By Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh
At a follow-up post-mortem group discussion on the Faraba Crisis, a section of the discussion group said that in the Gambia there is a great tendency to bring up children as extension of the parents, so that the young person does not develop his individuality, i.e. the sense of self and the contribution that he as a distinct individual can make. Since the young persons were brought up in the idea of responsibility to, and for, their parents and family, the sense of contributing as a mature person to a bigger entity than the family was blunted.
But this is not the only reason. There are others, and on one very important reason, I would like to dwell.
The problem of national loyalty is to establish a link between the individual and the larger society. As we said in the forum, the family is the laboratory of social living. One learns how to deal with his fellows by dealing first of all with one’s brothers and sisters, with one’s parents. Hence always the first step to loyalty is the family. Loyalty must then be enlarged to include the larger unit.
The importance of the family, and then subsequently of other small groups, like the gang, age-group peers, or a work group, is that it gives the individual a sense of personal participation. He is not lost in an anonymous mass. This is one reason why the young teenager can develop such a strong loyalty for his own childhood and later life associates.
Think back to the functional days of the “Kabilo.” There you had a unit larger than the family, and it was quite easy to transfer family loyalty to the Kabilo, hence to love the family was immediately to love the Kabilo.
Here we are faced with a crucial problem in nation building. How is the next step to be accomplished, how to transfer loyalties from the small Kabilo (or Ward in our current decentralization parlance), tribe or clan to the nation.
The Western countries opted for the obliteration of the intervening groups. A whole school of writers looked on familial and feudal loyalties as conflicting with, rather than building up to, national loyalty. Hence the major effort was to undo the intervening group. This has led in Europe to development of national consciousness and solidarity, but it has also meant the loss of a sense of community. The modern Western writer and thinker deplores the mass society of the West, with the individual lonely in an uncaring crowd.
Eastern society has managed to keep the intervening group intact, and yet build up the sense of nationhood. The individual is identified with the family, the family with the clan or the village, the clan or village finds identity in a spot of land in the fatherland. Thus is the individual linked to the nation. When one makes a return for the benefits he has received, he makes this return not just to the family but to the land that has sheltered and given life to one’s family and one’s ancestors from time immemorial.
The tragedy of Gambian society is that the modernizing influences of the West, with their full impact of impersonalization have obliterated the sense of the Kabilo, the small political unit that once was the life of our people. The family is lost in the vast world of about 2 million Gambians. Lost in this mass it feels insecure and its members depends on each other for help and protection that they are not quite sure if they will get from the impersonal government that they do not quite understand.
It is not yet too late to try to restore to this country of ours a sense of community, a sense of the organic continuity of smaller groups sheltering individuals and in turn participating in the life of lager groups. But for this, we must restore the concept of the Kabilo or the village or the cluster in political life; and in our religious life, that of the Mosque Committee as well as the Parish.
This is not a political tract. But decentralization, if it is to mean something to this country, is not merely assuring the small community certain taxes. It is the recognition of the role of the village (composed of Wards) in reestablishing the opportunity for the individual and his family to participate personally in the life of the country.
This is one important lesson we should learn from the Kartong and Faraba Banta crisis. As a country, we have to challenge our youth, through their village development committees (VDCs) or Wards, composed of many Kabiloos to participate visibly in income generating activities available in their surroundings. Income generating opportunities abound all over our habitat, the challenge is for us to think positively so as to be able to divert the energies of our demonstrating youth towards the sustainable exploitation of some of the facilities.
From our post-mortem discussions, it became quite evident that what we refer to as “nationalism” is quite often something else. Strictly speaking, nationalism is loyalty to one’s cultural values and to those who share those cultural values. We use the term more diffusely, quite often including in it not merely loyalty to the cultural unit, but loyalty to the political unit as well. Quite often it is used in place of a term that has lost prominence today: patriotism.
But why bother about these distinctions? It is to facilitate analysis for the proposed challenge of the nation’s Youth. You see, loyalty is not an end in itself, it is a means. And when we do something in the name of loyalty, we should examine it and inquire whether it is really good for both the nation and the body politic, or whether it is only good for one, or whether it is good for neither.
Those of us who believe in our institutions should strive to suggest ways to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty without having to give up our political system and philosophy of life. We should aim to discover what Gambian values and institutions are due for reform in a manner that will challenge our resource-poor youth (male & female) from “not having much to do” leading to “unnecessary demonstrations, destroying and burning” to full-time employment geared to “building and transforming for sustained national development.”
Given the increasing percentage of youth unemployment in the country, and the very limited employment capacity of the Public sector, the proposal is for the Government is to assign all “sand and gravel” mining to village development committees (VDCs). The operational modalities for actualizing this proposal can be worked out by the concerned institutions in close collaboration with the National Environment Agency (NEA). The proposed mining sub-sectors are key ingredients for leadership training in “environmental management and money-making.” In addition to generating sustainable employment for the youth, the effort will help foster greater efficiency in natural resource management, for better results in the field and more involvement by the local people.
I have noted in my last write-up on the Faraba Bantang crisis that, Government is a Responsibility of all Free Men. The present proposal is, therefore, a modest attempt to turn the despair and pessimism, which presently affect wide circles of youth in the country, into hope and pessimism for the future which, will only be possible through initial government support and guidance. The politician, the local leader, the manager, the administrator, the academic and the donor, all have their part to play in making this proposal come true and be in closer touch with national realities.