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Monday, June 21, 2021

Rising polarisation, rising crimes and rising vigilantism

In seven months, Gambians will head to the polls during one of the most polarised moments in recent Gambian politics. And the polarisation is on the rise just like crimes and the barbaric methods of fighting them.

Democracy breeds polarisation and, if properly unchecked, it eventually divides a society into political tribes. Once this happens, democracy is then harmed. This is exactly the phase of The Gambia’s democratisation process. Political leaders, even those who command great public respect, keep casting their opponents as immoral and corrupt, thereby creating “us” and “them” camps.

In this tribal dynamic, each side views the other with increasing distrust, bias and enmity and painting them as a threat to the nation or their way of life. Does this narrative sound familiar? The Gambia and Gambians have been stuck in animosity and anger since the change of government in 2017. It is suffocating; toxicity and tribal bigotry permeating the air and we have already damaged a democracy we thought we are building.

But as if toxic partisan politics and tribal bigotry were our only problem, we are now facing an even bigger existential threat to our very own lives: CRIMES. Granted, tribal bigotry or toxic partisan politics is generally war-of-words, but The Gambia is witnessing an unprecedented rise in crimes of all sorts; murder, rape, armed robbery, stealing, breaking-in, assault, and so forth. From the disgusting murder of a high school girl Marie Mendy to robbing businessman Walid Bourgi of millions at gunpoint, the country is on the brink.

Following overwhelming public outcry, Gambia police launched Operation Zero Crime to cleanse the streets and bushes of criminal elements. But even with that, no matter how appreciatively effective it has been recognised, crimes seem unabated and more people keep losing their lives and their properties rather frequently. The recent deployment of security forces across the urban areas to curb crimes is efficient too as it has been a deterrent to the proliferation of weapons and drugs. Yet, that too is not enough. More needs to be done and President Barrow announced that he ordered the army to be on standby for police duties. This means, sooner rather than later, we will see more guns and more combat boots marauding in the streets. The sight will no doubt trigger memories of the 2017 political impasse but, if at all soldiers can add manpower and effectiveness in curbing crimes, then let’s have it. Like the president himself said during his speech, “always remember that we are safer working together; therefore, let us act together”.       

But, the rising crimes in the country have been somewhat greeted with ugly vigilantism and mob justice. For the past two weeks, videos of cruel and barbaric mob justice have sent social media into overdrive. It is either a suspected thief is tied like a disobedient slave and whipped or painted like a house and bathed with cold water or stripped naked, stretched and tortured, several videos of different barbaric treatments have surfaced.  However, regardless of our frustrations with the slow pace of justice, we can never justify humiliating and demeaning a fellow human being like that. This is the height of barbarity and it should never be entertained in a civilised society. 

The bottom-line is crimes are surging in a hitherto peaceful Gambia. The jury is out on whether we will be successful in the fight to restore the country’s serene past but one thing is clear, this country, this government needs to create more employment. The more people engaged in meaningful lives the less crimes in the streets. It is not rocket science, even though unemployment doesn’t justify criminal behaviours.

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