By Mr Muhammed Ceesay
In the dawn of the 15th century, the “Whiteman”, with a heart full of curiosity and the hope to reap the riches of mother Africa, slowly sailed in his wooden boat down to her waters. He sucked the succulent breast of her women; unchaste them; thus leaving her children speaking in his tongue. Worst enough the offspring of Africa ended up believing their own arts and culture inferior to anything west. And in a relatively short period of time, my Africa’s system was totally undermined for his system. Culturally, politically, socially, economically every little bit of our land is west or at the least partially west.
As a concern citizen of The Gambia, the quest to contribute my quota to national development shall forever continue… contributing in this way, I hereby present to you yet another well-thought piece in which I did raise concerns about what I call the “imported western-system” (politically, socially, economically) we intitutionalised; and thus, have made my analysis on why the system is not compatible to our local realities. However, I wish to say that writing is a task easier said than done, but I only hope that I have done justice to this piece.
If only our minds are decolonised from submitting to the false realities of cultures and values alienated from us, our development or societal progress shall be at a snail’s pace. Due to the fact that we belief, adopt and accept whatever the white-west teaches, we have unconsciously taken the responsibility and steps to jail our capacity to reason (intellect). Cultures lost, moral values downplayed, traditions falsely modernised, humility halted, modesty and discipline missing, peace and stability are at stake, as we swallow what isn’t ours. What we own is now disowned for something unknown. It seems we were thirsty and shall continue to drink from the fountains of western knowledge. The incompatibility of the external ideas to our local realities have gravely oppressed and suppressed our internal values. Our political settings, economic arrangements, social structures are all externalised. Well, importation is inevitable, for we live a symbiotic world, but it is more important to sieve and modify the “imports” to be fit for local consumption.
Politically, we are in a state of a mixed system. How do you expect those unlettered individuals in the hinterland (of The Gambia) who have never been taught: “A” to comprehend United States’ coined-liberal-democratic system of governance when they have no idea about the politics of English letters and do not at the least find sense in what the west teaches? No way! They may be those who support politicians during campaigns or even vote them into office may be because they are taught to select and respect leaders, but deep down they do not make head or tail of the principles and practices we are trying to inject into our societies.
They may be attentive when spoken to, but their religious orientation and cultures would not allow them to practise what is preached by these politicians. Not only has the saying: “Politicians promise and fail to perform” received a global recognition, but it has seemingly become a fact. Thus, anyone indoctrinating external political systems like US-liberal Democracy would be tagged unrealistic and hypocritical by many locals. Culture teaches them to be honest and never lie, as religion reinforces it. A westernised legal document (constitution) is what we institute and follow, but how many of our locals can read and understand what the document says? Don’t they hold the right to understand what the very document with which they are governed contains? It is rather unfortunate that many of them do not tend to attach interest in this document (constitution) not because they do not want to know what it contains, but because the language in it is alien to them, it is just equivalent to nonentity.
In The Gambia, to be eligible for presidential candidacy, one has to be a “western-educated” first. The least document to produce by the one who vies for this post is: The “West-painted” Senior Secondary certificate. So what signal does that send to those who haven’t had the chance to be “western-educated”? Do we indirectly tell them that they cannot rule their own people just because they aren’t able to read and write in a foreign language (English), even though they hold high level of intellectuality and leadership prowess to govern? That is unfair! To further analyse, if anyone who wants to head us (to be a president) has to be a “western-educated”, then we are unconsciously embedding the quest to search for more “western-style of education”, as our people have now realised that being a “western-educated” translates worth and importance in our societies.
Our Parliamentarians, who represent us at the law making house are forced by those same laws they make to communicate in a foreign language which a good number of those that they represent do not understand. To speak a National Language in that house, an order must be given, but for the foreign language (English) no order in needed. Section 105 of the constitution of The Gambia reads: “Language in the National Assembly”; the business of the National Assembly shall be conducted in the English Language or any other language prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. Well, as per my knowledge, I have not known of any language, other than English, being used during National Assembly sessions. Does that promote our languages? The best way to represent people is to speak their words and echo their voices! Now we have adopted a system (western) which has created what I call a “political dichotomy” between us and our own people. Do we see what this imported system has done to us?
Well, it is high time our so-called intellectuals realised that the country is “ours”; and anything we import and accept must reflect the collective needs and aspirations of our people and must conform our local realities. We cannot afford to continue the dependence-dominance syndrome! Can’t we reclaim or devise our own ways?
Historically, most laws and principles were unwritten, yet local societies were much more stable and peaceful; cultures were honoured; peace celebrated; love shared; human rights observed; systems of ruling were too directed to promote fairness, justice, and equality. Yet, the external system of ruling is what we prefer. Our societies were in good progress when our cultures and values were in their real form, but since we became in touch with the west, whose colonial agenda was to intitutionalise a system that would suppress local knowledge and belief and reduce us to mere recipients of what they teach and dictate, the real trend got mixed up and now we find ourselves strangled under the clutches of alien ideologies.
From an economic perspective, the idea of colonialism was only meant to promote and consolidate the spirit of capitalism and to establish the central roots of western dominance. As Joshua and Ferlin argued, the imposition of colonialism on Africa altered its history forever. African modes of thought, patterns of cultural development, and ways of life were forever impacted by the change in political structure brought about by colonialism. The African economy was significantly changed by the Atlantic slave trade through the process of imperialism and the economic policies that accompanied colonisation. Prior to the “Scramble for Africa”, or the official partition of Africa by the major European nations, African colonies were advancing in every area, particularly in the area of trade. The aim of colonialism is to exploit the physical, human, and economic resources of an area to benefit the colonising nation. European powers pursued this goal by encouraging the development of a commodity based trading system, a cash crop agriculture system, and by building a trade network linking the total economic output of a region to the demands of the colonising state. See how exploitative such a system is.
When shall we reclaim what belongs to us? What did my fore parents do to regain the lost heritage when the “Whiteman” left (after independence)? Did they demand freedom/independence only to continue with the established western systems which up to this day shall never befit our realities? In fact, it appears to me that nothing has actually changed for good. Why? See our education system. Is it not predominantly Western English? See our political system! Do we have kings and queens anymore? See our economic system! Do we have a better currency? Do we enjoy a balanced system of trade? See our social set ups! Do we predominantly wear the “chaya and the Malan” anymore? Do we trust our local herbs anymore? Do we speak our languages in their original form anymore? In fact, not only does the west influence our realities in totality, but, disheartening enough, we are the very ones propagating their ideologies. A man shall be the laughing stock when he goes to office with “chaya”, or errs while speaking, say, English, as a woman would be if she goes to the same office with “sueri njago” or “condrows”. “We call it “LOW CLASS” now. We prefer the suit and the tie with polished shoes; tight jeans with wigs extracted from death Europeans. We are all victims to this unfortunate reality.
From a social angle, the western education system, through which most of us get oriented, is one of the most powerful tools used to consolidate western ideologies. Educating me not in my own mother language would appear to me as uninteresting as “playing hide and seek alone”. The style of western education we receive teaches us very little about our cultural values. In fact, the set-up is such in a way that we are made to believe that anything outside the circle of western education is unrefined and too traditional to honour. A three-year old child would bear the audacity to face, at point blank, a forty-year old and say: “Yaw nekulor toubab” because “demulor school”. That same three-year old would have found him / herself already mastered the first one hundred western (E.g. English) counting numbers at such an age, but to reckon the first ten numbers in his/her original language would appear as daunting as trying to squeeze water from stone. Sad! Isn’t it?
Stereotypically, any member of our society who hasn’t received western form of education is seen as illiterate and usually incapable of taking part in the development process. Yet, we forget that way before our contact with this alienated form of education, our African societies were very progressive and followed a consistent pattern of development. In fact, not only does such system of education make us arrogant and devalue our realities, but worst of all it has never been the panacea to our societal problems as it claimed to be.
The Gambia over five decades as an independent nation, can we accurately reckon the number of tertiary education graduates we have? Yet, our societal transformation to the level we desire is at a snail’s pace. Dr. Lamin Sidibeh at the CODESRIA 11TH General Assembly in Mozambique was quoted in a presentation saying: “The conventional theories and models of development are not relevant to the development needs of Africa and other parts of the developing world to which they are exported for use. In fact, it is generally believed that besides lacking relevance, these theories and models actually act to perpetuate and aggravate the very development problems they are supposed to help in solving”. What do we ought to do to ourselves, if we aren’t ready to develop our own models that would adequately be responsive to the collective needs and aspirations of our own people? We must wear our new spirit and act within the praxis of our environment for our own development! The unfortunate trend of dependence-dominance relationship with the West shall never cease unless we scrap what is not ours and grasp what is ours. Well, that is easier said than done, for the ideas of the West have uncontrollably infiltrated our natural atmosphere rendering majority of us, especially the western educated, vulnerable to the clutches and dictates of the “white-west”; thus, making every one of us believe that not being western translates “underdeveloped” and ignorance.
However, there is no gainsaying that rooting out the already established western ideologies would not be that easy, but my suggestion is to teach our young to value and honour what they own through their mother tongues, and promote the idea of National Language Literacy Programmes. Before sending a child to kindergarten to learn the common “A for Apple” and “B for Ball” rhyme, teach him or her how to say those things in his or her own language; how to treat fellow human beings; and to be proud of his/her language. Isn’t nicer to sing one’s country’s National Anthem in a National local language? We have been made to believe that: “For the Gambia our homeland…” is more melodious and formal than: “Si Gambia di sunu reew….” Isn’t this the highest level of dependence? It saddens me to remember, during my early days in school, being punished by hanging a dead animal skull over my neck or a paper labeled: “I am a fool”, for speaking my first language (L1). Then, I would be a mistake if one had to speak in his or her mother’s language.
A child would be seen as dump for not been able to articulate him or herself in an imported language. Thus, such a child would feel empty, ostracised and unproductive amidst his or her colleagues. What an oppressive system! How do we expect a child to independently develop by freely speaking and thinking in his/her own language, if he or she is made to disregard his or her language and culture for six (6) hours throughout the five school days a week? That kills the potentials and creative instinct of an individual! And worst of all, such a child would be made thinking his language inferior to the western’s. It is rather disheartening and ironical that the very west that made us to have been speaking in their tongues for ages has now turned to ask us to introduce local language literacy programmes in our schools. And all in the name of “aid” and its pilfering conditions we try to swiftly satisfy their demands. What a mess we are in!
In conclusion, we must not merely allow ourselves reduced to passive recipients of external ideas and render ourselves as what I call “a chin in the face”.
Nelson Mandela says “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world”. But I ought to be critical here, as I question: Which form of Education? If he meant western education, then I can’t agree more that it has definitely changed the world to the favour of the west and to the detriment of where it is exported to…; thus, it is serving the purpose for which it has been brought for. But if he meant the form of education my fore parents had before their contact with any outsider like learning how to fish, carve, farm, build houses, promote culture etc. then it has not definitely served as a tool to change the world in this generation, for since the two systems clashed during colonialism, the former have always grew faster leaving the latter to be seen as outdated and unrefined. The only way out is when we start trusting what we have and questioning what they bring; and stop teaching our young to consume theories that would reduce them to be mere narrators and not analysts, for it is high time we freed our minds from “mental imprisonment”.
By Mr Muhammed Ceesay, a trained teacher and a student of UTG