The ugly spectre of tribalism in our politics


Campaigning for the municipal mayoral and local government area council chairpersonship elections has ended. By the end of the night on Saturday, the winners of the elections will be known. But one thing is for certain, in some aspects, everyone has lost. The Gambia and all Gambians.

During the campaign, tribalism and bigotry were on open display and they were not universally condemned as ithey should have been by all the parties and their leaders. A particular lady called for the extermination of Jolas much like former president Yahya Jammeh threatened to wipe out the Mandinkas at an infamous political rally in Tallinding in June 2016.

Another man, a griot, called the Kanifing mayor and candidate for the opposition United Democratic Party “a Lebanese” and a scion of a foreigner stock who should not be voted for. He claimed The Gambia is a land of the Mandinkas, Fulas, Wolofs, Jolas and so forth and that “a Lebanese foreigner” should not be allowed to have power in The Gambia.


The bigot certainly knows that Mr Bensouda is a Gambian and that his mother, the lawyer, Amie Drammeh-Bensouda is a proud Mandinka woman. His father is a Gambian who rose up to the distinguished position of permanent secretary in the first republic. One of the mayor’s forebears obviously came from the Maghreb. But even there, the jali erred because the Bensoudas come from Morocco and not Lebanon.

Griots are the repositories of local histories but this griot certainly does not know his onions because if he does, he would know that in settlements in Central River Region, the Bensoudas have served as Members of Parliament and traditional rulers as alkalolu for over a generation. It might help to enlighten the jaliba that even in the heart of urban Gambia, full-blooded Gambian-Lebanese have been among the first representatives of the people as members of the colonial and post-colonial legislatures, notably the Madis.

Bellicose tribal rhetoric should be condemned by all political leaders any time they are uttered. Political parties in The Gambia should adopt the position of the PDOIS. They should tell their members that they will be heavily censored and even kicked out of the parties if they engaged in promoting bigotry through tribalism when politicking.

In the absence of efforts to build genuine political parties that compete on the basis of ideas, some countries in Africa and elsewhere have reverted to tribal identities as foundations for political competition. Leaders often exploit tribal loyalty to advance personal gain, parochial interests, patronage, and cronyism. But tribalism is not built on democratic ideas but thrive on zero-sum competition. As a result, it is inimical to democratic advancement. In essence, tribal practices are occupying a vacuum created by lack of strong democratic institutions.

Tribal interests have played a major role in armed conflict and civil unrest across the continent. In The Gambia we have to choose to be different. But for that to happen our political leaders must girdle their waists and condemn tribalism and cut off its head wherever it is reared.