With Aisha Jallow
Have you ever stopped to observe the lives of ants? You see them running around endlessly, pushing and pulling whatever they have found that can be edible. They build anthills, make antheaps in small cracks in the ground or in the foundation of a house. No hole seems too small for the ants, and these creatures come in all sizes and shapes depending on their living conditions.
Here in Sweden we have three kinds of ants: small black, small red and larger brown. The black ones are inoffensive. They make their heaps in the ground and they don’t bite you even if you disturb them. The red ones are small and feisty! If you manage to disturb them you will soon regret it. They bite and the poison in these bite marks makes the skin itch and sting. As these ants are so small you might not discover them until it is too late. The bites are not dangerous, only very uncomfortable for a long while. The third kind, the large and brown kind live in the forest. They build large anthills which are placed in a sunny spot often leaning to a tree trunk.
These anthills are also underground, the same height over ground as the depth under ground. As these ants are larger you can actually see their paths heading from the anthill and out in the forest. The closer to the anthill you go, the wider these paths become.
Imagine stopping for a while to observe the ants. Let’s say that you suddenly feel the urge to destroy some of their heaps. You would throw away the food the ants had been struggling to carry to their heap. Water from your water bottle would be poured over some of the ants to drown them. You are so huge compared to the ants so you could do whatever it is in your might to destroy them and their lives. Why should you bother? You are a large human being and these small creatures are too small to mind. In a split of a second, you have been able to wipe out a whole population and you walk away, pleased with yourself.
Cruel, isn’t it? Why on earth should you do anything like that? Why interfere in the creation instead of live and let live?
Now let us imagine that we are studying the ants at their ant heap. The ants run here and there, pushing and pulling their finds, trying to survive the day. It can be very interesting to look at their efforts. They are amazingly strong and determined to reach their goal. All the ants know where to go, they don’t just walk about randomly trying to spend some time to let another day pass. The ants work hard for their survival and nothing but death can stop them.
We could look at the “game of ants” as a metaphor and apply it to us humans. We have our daily struggles, some of us harder than others. We have our life paths, work hard and go home with our findings just like the ants. What if someone decided to play a game with our lives? This “someone” suddenly begins to interfere with our lives, placing different kinds of hindrances in our way just because this person has the power to do that. Why on earth should someone do anything like that?
Well, in all times this has been a method used by kings, presidents and others in authority. It can be seen as a political game, a way of controlling crowds of people, may it be citizens holding a peaceful demonstration or just trying to live their lives.
The ruler of this “game” looks at the people as items that can be moved about or even destroyed depending on how the game goes. The ruler has such a high position in life that he doesn’t see the ground anymore. He is not connected to the life of ordinary people as he believes that he is above everyone. This person is placed on a pedestal, either by himself or by others. There is not much room on the top of the pedestal so the ruler must defend his position to make sure that he is not challenged. The problem with staying on the top all the time is that you don’t see that others are either climbing up to pull you down, or gathering at the bottom of it to push until the pedestal tumbles down.
If you don’t know what a pedestal looks like, I can try to explain it for you. It has a foundation and above that a pillar. On the top of the pillar is a wooden disc, like a shelf on which you place an item or a vase of flowers. This is meant to be decorative and to expose something of value. The problem with a pedestal is that it can be a bit wobbly. The foundation, often a similar wooden disc like the one on the top, is standing on four tiny feet. It looks very elegant, but these small feet don’t stand firm on the ground. If you keep your distance, and tread carefully when you come near the pedestal, nothing happens. If you happen to come too close and even give the pedestal a little push it will easily fall and what stood on the top of it will crash on the floor.
People put items up on a pedestal because they want others to admire it. They handle it with care and make sure that others don’t come near in case they could be a bit careless and cause an accident. As long as everyone keeps a distance, the item will stand perfectly safe on the pedestal.
I speak about people put on a pedestal from time to time, and I thought it was on time that I explained what I meant. Sometimes we tend to put people up on a mental pedestal. We have decided that this person has a certain value and that he deserves to be standing there for others to admire. We have decided the value of that person and we don’t accept that others might have a second opinion. We don’t allow anyone to come near, in case that person would be careless and cause an accident of some sort.
Let us go back to the game of ants and connect that story to the pedestal, an interesting task which I hope to manage. I will begin with the different kinds of ants, the small black ones that did no harm, the red ones that bit and harmed us with their sting and last the larger brown ones that built their heaps in the forest. Even if we believe that ants have no clue of what they are doing, they are actually clever small creatures. Just as ants can be different us humans come in all kinds of variations. We have different colors and sizes, some of us are harmless and others mean harm when they feel threatened. The threat can look different for every individual and can change from one time to another.
The person placed on the pedestal is the kind of person who has high thoughts of himself. People look up to him, treat him with more respect than he deserves- just because of his position. Being up that high is making that person disconnected to the people down below. The high position is a safe point where that person can retreat whenever times get rough. It is hard to reach that person and so many are standing in the way to protect him. From that high position it is easy to look down on people. It can be amusing to see how they run around, like ants, and it can be tempting to begin to interfere a bit in their lives.
If some of the people begin to form a crowd it can easily be comprehended as a threat to the high and mighty so that has to be stopped. Closing one road here and suddenly opening another somewhere else is causing commotion. People run from one place to another to see if they can find their way to liberty. How fun isn’t it then to block another road and force people to back off? This can be done several times and when the people protest they are forcefully silenced.
This game can go on for some time, but it will bite back sooner or later. It is best to rule a country with a firm hand but with compassion. The citizens are not parts of a game that can be moved around as the player wishes.
The best way of ruling a country is by responsibility and compassion. A good leader knows his people and their living conditions. The leader must care about his people and their wellbeing. Instead of remaining somewhere up high it is better to be closer to the people. If you stay close you will be able to see and to hear properly, you will also find that the people are not a threat because they feel that you are a part – not a counterpart. A leader who has a sound level of self-esteem has no urge to be sat on a pedestal. He prefers to stay close so that there will not be a distance between him and the citizens.
A good leader of a country has no urge to interfere in people’s lives. He is not afraid to listen to their opinions, on the contrary he is very interested and listens to everyone even if he doesn’t agree with them all. The leader doesn’t look at his leadership as an opportunity to rule and conquer. He doesn’t open ways here and closes them there just because he has that power. A good leader is responsible and a good listener. God have us two ears and only one mouth therefore we should listen twice as much as we speak. There is a great wisdom in the creation and we should learn from it and from each other.
Are we good leaders, ourselves? We might not have a country to lead, but we have a family, colleagues or pupils. What kind of future leaders do we want? All of us have a responsibility, we can’t always blame others for our own shortcomings. We share a country so we need to stop and ponder how we wish that country to develop. What kind of progress do we wish to have? What do we wish our children to learn? The old-fashioned way to raise a child is to teach it to be silent and obedient. Is that optimal? What about teaching our children to be independent, creative and to speak out when they meet injustice?
The one who is taught, since early childhood, to never question a given order is the perfect victim for an autocratic leader. That kind of leader needs a large crowd of obedient yes-men around him. These men will help him to rule and conquer, without any question. Haven’t we had enough of that in the Gambia already?
What we need in The Gambia are well-educated, creative and skilled people who can take part in the development of our country. We need people who are focused on the common good, on the community – not developing the ego. Rule and conquer should be a bad habit of the past.