Much Ado About Nothing

Social media is only a representation of a very minute fraction of Gambians, but nonetheless it is a significant barometer for gauging what issues Gambia’s so-called ‘educated and politically informed’ folks like to pre-occupy themselves with.

The much hyped about tribalism that is so ubiquitous on social media that you’d be forgiven for thinking there is an impending implosion of The Gambia’s body politics. Cap that off with the nation’s premier learning center coming up with the theme “Killing the Tribes for The Nation to Survive” for an upcoming organized event. Imagine those students in leadership and decision making positions years down the line. To think people gave their lives and freedoms for Africa’s self-determination only for a few decades later to have their brothers and sisters (not sons and daughters) calling for the wholesale embrace of the very system they fought against while slaughtering our very essence at the altar of indoctrinated minds.

The nation state you so want us to be loyal to is a legacy of colonialism. Millennia of our existence as inter mingling ethnic groups was cut short with the arrival of those genocidal European adventurists, they eventually carved up our territories into your much glorified nation state and taught us their consumerist politics infused with corruption and insincerity giving rise to our current predicament. Instead of focusing on the real issues of injecting morality back into politics, we are busy trying to slay a non-existent monster.

Yes, history has dealt us a bad hand with our experiences thus far, leaving us with the legacy of the nation state. That reality we do have to deal with and rise to the occasion, but at the expense of our very essence as a people? That is insulting on many levels too numerous here to mention. But in a democracy (not a colonial legacy or western concept), you advocate for what you believe in, so go ahead Law faculty and UNESCO Club, we have a counter narrative to advance and advocate for, the space is wide enough.

Using tribe to define our social groupings as they obtain in The Gambia is in itself troublesome, but that’s a topic for another time and place.

Do politicians use certain aspects of their societies to their political advantage? Of course they do, are we immune? Certainly not, but calling that tribalism is outright ignorant. 

According to Gallup, in 2008, only 1% of black voters did not vote for Obama. Yet 45% of black Americans identify as conservatives while 47% identify as liberal. Totally different political ideologies, but with Obama, he managed to get 99% of the black vote in 2008, 93% still voted for his re-election. Call that racist on the part of blacks and see what objections you’d get, how is that different from our scenario? Chances are you touted Obama’s chances for winning for similar reasons as black Americans.

In our own political history, the first signs of sectarianism in politics came with the emergence of the Gambia Muslim Congress. The Akus/Christians were favored for government appointments in the civil service. And with the franchise only limited to the colony, elected positions were highly coveted. The constituents were close to being homogenous, with religion being the main stand-out. United Party, Gambia Democratic Party were both headed by Serer/Wolof Banjul politicians; J.C Faye and P.S. Njie, both Christian. I.M Garba Jahumpa’s Gambia Muslim Congress right away appealed to the Muslim constituents as they see an affinity with him. (Read The Pen v The Tyrant for an in-depth analysis). 

Christians today are to a large extent inactive in seeking elected political office in The Gambia, I will bet their perception of religious bias playing into their chances of electability is a consideration in making that decision, do we hear sectarianism? Of course not….and please don’t start now just to prove a point. The game is as old as politics itself; is it right, no. But it certainly is not a cry for help for the survival of the nation.

Truth is, tribalism has become synonymous with “fight Mandinka dominance” albeit covertly by hiding behind that politically correct term; tribalism. Remember the hash tag I Am Mandinka? Exactly, Yaya’s dirty politics gave rise to that. On the ground, people rose up and stated out right “aling n’ga Mandinka yaa faasaa.”  

That term shouldn’t confuse or make you feel excluded or threatened. It is the people’s equivalent of a social media hash tag. If you did the tag, it was not because you were calling for Mandinka dominance or exclusion of others. It was because you felt it was wrong to target them and so you needed to rally for the cause of a targeted people; that is what that term means.

I brought it up because almost 100% of the time when the debate on tribalism heats up, without fail, the other camps runs to this phrase and claim it’s an attempt at exclusion and dominance. No fool it’s not.

For two decades plus, the opposition has been chanting, “let’s get rid of this delusional sociopath and save our dear little Gambia”; few listened. Along the line he came out in the open to prove that in fact he is a maniac with his attacks against the Mandinkas and his grandiose claims about them and their origins. A determination was made that now has come time that we sink together or perish at his hands one by one. “If you do not see the need to do it for The Gambia, do it for your Mandinka-yaa; because he has his eyes on you and it is only a matter of time before his bigoted axe is swung your way”. “If you are Mandinka, rise up and fight Yaya while we have a chance to organize”. “If Yaya stays in power beyond this election cycle, then you are in for a rough ride as a Mandinka…” all this and more is captured in that single phrase; aling n’ga Mandinka yaa faasaa. See the power of words!

So lose the misnomer, it’s not a call to dominance or exclusion, it’s a call to defending one’s birthright and send a lunatic packing. It worked and we are getting back to pre-Jammeh social harmonies, so give our social mechanisms a chance and keep you Eurocentric perceptions out of the pool, it muddies the waters.


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