By Musa Sawaneh
The Gambia has seen an increase in its literate populace in the last 22 years. Such a tiny little country that democracy has eluded for decades, has steadily seen its youthful population question government actions and policies vehemently.
However, the prevalence of cacophony, disorder, hullabaloos, misconstrued actions and ill-fated reactions has heavily polarised our nation. In the hunger for democracy, my little country has turned into a nation where trivial issues get treated as court cases. In the past, religion was rooted in our rites, values and responsibilities which by virtue pumps positivity into the people. Problems were solved through the family or community, with forgiveness being a precursor for punishment. Today the ideologies of the white man are now eroding our noble acts of compassion, empathy and tolerance. The Western way of thinking which differs from ours is almost seen as the ideal way to resolution, albeit showing scores of incompatibilities.
The sustainable freedom which we have aspired to, after a long walk, is now being abused as the wrong understanding of one’s rights and freedom of expression is rife in our society. The terms criticism and defamation are interchangeably used in common discourse, with many unaware of the thin line that exists between constructive criticism and outright defamation. In our infant democracy, we are eager to criticise. We can, but we mustn’t cultivate the act of defamation or opprobrium, which is fundamentally wrong.
Defamation in any school of thought is wrong. It is an evil act that brings no genuine result and leads to no good. I see no difference between defamation and hypocrisy as they all strike thunder on their subjects.
Defamation demoralises the victim, it gives him or her no purpose in life, and paints the victim negatively in contrast of his or her ingenuity. Defamation is slurring, vilifying and character assassinating. Perhaps, it is safe to say where there is defamation, the defamer has an ulterior motive and no sense of straightforwardness. Loosely speaking, defamation according to the Cambridge English Dictionary “is to damage the reputation of a person or group by saying or writing bad things about them that are not true”. Libel and slander are both types of defamation. Libel is an untrue defamatory statement that is made in writing. Slander is an untrue defamatory statement that is spoken orally. Today the social networks have mushroomed these acts, thus becoming an effective breeding ground for potentially libelous statements dividing our country.
As a debater, a fan of democracy and anti-kleptocrat, I support constructive criticism to the hilt! I support and will continue to support people being critical of other people or things because I’m fully cognisant that criticising is an act of expressing one’s opinion or views about the subject matter. In fact, according to Cambridge English Dictionary, criticism is “the act of giving your opinion or judgment about the good or bad qualities of something or someone, especially books, films, etc”; “an opinion given about something or someone, especially a negative opinion, or the activity of making such judgments”; criticism “is also a careful discussion of something in order to judge its quality or explain its meaning:”
So to me it is quite apparent that criticism should be something we as Gambians must acknowledge, accept, adore and make hype of so as to make our government do better. We have to constructively criticise one another because there shouldn’t be any hidden agenda except brotherly concern about our utterances.
Unfortunately, in the new Gambia, defaming people is now incessant in our democratic domain. Now a brother is happy to butcher another brother’s behaviour, politicians publicly poisoning the people’s minds by black painting other parties with lies. This is bizarre and abnormal! It is making us not only fall behind but also fall apart. It is vitally important that we let people know about the differences between defamation and criticism and their respective empirical repercussions.
Defamation leads to mental or physical torture. This harm suffered by victims of defamation may as well be health problems, ranging from restlessness to depression, anxiety, and physical ailments. During these trying moments, the victim’s mind is engulfed with negative thoughts and the susceptibility to harming themselves becomes a possibility. Enduring someone’s publication of a false statement or an oral slur about you can take a toll on your mental and physical health, and those harms may be compensable but difficult to bear. These sweltering of defamations might create islands of chaos, retard our development agenda, and make us stagnant in penury as our focus will be on curing the damages it has caused. Generally, defaming is just dull, dirty and dangerous and genuine Gambians of all sectors must stay afar from it.
Unlike defamation, criticism should be encouraged. Constructive criticism is about expressing diverse views on real issues so that the best views will emerge. Although accepting criticism can be difficult for many people; after all, nobody likes to be told they are wrong, it’s not all bad news because it possesses an opportunity for objectivity, value-check, reaffirmation and feedback. Criticism is an opinion contest; a form of communication and the feedback loops can help us grow stronger and become better. This is what new Gambia needs.
To conclude, our general understanding is that defamation damages and criticism creates character. Hate, hypocrisy, slanders, slurs, and so forth, should be quenched and quashed. Different ideas, views, opinions, and thinking should be embraced and encouraged in the new Gambia. Let us smash the photo opportunities and divisive techniques politicians use to impoverish us. Unless we see that there is absolutely no difference between an Aku, Serere, Manjago, Sarahule, Jola, Wolof, Fula and Mandinka only then we can start to build a unity of purpose and develop our country. We must understand that when poverty befalls a nation, it befalls all irrespective of ethno-linguistic and religious differences. Every genuine Gambian from all walks of life, should be circumspect in their writings, actions and utterances. The Gambia is a family, therefore, solicitousness about one another should be our way of life.
I proudly tell people that a genuine Gambian is a one with innate tenacity and veracity, one who is forward-looking and has integrity. If you are a teacher, teach well; a lecturer, lecture well; a doctor, examine well; a nurse, treat well; a trainer, train well; driver, drive well. In any profession you might be, do it to the best of your abilities because it is only through concerted efforts that we can transform our nation. As the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk once said, “An act of patriotism is seen in the services of her people to her nation”. Remember a bona fide Gambian is a patriot whose sense of direction is to see The Gambia as representative of its slogan: “One People, One Nation, One Gambia”. I submit to you that with hard work, ingenuity and nationalistic intelligence, The Gambia can gradually climb out of this long overdue poverty. Together the Gambia will succeed. Remember do not defame my views, criticize them!
The author is a student at Kocaeli University, Turkey.