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City of Banjul
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The House and the People

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With Latirr  Carr

“….such illiterates who can’t even pronounce attorney. How the hell did they make it into our national assembly….?”

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My stomach churned as I browsed through my facebook newsfeed on Saturday morning. I warn you though, lest you leave disappointed today, that I am not going to break down the happenings at our house of parliament –  for those of us who were born before 1970.

I will, oddly enough be writing this essay in old script. It has been a while since I did anything of the sort; breaking up my thoughts into tiny little (for double emphasis) paragraphs. That, unfortunately is how serious all of this is. For the first time, in a long time, I will go through an entire 1500 words without using profanity. I know my mother will be proud and perhaps she will, finally, decide to read what I have to say.

“…. dinen dok sen lu bon! Who do they think of themselves…?”

My stomach turned inside out yet again. At that point, I was considering staying away from social media for the rest of the day. I could feel what all of this was becoming and I was worried for my country.

I mean, I had seen this all before but this time it just felt different. There was such anger, such disdain, such condescension.

There were “these people”. These undeserved people sitting in our National Assembly who could barely string a few words together to form a sentence which would sound logical. These were the people who, unfortunately were our elected representatives.

How did they get there? Why did we put them there?

I started thinking that perhaps we had finally gotten there; to that state of literacy, that state of sophistication where, it was starting to become embarrassing that these were the people who were representing us as a people. Perhaps there was nothing political in all of this.

The other day, as I was driving from my home through Senegambia junction, a taxi driver in a rush drove right past me at the Senegambia junction. He had broken a few traffic rules to be able to do this. As he drove past me, he screamed some profanity and gave me the finger. At this point, I had many options. It was a little past eight ‘o’ clock in the morning; the sun had risen beautifully that morning and I had spent the earliest hours of the morning sipping some heavenly coffee as I watched the birds resume their morning flight. So, when the taxi driver drove past me in his anger, I smiled at him and shouted back, “bro suba si dafa tehl waye! Nyu baiye merr bi”. The taxi driver slowed down a little bit as he looked at me strangely before he finally let out a big laugh, gave me a much nicer hand gesture than the finger he had given me seconds before and drove on.

I can tell you that the rest of my day, that day, was amazingly beautiful. I had practiced some much needed therapy on my soul, and on the taxi driver. I am sure his day went rather beautiful also.

On social media though, quite a chunk of the people you interact with are the taxi driver and our facebook newsfeeds are Senegambia Junction – with its giant pothole which is still being worked on two months after a giant ditch found itself there.

There were “those people”. Those people whose argument on the persons of National Assembly members was on their diction and how they couldn’t even make sense. See, I have always been the biggest critic of public officials who cannot, even if their lives depended on it, put their words together. I however do not see the sense in using the same criticism on elected members of parliament or our National Assembly.

You may want to ask me why. It just doesn’t make any bloody sense to criticise the people of Busumbala for voting in a representative who cannot speak English. Our representatives are exactly that…representatives. It will be rather confusing that I, a resident of Bakoteh, whose voter’s card is registered in Bakau, would show my disappointment at the Honourable member for Busumbala (Busumbala here is a fictional constituency).

We seem to need to understand this democracy thing a little bit more – even some of us super educated and super exposed Gambians.

I was called out on Facebook when I made my thoughts known. My Facebook friend was right. Time and time again, I had come out of my shell talking down on the mediocrity in our country. Why then would I encourage mediocrity in our National Assembly? Luckily for me, my facebook friend was one of the sane ones – the ones that engage in meaningful discussions without resorting to blocking and deleting.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately) in our democracy, our standards in our house of representatives (or our National Assembly) are set (and rightly so) by the people that elect them. As long as they fulfil the criteria set forth by the Independent Electoral Commission, the standards that remain are set by the people they represent.

I remember over a decade ago spending time with some members of the national assembly. It was an interesting encounter for me. These were elected members of the National Assembly; some of them were educated and practising engineers, others were successful businessmen and some were community leaders who had risen up the ranks. They all shared one thing in common though; whenever we visited their communities, you could see why they got elected.

I had a conversation with my wife after the bill for the new constitution failed at the National Assembly. Without imposing her thoughts, she believed if I continued in my narrative, it would seem as if I was standing with the National Assembly members who voted against the bill. Preaching to the choir, I reminded her that I was one of the very first people on social media to congratulate the CRC on the difficult task they had completed.

My observations had nothing to do with the bill or its contents. My observations were entirely on our new social construct on social media and how we sit on our high horses either because we are more educated than others or more exposed than them.

On my RBNs every week, I am the angry bystander complaining about everything that moves. There was a time I was also the boss of the grammar police on Facebook. So, perhaps I should be the last person to cast a stone.

My observations on the happenings of the last few days though are very different. Like most things I complain about, the happenings on social media the last few days just didn’t make any sense. In embracing democracy as we have claimed to do, perhaps we should start accepting that our “standards” are not really the standards for every constituent in every constituency. Perhaps, when people in Kantora cast their votes, they are not voting for someone because the person can write a proper essay or can pronounce “Attorney” properly.

Now this doesn’t take away the right to caricature and draw cartoons of Honourable ladies and gentlemen who can’t differentiate he from she. As public officials, they should be ready to take it all. What doesn’t make sense is that we believe that everyone must think like us, must speak like us and must act like us.

Over the last few days, I have asked different people around me their views on the new constitution. I started with our help at the house. Haddy is an exposed young woman. She is on Facebook, Instagram and tik tok. I was surprised to learn that she knew nothing about a new constitution…and she really didn’t care.

Perhaps, we are wrong also in thinking that elected National Assembly members did not speak on behalf of their constituent electorate when they seemingly spoke out of tone, or when they cast their votes on that sad Tuesday.

Perhaps our problem cut deeper than wrongly worded sentences and illogical arguments.

Perhaps we are our own problems.

I have found that, being condescending is not the way to win people to your side.

Would things have gone differently if people were nicer on social media? Would National Assembly members have listened if we hadn’t attacked their persons? Would the results have read differently had we not used political arguments (like making it feel like a campaign against President Adama Barrow) to win favour? Would it have ended differently if we had not tried to alienate Jammeh supporters by sh*tting on everything the 1997 constitution represented?

The answer to all those questions is, “probably not”.

But, the truth is, we will never really know what would have happened if we had done things differently.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow though, I believe strongly that we, a lot of us, get carried away by the emotions on social media…by the adrenaline…by the desire to make a difference…sometimes by the desire to be heard…we get so overtaken by everything around us that for a moment we forget about the bigger picture. Forgetting about the bigger picture is a key reason why many democracies have failed. It is actually the root cause of every failed and failing democracy. The bigger picture is key!

Understanding human emotion; building bridges; extending handshakes; being nice when being nice is the only thing that can give us a fighting chance and being nasty when we really just don’t give a f***, these are the things that build serious democracies.

We should remember that there is always that one man or woman sitting on the fence; that one person for whom swinging left or right has nothing to do with a brown envelope but has everything to do with how he or she sees us. There is always that one person who is not swayed by money or fame but is undecided. His or her decision is based entirely on how he or she sees the people behind the cause.

Are they kind? Are they smart? Do they make sense? Are they generous? Are they considerate? Do they see themselves as our equals? How will I seem when I associate with them? Will I seem intimidated or scared if I join their side? Do they deserve my people’s vote (especially on a constitution where the masses DEPEND on their representatives to explain its meaning and on a process which MOST Gambians are unaware and will need help)?

At times, we have been our own worst enemies, and our pride will never allow us to learn from it and to become better by it.

TGBA

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