After having a great conversation with a dear friend of mine I got inspired to dedicate this article to Nelson Mandela.
I will base this article on famous quotes by him but I will also give you a little background. The former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was born in 1918. Very early he showed to be an intelligent boy and he took his studies seriously. As an adult he studied to become a lawyer and after his graduation he opened his own law firm in the suburbs of Johannesburg.
”Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
Being a young black person with ambition and a thrive to improve your life by studying was so much harder than for the white people who automatically got the better schools and the best teachers. This has been the same in all colonies of Africa, a lot of you have experienced this yourself.
1948 life became harder for the black people of South Africa, apartheid was established all over the country and it created an extreme difference in the living conditions for black and white people. White people were considered superior and the suppression of the black was complete on all areas. Black people were not allowed to sit on the same seats in the buses as white people. There were special park benches, shop entrances, work possibilities and so on for the black people , everything aimed to not mix white and black people. The colour of your skin decided what sentence it would be if you were standing in court. Dating between black and white people was against the law, marriage between them was out of the question and you could end up in jail if you broke that law.
Black people lived in restricted areas with a lack of water supply and electricity. Black families were separated because many times they couldn’t live together. As a black person you were not allowed to travel in your own country as you wished, you needed to have a special permission which showed that you were allowed to be at a certain place. There were special places for the working men where they lived and their families were not allowed to live there too. These places were often far from each other so it wasn’t easy for the families to meet. The working days were long and people were not allowed to be outdoors after a certain time in the evening.
There is so much to tell about the conditions in South Africa and therefore a lot of books has been written about it.
For a man like Nelson Mandela, who was an African nationalist and socialist it was impossible not to be involved in the politics.
1944 he became a member of ANC, African National Congress, a socialistic party in South Africa that fought for extended rights for the black people. The party also urged the South Africans to forget the differences between the black and the white.
If you want to make peace with your enemy you must work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Was it possible to make peace with the enemy then? Is it possible even now?
We need to be a little introspective for a moment and look at the current situation in the Gambia.
Who is the enemy? Well, that depends on who you ask and also the context.
This is what the dictionary tells us:
· a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something. ”the traditional enemies of his tribe”
· a hostile nation or its armed forces, especially in time of war. noun: the enemy “the enemy shot down four helicopters”
· a thing that harms or weakens something else. ”routine is the enemy of art”
So that is what the dictionary teaches us, but why not spend a while with some soul searching?
We can begin with the first point from the dictionary:
· ”the traditional enemies of his tribe.”
Isn’t it about time to stop that now? Fulas here, Jolas there, Mandinkas are getting the best positions and so on. We keep on pointing fingers at each other instead of pointing at ourselves.
The Gambia is a very small country, all of us know that, so can we afford to focus on who our enemies are instead of how can we be friends?
I was amazed about one thing that appeared every time I met a Gambian here in Sweden. We had a conversation and when I told that I know some people in the Gambia I always got the question who it was and where he or she lived.
So many times the person I spoke to knew my friend or knew someone who knew my friend. It gave me the feeling that the Gambia was more like a village where everyone knew everyone instead of a country. Having family bonds and knowing each other is giving people a sense of security. When you know each other you also care for each other, not because you like everyone but you respect them as fellow human beings.
Is the Gambia large enough for having tribal conflicts? Can you avoid your enemy in this small country? If the answer is NO on both these questions then the mindset needs to be changed.
Working together for a mutual goal is the way forward. It doesn’t matter which tribe you are coming from: all of you drive the same roads, depend on the same electricity and water, need the same hospital care and send your kids to the same schools. We all depend on each other so why not begin to consider each other as friends or at least acquaintances? All of us want a better future where we have affordable food, good health care and so on. When Nelson Mandela was the president of South Africa he tried to solve the tribal problems there, because this is not unique for either South Africa or the Gambia. What we need to consider is that times are different now and we should know so much better. In the old days you depended completely on your tribe, for your food and protection, but that has changed. All of us can go to the local super market and do our shopping, the shop keeper doesn’t ask for which tribe you belong to. The doctor in the hospital doesn’t refuse to treat you just because you don’t belong to his or her tribe. As a patient in the same hospital I don’t think you would refuse a doctor from a different tribe than yours to save the life of your loved one. I can give you so many more examples but I think you get my point.
I will go to the next point where the dictionary tells us what an enemy is.
· “a hostile nation or its armed forces, especially in time of war”
Thank God there is no war going on in the Gambia, but many of us fear that if people keep on misusing our fragile democracy there will be more and more disorder and even hostility in the country.
Democracy should never, ever be mixed up with anarchy! In a democracy we don’t only have rights, we also have obligations.
As our former IGP so wisely once said:”Your rights stop when someone else’s begins.”
I know some of you consider him as an enemy but Landing Kinteh is a very intelligent man who had a great vision for the Gambian Police Force. Things can go wrong, even for the best person, but none of us is without flaws.
In a democracy we don’t throw stones at people, not even if they are police officers. We don’t hurt them with cutlasses or other items just because we are upset about something. In a democracy we discuss matters in a mature way, without bloodshed. Police officers also feel pain, they also get afraid. They also have families just as everyone else and they also get sad when someone of their near and dear is injured or killed. Does it help to point out all police officers as enemies? Some police officers do mistakes just as you and I do. What if you or I would be forced to face the same situations as they do? Would we always act perfectly? We must be aware of the fact that we can’t speak ill about the police, or mistreat them, and in the next moment expect them to defend us when something has gone wrong.
When a protest meeting has got out of hand and it was your own car that got on fire or the fire spread to your parents’ compound, it’s not that fun anymore. Who do you expect to be there to help you suddenly?
Nelson Mandela suffered so much, the police in South Africa followed his every move as long as ANC was forbidden.
He was in jail several times, he was beaten, humiliated, controlled but still he refused to be broken.
His last jail time lasted for almost 28 years but when he finally got released, in 1990, he said this following in a speech:
” As I walked out the door toward the gate, that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Nelson Mandela understood that he had to change his mindset otherwise he would never be free. Bitterness is a drug that poisons one’s mind. All these years of abuse and still Nelson Mandela was able to say:
”Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”
What can we do for the sake of peace, except of forgiving? We must raise an awareness that peace can never be taken for granted, just as well as democracy. If we are not able to find the answers and solutions within ourselves we must broaden our minds and see what others have done. It takes time to get used to the democracy and many mistakes will be made but that is normal. The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them again. Democracy is a slow process and it has to be that because important decisions must always first be considered thoroughly before they are made. Some people get adapted faster and others slower, we are individuals and it doesn’t matter if we are ministers or bakers. We all have our obligations and responsibilities, our decisions don’t only influence our own lives but also others. We must learn to work together even with those we dislike, that is how the democratic process moves forward.
I also wish to share a famous quote by one of the former presidents of USA, John F. Kennedy:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
If we should combine these two quotes, by two great men w`ho were born almost the same year (Kennedy in 1917) we could find our way to go forward instead of looking over our shoulder to hold grudge to the past. Bitterness is like serving time for someone else’s crime so instead of keeping our minds in jail, we must free our minds. We can look at our enemies and think to ourselves: Thank God I’m not like them, and keep on with our lives. Be the better person, be the role-model. Be the one who speaks about peace and understanding. Keep the dream about a better life in the Gambia alive.
As Nelson Mandela said:
“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”
Make peace and keep the peace.
For those of my younger readers I will give you one more quote, or actually complete the one of which I used a part as a topic for this article:
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be the great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”