By Alagi Yorro Jallow
To use a metaphor, this ice cream called Gambia may just melt in our lifetime. Gambians should therefore take time and read the history of the former Yugoslavia. Now at the crossroads, we can decide to re-embark on a proper project called “New Gambia” or press the self-destruct button—the choice is ours.
President Barrow must be reminded that he is presiding over a minority government as less than 50 percent of the voters elected him (he won 45.5 percent, with Jammeh at 37.7 percent, and a third-party candidate, Mamma Kandeh, at 17.8 percent). He also needs to remember all those who never voted for the coalition government.
Here is where the problem begins. The government has failed in its quest for national cohesion and, worse, there is no deliberate effort to build a cohesive country. All energy is directed towards building a hardened political support base.
Looking at his cabinet, diplomatic and other appointments, President Barrow evidently could not overcome the twisted, but key ideology, that drove the cocktail coalition to victory, as his political philosophy seems to be grounded in ethno-political chauvinism.
This political philosophy and ideology has been entrenched in Gambian politics since the country’s independence.
President Barrow is no different than his predecessors. He comes from the school of kunubaa where absolute tribalism, tokenism, and loyalty determine government appointments.
President Barrow’s predecessors also had many incompetent storytellers as cabinet ministers. President Barrow has already appointed someone with questionable academic credentials as a minister. Faces change, while the governing style and situation remain the same.
Ethno-political chauvinism encourages one-track thinking and discourages critical discourse on issues affecting society. Everything is always all about our government, our president, our gods, we, and them.
This one-track thinking is replicated everywhere from regime-friendly folks on social media to self-appointed political analysts who are nothing more than the spin doctors of this ethno-political chauvinism.
President Yahya Jammeh kept a firm grip on dissenters during his leadership, from 1994 to 2017, as he viewed the intellectual community with suspicion and prosecuted them for being members of an imaginary and revolutionary political interest group.
The repression of dissent that is happening today is an exact replica of Gambia under President Jammeh and the tactics being used are from his political rule books that were written as survival kits for paranoid governments that react to every mosquito bite with a hammer.
This political chauvinism is involved in the delivery of justice and the enforcement of the law. In Jammeh’s administration, people who often prosecuted for political crimes where outside of this ethno-political group. Yahya was a bloody and ruthless leader who consumed the souls of his own followers and an equal number of others.
Freedom of conscience becomes dangerous and even more so if you are not a member of the presidential political cabal or a supporter of an ethno-political chauvinist group that refuses to abide by the twisted logic of the ideology.
Consider Dr. Ismaila Ceesay’s case. He is a UK-trained political scientist and a university lecturer, who is a marked man for simply engaging in intellectual debates. As a public intellectual, he writes and makes very hard-hitting commentaries on the Gambian politics to the chagrin of a government that wants us to believe that all is well despite stagnation and growing disillusionment resulting from hopelessness. Instead of the government engaging him intellectually, it uses its security forces to harass and intimidate him and deprive him of his entitled rights.
Many things in life seem mundane or of no significance. Unfortunately, many occurrences in life, good or bad, start equally as small or insignificant events. The government of President Barrow must now start afresh on a path that encourages national reconciliation, not by his rhetoric local media interviews, but by his real actions that earn the confidence of those who fought so hard to chase away dictatorship and restore democratic rule.
In a society where ethno-political chauvinism results in endless suspicion, the President and his political cabal ensure that drivers, aides-de-camp, cooks, and other aides are either close family members or members of their own ethnic community or politiqueras. Equally important, institutions like the Central Bank and the tax authority cannot be left in the hands of other countrymen known as the outsiders.
The first major task of any new government in the Gambia is usually to ethicize the ranks of the civil service by promoting, demoting, and firing recruits to achieve the most optimal ethnic saturation and politiqueras.
This ethno-political chauvinism most often emerges as sovereign nationalism and, if you happen to disagree, you become an enemy of the state, unpatriotic, or a thankless citizen who does not appreciate what government is doing. The core of an ethnic chauvinistic government is to make ethnic groups supporting the government think that they are somehow superior to the rest of the citizens.
To build ethno-political chauvinism, a leader must give people within his ethnic group something to hate. This could be another person, a group of people, a leader, a political party, or people who are descendants of a certain linage or clan. In this way, ethnic anger is galvanized and directed at the desired direction. This ethnic chauvinism finds its way into the delivery of justice and the enforcement of the law and order.
The arrest of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay has been dismissed by many as a farce as they see it as legally and constitutionally impotent. The act was no different from what existed under the previous dictatorships. I have seen many analysts dismissing the academic freedom and legal significance of Dr. Ceesay’s arrest. Most are stuck in the realm of a legitimate national security concern, especially people who are government supporters and insist that he should be prosecuted for inciting violence.
It is this belief in collective or political gains and a false sense of protection from government atrocities that encourages an increasing number of ordinary Gambians to make sacrifices against police brutality, celebrate the blatant shooting of fellow countrymen and children, close the NGOs, harass and intimidate the opposition, endure arbitrary arrests and prosecution, and suffer the clamping down on basic rights, including shutting down the press and broadcast media.
Every opponent is deemed an agent of darkness who is steeped deeply in the practice of witchcraft and devil worship. Prayers are not conducted by any member of the clergy as there is an elite group of political imams and mosques who do the bidding in furthering this ethno-political chauvinism.
There is no indication that Gambians will soon move away from this path. Probably another formation of ethno-political chauvinists will find their way into the state house and then the process starts over again. This time, it will be another group of Gambians crying foul against oppression from the government. Others will laugh and celebrate blood and oppression. If so, then we have normalized chauvinism.