By Baba Galleh Jallow
We have argued elsewhere that the fall of a dictator does not mark the end of the fight against dictatorship. Rather, it marks the beginning of the fight against the many negative legacies of dictatorship. Our capacity to succeed in transforming our country into a better place is contingent upon our capacity to neutralize the many negative legacies of dictatorship. These range from social disorder to institutional corruption not only of the monetary sort, but also of the moral sort. And we can neutralize many of these negative legacies by honestly, truthfully, and respectfully talking about them at the national level. Only then can we take our country and our society to the next level.
The failure of Africa’s independence era leaders to transform our countries into viable nation states was a direct result of their failure to neutralize the dictatorial culture of the colonial state. As a child of colonialism, the African nation state was born out of social disorder and institutional corruption. Colonial rule was a physical manifestation of social disorder and institutional corruption, and an inventor of moral corruption. The colonial state existed not for the development of the people it ruled, but for the power and enrichment of the crown it served. Its reason for being was to pursue the twin goals of political imperialism and material exploitation of the colonized.
Its mode of operation was essentially coercive and it had little interest in the lives of the colonized except as an alien and backward species of Homo sapiens deserving little respect and firm control. It rattled the mandate of the civilizing mission and cast itself in the role of a benevolent dictatorship for which the colonized should be grateful. Unfortunately, the essential character of this malevolent colonial state survived the cheers of independence and continues to stunt the advancement of societies in Africa 2018. Our independence era leaders’ failure to recognize and neutralize the dictatorial character of the colonial state explains why Africa is still called a dark continent and why it is subject to jaundiced imagination as an uncomplimentary part of the human anatomy. In Africa 2018, every day brings new challenges and new crises, and everyday magnifies old challenges and old crises. Every day too, the African state remains prostrate and seemingly helpless against the relentless onslaught of national crises that grow bigger by the day but that can be easily managed and neutralized with little cost to the state and abundant dividends for the nation.
The fall of the colonial state called for a radical transformation of African societies. A radical transformation from societies ruled by an exploitative colonial dictatorship to societies intelligently governing themselves. Since good self-governance is a mark of social intelligence, our independence leaders should have enhanced the intelligence of our national societies. They should have placed maximum premium on the value of the human person and vigorously exploited the intelligence of the human person for the common good. Rather, they simply stepped into the shoes of the departed colonial rulers and continued doing business as usual.
They failed to direct their energies at transforming our societies into truly free and empowered peoples by promoting everything positive about the institutional framework of the nation-state system they just adopted while neutralizing the negative legacies of the colonial state that just departed. They failed to initiate and promote a healthy national conversation about the challenges of nationhood. And more seriously, they muzzled all aspects of the national conversation that did not explicitly serve their individual selfish interests. Consequently, African societies remain mired in the crippling contradictions of free bondage to hostile politics, poverty, stagnation and even degeneration in many vital aspects of our national life. Things always seem to be getting worse in Africa because the social conditions that made them bad in the first place are themselves always getting worse.
In Gambia 2018, we have not only some vestiges of colonial dictatorship to deal with, but also the legacies of recent postcolonial dictatorship, what we might term the green crisis. Even where the political intolerances of the colonial state and the ousted dictatorship are reasonably neutralized, there remains a culture of popular intolerance propagated by the ousted dictatorship. Many Gambians have a we-versus-them mentality that characterized colonial rule and was magnified under the Jammeh dictatorship. Ultimately, the crisis boils down to our incapacity to imagine and actualize a collective national identity that can overshadow our political and increasingly, our ethnic differences. Of course, no one is calling for people to abandon their political affiliations or shun their ethnic identities. What we need to do is imagine, actualize and manifest a national identity premised on our collective spirituality as human beings, as national relatives and as friendly neighbors who will not insult or demean each other over political and ethnic differences.
Yes we should be proud of our political affiliations and our ethnic identities. And yes, we should be free to promote the interests of the collectivities to which we belong. We certainly should all be proud to be Gambians, as we are. But neither political nor ethnic or national identity has succeeded in creating the kind of peaceful and progressive society we are meant to be. While we are all proud of our national identity as Gambians, we still fight over political affiliations and ethnic identities that, paradoxically are inimical to our collective wellbeing as Gambians. Wishing ill, speaking ill and acting ill towards each other is wishing ill, speaking ill and acting ill against ourselves. These unhealthy habits cripple our collective capacity to rise up to the challenges that erupt around us everyday. They prevent us from taking the practical actions necessary to address and neutralize many common crises that plague our society from day to day, year to year. This has been an abiding crisis of African independence; but it doesn’t have to be the crisis of the New Gambia. We know what the problems are and we have the capacity to tackle them head on if only we take the necessary action.
The tricky part is that crises of the sort that continues to cripple African societies are best addressed by African governments simply because they are the best-equipped directors of collective social action. In the case of hostile political and ethnic divisions, our government needs to initiate as a matter of urgency a protracted process of active national dialogue. Our government needs to dedicate some resources – institutional, personal, and monetary – with the mandate to carry out a national and sustained campaign against political and ethnic hostilities in our society. Issuing an occasional press release is certainly better than doing nothing. But it is not enough to effectively address and neutralize the politics of hostility in our society. And the longer we fail to do something concrete that yields noticeable levels of political and cultural civility in our society, the larger our national political and ethnic crises will grow.
If we fail to take practical measures to neutralize the simmering political and ethnic tensions in our society, we will be repeating the costly mistakes of the past and setting ourselves up for disastrous failure. And all we need to do is talk, talk, talk. Deliberately talk to each other in an open, honest, respectful and edifying manner about what, above everything else, unites us as Gambians and as human beings. A sustained process of healthy national conversation about these issues on radio, on television, on social media, in the press and at public gatherings across the country is indispensable in our quest for proper national advancement. And we can keep talking to each other in this manner into a bright future.