“This is my country and oppositions are venom and if I catch any opposition to my government I will bury them six feet deep,” Yahya Jammeh. What a hateful speech and a sign of political intolerance by a head of state. Dark Ages of The Gambia 1994-2017.
The biggest political intolerance in The Gambia started during the era of AFPRC/APRC regime and the toxic effect continues to date. The very imposition of Military Junta comprised of five ignorant idiotic military boys who were so immature to even have wives. Their interests were completely differ from the interests of the Gambian mass and they could only accomplish their interests through the force of arms and severe political intolerance which was carried out through tortures, forced disappearances, indefinite imprisonments and assassinations. Unfortunately these behaviors had radicalized the Gambian society and instituted absolute political intolerance that had never been known in Gambian political arena. Currently the intolerance surmounted to name-callings, use of profanities, private invasions on social media and rivalry among tribal groups.
In time, this political intolerance, much as the national liberation ‘forces’ fought furiously against it, became ingrained in our social fabric in many negative ways, requiring that we do not take it for granted that democracy on its own, by its mere establishment, would at a single stroke eradicate it and other related vestiges of AFPRC/APRC repression.
For those of us who witnessed the political freedom during Jawara’s era and later the political repression under Yahya Jammeh and his thuggish AFPRC/APRC Regime only soaked our handkerchiefs with tears of endless crying. The Gambians of pre-independence and post independence and up to the emergence of totalitarianism in 1994 know very well what political intolerance means and how it manifested itself, as well as the deep scars it left in our society.
The challenge to eradicate the vestiges of intolerance and its scars from our society remains with us to this very day. This is so particularly important because politics, in general, and The Gambians politics in particular, tends to be very robust and ours is a very politicized society.
Of course, much has happened since the dark days of AFPRC/APRC and since the advent of our democracy in January of this year 2017.
Even as we stand to condemn political intolerance, we must never be so extravagant as to claim that ordinary Gambians have replaced the AFPRC/APRC regime in the extent and scale of political intolerance. The Gambia is today a much, much more tolerant society than was the case in 1994 to December 2016.
But, the scars and roots of intolerance ran deep and permeated even ordinary people’s social lives, such that ours has, during the past 22 years, been a very violent society even beyond politics.
I hold a view that democracy means tolerance but it does not end there. Democracy also means responsibility – to respect our turbulent past.
Naturally the biggest advocates of the utopian democracy appear to be the ones with the least scars, arguing that democracy is tolerance alone. They seek narrowly to define political intolerance as physical provocation or confrontation, pretending that intolerance is a new phenomenon characteristic of the democratic dispensation.
The current Coalition Government of President Adama Barrow argues that democracy is about both tolerance itself as well as the means to build a diverse and developing nation but how far this message permeates the minds of Gambians is yet to be seen.
Ultimately, the Coalition Government knew that tolerance was not merely about political parties not disrupting each other’s rallies and meetings, but the most fundamental tolerance required that reconciliation must be accompanied by reconstruction and growth must go hand-in-glove with development. Otherwise, the tolerance would be a sham because it would leave the political and social relations unchanged and those with economic power would continue to dictate the political direction of the country.
For us to achieve even a semblance of a perfect democracy, we must work hard for it, diligently advancing beyond our shortcomings and rectifying our expectations of imperfect people.
Our democracy reminds us that we are responsible both for remembering that ours is a complicated and grossly imperfect past as well as striving towards our more ideal future. Our democracy was not a natural reality, but it came from a costly organized effort which required enormous sacrifices in terms of effort and more than anything else, life.
As the Coalition ascended to a ruling government in January of this year (2017), it had to accept the complex role of building a diverse but united nation – a nation united in its diversity.
The principle of unity in diversity does not confine itself to racial, gender, religious or other diversity, but must extend to the acceptance of the political plurality of our society.
The Coalition Government should resist the campaign by toxic people who were more influenced by Yahya Jammeh’s totalitarian tendencies to seek to reduce our nation to violent militancy, where eliminating one’s political opponents is the order of the day. The Gambia would be weaker and become a failed state if this occurred. Neither a militancy democracy nor a one-party state would do any good in our country.
Democracy, after it was earned, became a responsibility, asking of its citizenship to build more and relish less. Democracy, especially in The Gambia context, was not indebted to us; we were and still are indebted to it.
Of course, the painful cost of freedom was not experienced by all. A section of our population who enjoyed the privilege of AFPRC/APRC Regime understood democracy to be a concept devoid of social justice and the obligation, on their part, to contribute actively and willingly, not as a matter of legal compliance, towards fundamental social change, the upliftment of those hitherto economically marginalized and the economic empowerment of the majority.
On all matters of importance to the new democracy, those representing vested interests tend towards narrow definition. Yet, those who were the midwives of our democracy and who appreciate the sacrifices it took to bring it about are protective of it from two fronts – that is, protecting it from intolerance and irresponsibility. But, they further seek to defend it against narrow definition by those who seek to defend the status quo at all cost.
The Coalition Government has held dear and sacrosanct the idea that people have a right to civil liberties wherein differences in viewpoints are accepted and respected in society at large. One of the processes of consolidating democracy is the development of a democratic culture of which political tolerance is a crucial ingredient.
Democracy and freedom, (for many of us old enough to remember and those living in overseas advanced democratic nations), is not the image of winding voting lines alone.
Those beautiful images of our first vote are not removed from the image of Solo Sandeng’s lifeless body, or the NIA victims; they are not removed from images of violence in The Gambia as a whole and the blood of the April 2000 Student Massacre victims.
The point is that our freedom was not free; it is not a gift to be selfishly exploited for narrow and selfish ends, but to be collectively and jealously guarded.
Ours is an infant and imperfect democracy, we should at all times strive for tolerance without ever taking for granted what has been expensively and collectively achieved in this past one year.
We should never take for granted that our freedoms come with a critical obligation for us to conduct ourselves in the spirit of progression.
The Coalition Government holds the firm view that democracy is about both the right to differ as well as the acceptance of such difference by all. As an ideal, democracy upholds that members of the society should treat each other, and be treated, as equals. Underlying in democracy is the acceptance and respect of the others and their diverse political views, race and other groups.
Our shared citizenship, respect and commonality remains the best means to build a progressive nation. Democracy necessitates deep respect for the plurality of views and virtues of dialogue as a means of resolving issues. Furthermore, we should appreciate that political tolerance is not the end goal of democracy and social justice, but also a means towards these goals.
We need to be tolerant as much as we are responsible; and be critical, as much as we are constructive.
Thank you and may God bring tolerance among us.