2017), the society’s social institutions are characterized by exploitation, political exclusion, and unequal access to resources. These unfortunate structural forces often create a system of winners and losers in which we the Gambians become trapped in a particular social situation. Consequently, structural violence resulted, in the form of power inequity, poverty, and most importantly the denial of basic human rights causing tribalism thereby shaking the fabric of peace. The basic human needs of the Gambians go unmet, and groups suffer from inadequate access to resources and exclusion from institutional patterns of decision-making causing another conflict melting point. Unjust structural forces and divisions also contribute to discrimination, lack of education, and inadequate employment opportunities especially among the country’s youths causing massive emigration of youths to Europe via the most dangerous route known as “Back-way”. An example of this sort of structural violence is the effect of deindustrialization in the form of seizing people’s farming lands by Yaya Jammeh and marginalization of the various tribal groups especially the majority tribes by APRC.

It is unlikely that weak processes within the broken system can be effective in dealing with the injustice and inequality that was happening in The Gambia for the last 22 years. This is because these processes were designed to support the existing militarized institutions of Yaya Jammeh with the aim of enriching himself and his family. Therefore, any conflicts that stem from unmet human needs of the Gambians may be contained by the existing system but are unlikely to be resolved and this is important for the current leadership of President Barrow to understand. There will be protracted conflicts until there are changes made to these faulty basic social structures. It is important for President Barrow’s government to know that in many cases, if social structural changes are not made, eventually change (oftentimes for the worse) will occur by means of violence and I do not wish that for my beloved Gambia , The Smiling Coast of Africa.

Also, it is important for my fellow Gambians to understand that since instituting fundamental social structural changes is extremely difficult, these structural and systemic problems are often a main cause of protracted and intractable conflicts. Indeed, any set of institutions and social relationships that deny identity, social recognition, autonomy, or preconditions for human development, creates an environment of conflict. Structural conflict is likely to result whenever patterned social relationships fail to satisfy basic needs or secure vital human interests and this is exactly what we are witnessing in The Gambia. Any society that aspires to meet the needs of its citizens, deal with serious social problems and avoid violent conflict must address these issues, therefore The Gambia is no exception.


A prerequisite for peace
Let me bring to the attention of The Gambia’s current leaderships that social structural changes are an integral part of transitioning to peace, as well as addressing the injustice that may have fueled conflict in the first place. Indeed, all Gambians should note that peace building must involve systemic change that helps create and sustain a new social reality. An integral part of minimizing violent conflict is transforming those structures and dynamics that govern social and political relations, as well as access to power and resources. These sorts of systemic changes typically involve policy or institutional adjustments, as well as the creation of new institutions to meet basic political and socioeconomic needs. These social structural reforms aim to ameliorate some of the conflict’s underlying causes and conditions and restructure the system of social relationships that has broken down. And for the Gambia’s situation, it had been broken down for a very too long.

It is worthy to note that social structural change is also crucial in preventing further protracted conflict. It is universally accepted that the prevention of conflict is through by removing its underlying causes and creating conditions under which it need not occur. Therefore, this what we the Gambians should focus on. Since we used technology and social media to our advantage to root out dictatorship government from our country, then it is high time for us to continue to creat positive platforms for discussion of national reconciliation and developments using the same social media.

Addressing injustice before it provokes conflict often requires far-reaching changes in the existing structures and institutions of society. Suppose, for example, we the Gambians discovered that a major societal problem such as tribalism or political infighting could be prevented by a redistribution of educational resources of reconciliation and the provision of more rewarding jobs for all Gambians and creating inclusive society then we should focus on that. If such social structural changes were made, this might ensure that all members of society had sufficient opportunities for individual development and social bonding, and thus alleviate the structural conditions that contribute to these social problems.


Types of social structural change
Today, there is much conflict between tribal groups of The Gambia, as a result of general breakdown of governmental policies of the former dictatorship government of Yaya Jammeh, causing deep rooted economic privation and civil strife. Bad governance is a form of injustice that must be corrected. Thus, one very broad type of social structural change is state reform and democratization. State reform must involve more than just reorganization of the administrative system or the system of resource allocation. These social structural changes should contribute to the establishment of participatory nation-building processes by fostering democratic development, nonviolent and just dispute resolution systems, the participation of the population, and rule of law.

Currently, in The Gambia, Barrow’s government and its coalition political parties are chiefly concerned with replacing or altering existing legal and political institutions. And they are not wrong but to my analysis, reform of government institutions typically should involve measures aimed at democratization and increased political participation. Societies strive to develop a workable political system in which the multiple social groups can participate to their satisfaction. This sort of state reform has the potential to mitigate and heal the effects of violent intertribal conflict, as well as prevent future conflicts .

Another type of structural change the Barrow’s government should consider and implement is the strengthening of civil society. Civil society involves various sectors, including the business world, trade unions, women’s groups, religious groups, and human rights activists and groups. In Gambia for many years certain tribal groups, technocrat citizens are alienated from the institutions and practices of governance, and public institutions are unable to solve social problems such as massive emigration of youths and Gambian technocrats whom are the future of the country. Community relationships and civic life either do not exist or have disintegrated. When civil society is absent or inactive, it is a sign of an oppressive regime, which of course was the case of Devil Jammeh’s APRC Regime.

Another important area crucial for social structural change is the transparency on the side of both the government and citizens. Unless this important feature is fully implemented the. There will be always suspicion between the citizens and the government and this will hinder any development plans and social structural changes. So what us transparency?
There is no commonly agreed definition of transparency, but there is a general consensus that it relates to the right to know and public access to information.

In a broad sense, transparency is about: how much access to internally-held information citizens are entitled to; the scope, accuracy and timeliness of this information; and what citizens (as “outsiders”) can do if “insiders” are not sufficiently forthcoming in providing such access.
Excessive secrecy can undermine the quality of public decision-making and prevent citizens from checking the abuses of public power. This can have a corrosive effect on virtually all aspects of society and governance. Transparency — in terms of both information disclosure and dissemination and access to decision-making — is therefore very important as it better enables civil society to:
hold government and/or key decision-makers to account;
promote good governance;
improve public policy and efficiency;
combat corruption.

Scientists and educationists confirmed that strengthening community and civil society is one way to address persistent social problems such as destructive injustice, poverty, violence, and environmental degradation and The Gambia highly needs that. Strong civil society can promote dialogue and reconciliation, foster good governance, and build peace across cultures. It can also foster the values of caring, tolerance, and cooperation, and encourage public discourse and broad participation in the construction of public policies. The Gambians who care about communities and their country are less likely to participate in mindless development, environmental pollution, and tribal and economic segregation.

There should be various types of structural reform aim to strengthen community and civil society. These measures should make Gambians strive to foster public participation and create institutions of governance that can become vehicles not just for making and enacting policy decisions but for fostering citizenship. Such measures include forums for meaningful public engagement, real opportunities for community members to communicate with public officials, and other forms of inclusive governance.

Part of political inclusion is power sharing and it is important the current government start with that, but they should not only stop at the use of power sharing to eliminate Dictator Jammeh but continue with it for national reconciliation and developments. Social structures that preserve unequal power relationships often deny subordinated groups and gender groups the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes that affect them especially women groups and associations who are under represented in The Gambia due to cultural and religious beliefs.

Part of restructuring political systems, therefore, is empowering weaker parties to negotiate solutions to their deep-rooted structural problems. In the United States, for example, mediators with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service work with racial minorities involved in community conflicts with schools and the police. Such type of policy should be copied and Gambianize it for its use in The Gambia . I know some of the readers would say, USA and Gambia are different and that is true but at the end of the day we are all humans and we need good survival, so if a policy works USA then there is nothing wrong to try it in The Gambia. The Gambia government should frequently help the marginalized groups or underserved groups like women and girls associations to clarify their grievances such as women abuse, teenage pregnancies, forced marriages underaged marriages, etc and try to successfully legislate laws against them with the aim of finding solutions to these social malaise.

The new government of President Barrow should discourage the degradation and belittlement policy of women, which was practiced by former dictator Jammeh. For example organizing festivals like “women with big buddy and big buddy shaking contest”. Since poverty is high among women in The Gambia due to low level of literacy, women had no choice and many participated in such type of degrading and humiliating festivals for purpose of having money in order to meet their basic human survivals. Such policies encourage social problems like prostitutions and spreading of devastating sicknesses like sexual transmitted diseases (STDs). Other social problems that can emerge out of it are breaking of marriages and unwanted pregnancies.

I know many Gambians will agree with me that “The Kaninlai Festivals of Prostitution” organized by former dictator Jammeh created many disintegration of families and other social problems in The Gambia .
Mediation among social groups should frequently occurs, and social structural changes which will provide for long term improvements of behavior and relationships will frequently be the result. Reallocations of power to the victims of gender, tribal, or sexual discrimination and injustice should form part of structural change. Gambia Government and its international development partners can initiate specific programs to politically empower these citizens associations or groups and increase their political participation and awareness.

The Gambia Government should look and copy programs of other developed and developing nations, study their policies that helped them to accomplish many of their goals through democratization. The establishment of democratic institutions such as political parties, voting mechanisms, and independent court systems can provide the mechanisms for power sharing and the proper balancing of political and economic power. Strengthening institutions might also involve judicial reform, the institution of free elections and the creation of a permanent human-rights ombudsman’s office and all these should be part of a strong inclusive constitution and not like the military constitution of Dictator Jammeh. These institutions should carry out just and transparent procedures and promote open and participatory democratic processes.


Such processes can lead to the transformation of power structures and increase involvement in political debate.
To our young democratic government of President Barrow, another general way to reform government and redistribute power is through constitutional reform as stated above (and I heard that this is part of the current government development plans. Job well done). This can involve a process of national dialogue, allowing competing perspectives and claims to be aired and incorporated. It can also be part of national education with respect to concepts of government, the concerns of different groups, the development of civil society and citizen responsibility, and norms of human rights and tolerance. All of these features can be incorporated into newly formed constitutions that address power inequities and promote political inclusion.

Constitutional reform can help political systems and the institutions within them to evolve in response to demands that reflect human needs. In the South African case, for example, systemic change came in the form of major constitutional reform and reallocations of power. The abandonment of apartheid is a prime example of major social structural change. I made reference to these countries because they are bigger countries and are federations and with larger social diversity but managed to have successful governments and one cannot say theirs are perfect but at least it is working to some degree for them. So it won’t be wrong for The Gambia to look at them spy some of their policies and try to Gambianize it before implementation.

Also Barrow’s government should address uneven economic development and transform the system of class and property relations because this is very important after the brutal seizures of many Gambians properties by Devil Jammeh. The current government should also legislate against the accumulations of discrimination (between urban and rural Gambia) in areas of education, skills training and economic opportunities that can result in further economic disadvantages and causing rural-urban migration because of economic opportunism. And this can cause a gigantic amount of social problems.

There are also income, property, and other monopolistic accumulations that are difficult to deal with in the absence of major changes to existing institutions and all should be considered. These sorts of systemic problems require structural changes if they are to be truly resolved. Such changes might include reallocations of educational resources, job training, and returning of properties to rightful owners, as well as redistribution of wealth through tax reform. Also creation of employment institutions in rural areas of The Gambia.

In addition, the new government should promote a more equitable distribution of income, correct financial-market inequities, and prevent monopolistic or oligopolistic control over markets, which will cause the rich to get richer and poor getting poorer. Many policies can be implemented to advance land and agrarian reform, promote trade and industry, and increase inclusive economic growth. Restructuring the economic system in these ways can help the new government and local governments, private sectors to address immediate socioeconomic issues while also creating a way forward for broader societal change.

Another important area is that reckoning with past abuses and injustice must focus on the victims’ restitution. Restitution to victims and their families should be part of current social structural reforms and reconstruction. However, it is important to know that this can be crucial well beyond the reconstruction stage because it will bring peace to the minds of Jammeh’s victims and their families and that in turn will bring successful reconciliation. Some social structural changes aim at compensation for past political and economic injustice.


For example, many people in Africa and in countries to which black Africans were brought as slaves have called for recognition of the losses they currently suffer as a legacy of past injustices. Some argue that reparations should be made, and in the United States, the issue of compensation for losses suffered by African Americans as a consequence of slavery continues to be a subject of debate after two hundred years. In comparison, if The Gambia’s new government does not address the injustices of Yahya Jammeh, the bitter memories will linger for long periods of time and peace and reconciliation will be hard to achieve.

There is a growing consensus in international law that the nations are obligated to provide compensation to victims of serious human rights abuses and Gambia should consider this and I know some will argue that The Gambia is too poor to do that and I respect their opinions. However, compensation programs should not be monetary programs only but it can include restoration of land to their rightful owners, seek for monetary assistance from international donors to provide monetary compensation to dislocated victims and pensions for survivors of those killed, grant educational benefits to communities, and provide funds for cultural activities as this will facilitate the political and social healing processes and foster the spirit of forgiveness and peaceful societal coexistence. If The Gambia is able to carry out these sorts of substantial measures, it will be a very important part of reconciliation, and will help the victims of past injustice of Devil Jammeh’s rule to manage the material aspects of their loss.

Social Movements for Structural Change
I argue and bring to the attention of Barrow’s government that the existence of injustice and oppression in the established power structures must be recognized and confronted or else the message of reconciliation and maintaining peace will be rejected or ignored by the citizens. If violent conflict and revolution is to be avoided, inequities in political and economic power cannot be ignored. So the only thing the government can do is to prevent by significantly altering faulty basic social structures without intense mass violence towards citizens and curtailing their rights.

Malfunctioning social structures can sometimes be reformed through nonviolent protest and peaceful political mobilization and this is a right that should be guaranteed in the supreme law of The Gambia, the constitution. And unfortunately, few weeks ago The Gambia Police Force denied a protest movement called #OccupyWestField in the name of national security reasons and to my analysis, I think it is wrong and unhealthy for emerging democracy of The Gambia to do that. I know some will disagree with me and their viewpoints are respected.

Organizing and mounting peaceful demonstrations should be guaranteed in the constitution and no permits should be required because obtaining permit will hinder the democratization. Fellow Gambians as we embark on promoting democracy and responsible freedom, we should know that history provides many examples of political and social movements that aimed to radically change existing political and socioeconomic structures. Many of these structural changes altered the balance of power between social groups, that lead to increased political participation and corrected systemic forms of injustice and therefore, it is not wrong to learn from it and accept it. We should also remember one thing and that is not every democratic process will be hundred percent favorable to all Gambians. That is why political scientists say democracy is a messy system of government.

To buttress further on the right to peace protest or demonstrations to things citizens perceived as unjust, I will bring your attentions to few important historic events that happened around the world. In the United States, the civil rights struggle spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr. led to the establishment of legal procedures and institutions for dealing with discrimination issues in employment and schooling. Martin Luther King also learnt the importance of peaceful protest from Mahatma Gandhi of India when he led his country’s struggles against British rule. Although, both of these protests were entirely nonviolent but they produced a significant result.

In the more distant past, the American Revolution successfully reconstructed the North American political system along liberal-democratic lines and this led to the construction of a new constitution and established the colonies’ political and economic independence from Britain. Similarly, many anti-colonial independence movements before and since then have sought to replace colonial political institutions with new forms of government responsive to native interests. While many of these have been violent revolutions, many have not, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was a massive political and social change, which came about largely with violence.

The new government should allow and encourage formation of social groups like Labor Union because such groups help in civic and social education of the citizens of their political and civil rights. These groups helped with citizens empowerment through education, help to reform economic structures and change oppressive power relationships between social groups. The American New Deal, for example, used nonviolent methods to alter the balance of economic power between dominant and subordinate classes. The New Deal’s labor legislation compelled larger interstate corporations to recognize and bargain with labor unions and banned unfair labor practices. These new labor policies attempted to outlaw the exploitation of the working class and alleviate severe economic inequality. This is very important as there are many rumors circulating in social media of foreign companies exploiting landed environments endangering basic survival sources of the locals and also abusing Gambian workers human rights. If social groups like labor union and environment protection agency exist, they can take actions against such parasitic and vulturistic companies on behave of Gambian workers and people.

Both constitutional structural changes as well as the reorganization of a community’s socioeconomic system can serve as nonviolent ways to address systemic injustice. Groups need to organize together to form social movements that confront structural problems and the social ills that result from them. Such social movements might develop around the environment, tribal group’s rights, women’s rights, religious or cultural independence, and a variety of other issues. It is of no doubt that these movements are a key part of nonviolent social structural change, as well as democratic processes in general.

However, I will admit that it is unclear whether more radical social structural changes can be carried out by peacefully working within the faulty existing system left by Dictator Jammeh. Therefore, it is important for we Gambians to help current government make changes but patience is surely needed. As a Gambian, I heard this from childhood that we the Gambians are impatient.

We the Gambian should also know that social scientists agreed that when political and legal forms support unequal power relationships’, working within this framework to carry out reform is unlikely to succeed. Consequently, the need for more revolutionary tactics is unavoidable. However, let me make it clearer here, the revolutionary tactics do not call for violence but a peaceful political solution. It is a common belief that change is scary especially to we the black race and that was why it was a superstition in The Gambia that votes cannot and will remove a “Mansa” or leader/president. This caused for the Gambians to keep former presidents Jawara and Jammeh for 30years and 22 years, respectively. Even it was cleared to many that there were corruptions existing in both regimes and with later, that is Yahya Jammeh’s regime not only corruption but characterized as bloody regime that took lives of many innocent Gambians.


Limits of social structural change
Unfortunately my fellow Gambians, I just want to make one thing very clear so that I would not be held accountable to is that, social structural changes such as power-politics and institutional changes often have limited success in breaking cycles of violence. However, this does not mean that good social structural changes polices should not be initiated by the Barrow’s government. We all look into them to lay a good foundation for better Gambia after two decades of horror day in and day out for we the Gambians.

We the Gambians should further know that large-scale social structural change is limited, in part, because national and global elites often seek out the most acceptable and efficient means of managing serious social conflict rather than resolving it. Rather than dealing with the total situation in all its complexities, management and containment of symptoms is the most common response. In some cases, this is important because the deep-rooted changes required, are regarded as politically unacceptable or too costly to pursue. Changes may seem too costly even when the long-term costs of merely managing social problems in the future will turn out to be even higher. Only when reform policies are seen to have significant social payoffs in the long term but although it can be politically unpalatable in the short term.

The question is, with this background knowledge about social structural changes, can there be radical systemic change in The Gambia?
The answer is yes but it has to be through advanced costing procedures. The Gambian leaderships and experts can attempt to weigh the costs of refusing to deal with the roots of the problem against the costs of social structural changes. However, leaderships should understand that, the effect that certain social structural changes they will actually perform is usually uncertain, and given that predictions are not conclusive, Gambian decision-makers should not be hesitant to enact radical institutional reform.

In other parts of the world, National elites and leaderships tend to initiate changes at the level of more local or peripheral social structures while leaving more central structures intact but will that structural policy makings work for The Gambia? Only time will tell if radical decisions are made by leaderships in Banjul. Furthermore authorities elsewhere in the world, are typically in favor of system and role preservation because they have a vested interest in the status quo. Thus, structures that support the norms and behaviors of dominant social groups will tend to be preserved. Changes that are regarded as a threat to the immediate interests of those who determine economic and social priorities are unlikely to be enacted. Thus, some political and economic structures turn out to be extremely difficult to alter. Therefore, we Gambians should accept the fact that our current leaderships is not immune to such dilemma decision-making. Unfortunately, it is just the nature of politicking in democracy.

In The Gambia, with our nation and societies been ravaged by dictatorial regime of Devil Jammeh, social structural reform may be insufficient to satisfy human needs for sometimes and example of such is recently being experienced by the Gambians when National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) was unable to supply adequate water and electricity. We should learn to be patient because the nation’s economic and political institutions have been utterly destroyed, they require reconstruction rather than alteration. Furthermore, our national structures such as NAWEC, Gambia Civil Aviation, Social Security and Housing Finance Company (SSHFC) and many others need to be fully reconstructed or simply reformed, and we should understand this can be highly costly. Like other many other countries that faced similar fate, The Gambia will have to rely on outside humanitarian aid and development assistance in order to create economic and political institutions capable of satisfying human needs. Example of such assistance, was the European Union aid packages to The Gambia.

Finally, any efforts aimed at structural reform must be accompanied by efforts to heal relationships and help individuals deal with psychological trauma inflicted on them by Devil Jammeh. Survivors of Devil Jammeh’s reign of terror must be rehabilitated psychologically and spiritually, and develop shared meanings so that relationships can be transformed. Social structural change cannot adequately address injustice, put an end to violent tribal conflict and contribute to peace-building unless this human dimension receives significant attention as well and I hope and pray that Barrow’s government and future governments of The Gambia fully understand this.
The End