I know what you are thinking. Yeah, that I should have instead said ‘old wine in new bottle’; as if I care about semantics. But, think of it, what if the bottle is old too? What if the bottle is even older than the wine it contains? Yeah, that is exactly the situation I have found myself in.
I wasn’t born in Foni but I grew up there. I was just 6 or thereabout when I arrived leaving both parents in then war-torn Guinea Bissau. At that tender age and uncomfortably frail to survive in this man-eat-man world of capitalism, I found myself going to school in a predominantly Jola settlement. But that natural childhood timidity in new neighbourhoods was soon crushed by unmatched communalism in Foni and, quicker than I expected, I started staying late when I closed from school just to chat with classmates and learn some words in Jola; like, the first I learned and never forgot, “endai”. Those were fun times.
That same place; naturally quiet and peaceful, has been wrecked by instability since Fangbili was shown the exit door. My people gathered and protested; something that never happened in Foni, not even during colonial era when even our rights were franchised by Her Majesty in UK. But our first time didn’t go so well because shots were fired…..and, someone died as a result. Sad times.
However, what broke my heart was not necessarily because someone was killed and the authorities continually search for justification (which they will never find); no, it was the reaction of Gambians, especially my comrade ‘journalists’ and keyboard warriors. Oh yeah, it is Foni, the birthplace of Fangbili who now refuse to ‘accept the will of Allah’ (a sudden hackneyed expression in small Gambia that continues to be used and abused even after Fangbili’s exile). People vomited rubbish online as if they are confused by an alien inferiority complex with foreign troops hovering around, ready to pounce if there’s even the slightest hint of a belt being unbuckled. I got online and read comments from mainly confused individuals who think Foni should be evacuated to neutralise rebellion in the troubled Casamance region. Well, Casamance is Senegal’s problem and, last time I checked, the forces are here to protect Ado because he is still scared of the extent the army is polarised and not to trap rebels in Casamance. I can assure you any day their mission suddenly and officially changes to that, we will drive them out ourselves.
“We will not allow few people to destabilise this country”. “Barrow most (sic) stop this nonsense! Foni people most (sic) accept change or face the consequences”. “That’s the language they understand, shoot them”. All these sound so Fangbili to me but I cannot believe a sane person would say such in reaction to the death of an innocent civilian! If a journalist, who wasn’t even at Kanilai when the protest took place, writes something like that on Facebook and expects me to read any story he/she subsequently writes, then the person must be mistaking me for himself (or herself) because these are dangerous comments that show side-taking without giving a damn about the loss of life during that completely avoidable violent clash. But, among all the comments I read on that rather sad day for my people, nothing hurt me more than one that said the Foni people enjoyed for 22 years while Fangbili was on a killing rampage on other parts of the country. Goodness! That person needs to time-travel back to eight years ago.
I watched with utter abhorrence, when my people in the Fonis were senselessly persecuted in 2009. I come from probably the only village in Foni where Fangbili never stepped foot in as a president (some claimed because he believed if he did, it would be the end of his grip on power. Well, his reign ended anyway; and ended rather acrimoniously), our village was turned into an IDP camp with Fangbili’s team of marauding witch doctors terrorising the Fonis.
Those in the neighbouring villages felt the only place of refuge was our village as they fled for their lives; away from forcefully drinking dirty concoctions that ‘hyper’ them. I have known young, bright and astute Jolas who lost their fathers and uncles during that exercise as the nation watched with amusement as if it was a sports event. Except Halifa Sallah, of course, who risked going to Fangbili’s Five-Star and condemned his paranoid schizophrenia he was taking out on the people of Foni. If not for that humble socialist, Fangbili would have continued and made sure every Gambian drink that concoction….and this country would have been depopulated overnight because thousands would have died. After that, well, he would just be the president of his zoo in Kanilai and have the whole Gambia as one big farm well-fertilised with Gambian skulls.
During this barbaric state-sponsored mass purging of ‘witchcraft’, elderly men and women would be stripped (NAKED) and compelled to drink unknown hallucinogenic potions to force them to confess they were witches. At least 1000 people were subjected to this treatment and many died not because they were witches and the concoctions revealed so, but because of the humiliation and diarrhoea that persisted in the aftermath of the stone-age practice of a man they so blindly revered.
That so-called witch hunt was brief. Terrible. Senseless. Bogus. Why? Because after some were forced to drink the potions and fell unconscious they swore they, together with their families, had used Mr X for dinner or lunch in a particular year. In fact, most of the time those they claimed they ate would still be alive and well. How could you have possibly eaten someone who is probably standing next to you that very moment? Kubejaaro talking! And, trust me, I can bet my ‘Iftar apple’ that even if you give such concoction to Fangbili himself, he would say he ate his daughter.
Tamba Jirro, the Lucifer—believed to have been hired from Guinea after Fangbili lost his cherished aunt and blamed Foni witches—had led the terror team, dancing and pretending he was in actual physical fight with some unseen evil forces. He would barge in compounds, dig, pick purported piles of ‘juju’ that no one would actually see and drop them in bags. If such ‘jujus’ are dug from your compound and Tamba, in his staged show thought you do fly at night, then be ready to taste the potion along with every other elderly person in the compound!
Look, if Fangbili was evil (and he surely was), each part of the country got a fair share of his evil. Tamba Jirro and his team didn’t enter our village but Fangbili found a way to make sure we too tasted his concoction in another form. When he, through the help of Supreme Islamic Council, imported moon sighting from Saudi Arabia and imposed it on Gambian Muslims, my village’s venerable Khalif General and our Alkalo were among those arrested and put on trial for observing a feast on a different day. Well, though Imam Fatty later claimed credit (or blame) for his arrest, it had undermined our entire system and things have never been the same again.
From that mass purging of ‘witches’ after which several died, to individual disappearances in Foni and a host of other despicable treatments meted out to the people of Foni (and that includes putting a bounty on someone’s head) by a sit-tight madman; all happened in that settlement.
Therefore, I rate it as utter ignorance from anyone to cherry pick particular people or political parties as ‘Chief Victims’ of Fangbili and damn every other person or place who quietly suffered under Fangbili.
Enough of Foni now! Since Ado took over, the country for the first time in many years is free but this same freedom is seriously threatened by security lapses. Rape. Murder. Robbery. Any time such things are reported, The Man jumps up and says they will investigate it. Blah blah blah blah. And one of the things that encourages all the above is darkness. The country is dark. Very dark. Nawec has suddenly decided to stop being the main supplier of water and electricity; it is now a standby generator to many people. Those of us who don’t have standby generator-turned-Nawec, we stay in the dark and pray Nawec-turned-standby generator brings light. This is terrorism! I fear for my life as strange things continue to befall this country. I am now thinking of bringing my sponge to the office and sleep over when it is too dark for I walk with everything I own, including the little things in my head. If you rob me, you go away with even my knowledge and I would have to go back to the Fonis to start all over again. But, considering people get shot there with rubber bullets and still die, I would rather stay here and read newspapers.
Coming back to the old-wine-in-old-bottle gizmo, it is clear that the system we inherited hasn’t changed and neither have those running the system. The country is stagnant and speaking about it is inviting trouble from Ado’s unsolicited vigilante groups everywhere. I have a revolutionary suggestion about the wine and the bottle: let us drop it and let it break into smithereens while the old wine meanders into the gutters. After that fulfilling exercise, we can all go to La Parisienne and buy brand new 7Up; with both the bottle and the wine new! Whoever doesn’t want us to change our old wine and old bottle, hell, cry us a river!
Author: Tlib Gibran