People have been on me to define what I mean by saying that “unless we dismantle the foundations we subsist on, we shall never rise as a nation or people.” For me, dismantling does not necessarily mean abolishing or destroying these foundations. Rather, it means taking apart the sociopolitical governance and administrative systems we have in place here in The Gambia, and throughout Africa with the aim of finding a solution that works for us. Dismantling means going back and evaluating every governance system we have in place and conducting a thorough examination of it to determine if it’s fit for purpose, and if it aligns with our interest as a people. For emphasis, while dismantling does not have to be in the form of a violent revolution, it does require revolutionary ideas.
I’m aware of the curse and limitations of the nation-state system that colonialists saddled Africans with and that, if I may add, we continue to embrace at our detriment. I think of dismantling the colonial systems in such a way that Africans liquefy these colonial limitations as much as possible so that we speak and act in the interest of Africans first and always.
What are the systems we need to dismantle and evaluate? First and foremost, it will be the African mindsets that, for instance, continue to think that we can rise as a people on colonial foundations that define who belongs to what nation, and limiting our notion of nationalism within colonial boundaries. Or, the African mindset that knows so little of its own history that it is unable to appreciate and love its own. Or the mindset that thinks that anything African is secondary to all else. The mindset that thinks embracing the culture and traditions of others signifies how sophisticated or how well one is doing. The African mindset that celebrates aid and pledges of aid from other nations as was the case when Adama Barrow and crew went to Belgium to beg the Europeans for money. The mindset that thinks going to elections every five years means democracy is alive and well. The mindset that will not dare question if this democracy, as it obtains, is what the people need. The mindset that does not analyze the character of the people before adopting alien systems and trying to force them on the people. The mindset that seeks education only to better oneself on the backs of the people. The mindset where university students celebrate with the president because he “donated” buses to them. The mindset that thinks all laws, no matter how egregious or injurious to the people, must be obeyed. The mindset that tells you not to be proud of your ethnicity but to be proud that you are confined within arbitrary colonial lines they call nations. The mindset that working in government is a way to riches. The mindset that sees nothing wrong with civil servants living far better than the people they’re supposedly serving. The mindset that sees nothing wrong with government benefitting those in government far more than the people government is supposed to benefit. The mindset that thinks that politics is mutually exclusive with values or principles and so duplicity, lies, treachery are all acceptable. The mindset that thinks any African nation will go far by walking alone. The mindset that Africans are living in peaceful countries when the majority of the people are poor. The mindset that will rather eat meat in slavery than mushrooms in freedom.
Dismantling the foundation means asking questions about everything about our ways, our politics, our religion, our economy, our position in the skewed international system. Dismantling the foundation means demanding accountability, asking questions of every pebble of sand and gust of wind. For instance, is having a president and parliament the best system for us? Do we even need a government as we currently have? Does having one man control so much centralized power over a diverse people the best system for us? How has it worked so far? I think we can all agree that our country has never truly reached its potential under the current system. Why do we think that is the case? If the presidential system has limitations that contribute to our backwardness, how can we make the presidency serve its purpose of being the chief servant of the people and not the chief master of the people? Do we need ministers in the country and what do we need them for? What are the alternatives? Should market women be consigned to the role of duty-payers as currently obtains?
Is the parliamentary-system the best for us? How has it advanced our country? Does parliament serve its purpose? Do the parliamentarians make laws that advance and protect our people? Do they represent the voice of the people they purport to represent? How can power be devolved such that the people control their servants as opposed to what obtains now? How did we accept that our parliamentarians should all get land, be given a car and give themselves loans to build on the lands we already gave them? How does representing the people come to mean power over the people and a way out of poverty? Why do we not only settle for mediocrity, but go out of our way to celebrate it? How did we end up being collectively afflicted with low expectations syndrome such that we go over the top and celebrate people for doing what they are supposed to do?
Is our education system fit for purpose? If not, what type of education system do we need in order to advance as a people? How patriotic are we as a people? What does patriotism even mean to us? What are our national values? How much of our history do we know? Does our education system encourage innovation or creativity? What have we invented as a people that the rest of the world use today? Certainly we have the brains, so how come we haven’t been able to?
Is alkaloship still relevant? Should they be given more powers since they are closest to the people or should they remain almost ceremonial in terms of actual power? What’s the purpose of these governors and chiefs? How has their existence bettered the lives of ordinary Gambians? Do we even need them? What do they do that the Area Councils or Alkalos cannot do?
Is our security fit for our security challenges? If so, why is ECOMIG still present in The Gambia? What are those security challenges today and what do we anticipate them to be 10 years from today? What threats do we face that our Army is adequately addressing or that our police address adequately? Are they primed for future security challenges? Do we need these security outfits as they’re currently constituted?
How about our judiciary? Is it functioning as it’s supposed to? What’s the purpose of our criminal justice system? Is it for retribution or rehabilitation? Do we need the prisons as they are currently constituted? How does it add up that corruption is so common and it is one of our fiercest enemies yet our prisons have very few people in it for corruption? Does our intelligence service serve Gambians or is it more at the service of the president to protect his power?
What about these political parties? Do we even need political parties in The Gambia? If we do, should we maintain the standards as they are or should we make it so that not every clown can form a party so they can scream pooch paach dahini sipa sipa? Is politics a way to enrich oneself or to position oneself for future opportunities, or a vehicle to better one’s society? If the latter, how come political prostitution is masked in freedom to jump from one party to another and get celebrated? How come political parties insist on term limits for others but allow their leaders to maintain their chokehold over their parties? Internal democracy they say!
Don’t we know democracy is not a perfect system and hiding behind internal democracy does not excuse the fact that the same faces somehow always emerge winners? That it only shows that incumbency at any level means the playing field is uneven?
Is agriculture the backbone of our country? If it is, why must it be a field of last resort for those who have no other way out? Should we continue to farm as we do today? If not given the importance of agriculture, what programs can we implement so we become self sufficient and not have to rely on others to feed us. Isn’t begging the backbone of our country? What does it say about us as a people that we rely on begging to survive but frown at beggars who are often family and friends.
And how come some people who claim to champion the cause of the people as an activist for this or that focus more on the hustle for funds than the cause they supposedly stand for? Why is that some people put tribal interest above everything else such that they are able to defend and support one man even if his agents killed their own family member?
How did we become so uncaring of others and adopted apathy as our calling in the face of abuse? When did it become alright for one to defend state murder and blame the victim? How come a lot of what we do is undergirded by “what’s in it for me” ?
So many questions and I certainly don’t have half the answers. But I do know that we have claimed to be independent for over 50 years now and yet we rely on others for our very survival as a nation (thanks UNDP). I do know that there’s nothing we can nationally point to and say we initiated, funded, executed and maintained all by ourselves as Gambians. I do know that there’s not a single African country that has been able to reach its full potential as a nation. And there is a reason why.
It’s long overdue for us to reevaluate our systems and see why Africans remain divided and destitute; and yet continue to maintain unyielding fidelity to systems that have hardly worked for us. I’m no expert with answers but you don’t have to be one to know that you can’t keep doing the same thing for 50+ years while banking on prayer, hope, begging and loans to make it work! There’s a better way out and I know that there are smarter Africans to figure out those better ways!