Growing up in urban Gambia, we blamed every act of cruelty or barbarism on foreigners. Whenever there was an incident of armed robbery, we said ‘Ñag yi la’ [it’s the foreigners]. I remember the incidents of murder were very few and far between. When a murder is reported, it would take months or even years before there would be a recurrence.
This is what made gullible ones like me (and many other Gambians) believe that Gambians are incapable of committing certain barbaric acts. We thought that the Gambian is so gentle, so docile, so meek that s/he will cringe at the mere sight of blood. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For me, the realisation came in a shockingly embarrassing manner.
In the year 2000, I traveled to Ghana to study Theology. On my first night there, I sat with many Ghanaians watching the evening news on their national television. The announcer read that a vicious gang of armed robbers had been arrested in Accra the previous night. They were accused of many killings and seizing of properties of innocent civilians. When they were paraded on TV, it was revealed that two were Ghanaians, one Nigerian and the other three were Gambians! You can imagine my shock!
Of recent, I read a chilling narration of how two Gambian-American citizens were killed in the Gambia. A little before that was the revelation about the brutal murder of Dayda Hydara, and indeed many others. I have woken up to the fact that Gambians can be brutal as anyone. Gambians can be as heartless as anyone can be. The naive belief that Gambians cannot do certain things is a myth. We are human beings after all, the only spices that can – and do – cut his fellow beings into pieces.
What do we learn from this? We must remember therefore that the leaders we choose colour us in their own image; or rather, we a are imbued with the hues of our leaders. We must therefore always seek to elect the right leaders. This means that we must always check our leaders to prevent them from sliding over the edge into dictatorship.
To do this, the surest way is through strong and established institutions. We must ensure that we have institutions which are democratic. They must not be centred on individuals but on certain core values which are to be the cornerstone of whatever is being done.
Mr President, your administration must put in place mechanisms which will ensure that no leader will become too powerful to an extent of blurring the lines between him/her and the State as we saw in the previous regime. We have a Herculean task ahead!
Have a Good Day Mr President…