Manufacturing Issues; What “Tribalism”?

It would appear we have a phobia in dealing with facts objectively. And that is if we are confronted to deal with it and there is no other way out, but we prefer to ignore as much as possible or worse slant it in our favor. We see the facts all around us and deny them; politics is about personal interests, period.

Interpret that however you like but because it is personal does not necessarily mean it is unpatriotic, which is what most of us hear. A nation state can represent many varied ideals; progressive, conservative, theologically inclined, etc. If I believe that my country will be best served if it is conservative leaning; that does not make me unpatriotic. If you believe the world is changing and the country needs to discard old norms and align itself with changing trends that does not make you unpatriotic either, neither should you think because of your views you are more democratic or more patriotic than me. I lean the way I lean because I believe that way, I will be able to live comfortably in my country.

I read the NDI (The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs) report of July 2018 titled Report on Public Opinion Research in The Gambia, February to April 2018. The institute is by all means a reputable one with over three decades of supporting “democratic institutions and practices in every region of the world.”

NDI conducted research that “involved a nationwide survey of 1,033 face-to-face interviews in The Gambia between March 22 and April 14, 2018.” At the end of their survey their findings revealed that President Barrow enjoyed high approval ratings (at the time) “despite significant economic and social challenges facing The Gambia.” This was due to their finding that “there is optimism about the country’s direction” which was due to the “newfound democratic liberties that Gambians warmly embrace.”

The report also found that even with high approval ratings, there were “potential pitfalls ahead that could diminish his standing and bring greater instability to the country.” One of the many issues highlighted was the issue of tribalism, which, given the poor economic situation could be exacerbated.

The report further reveals that “as tribalism permeates the Gambian political landscape and undercurrents of society, a 57% majority of the public thinks tribalism is getting worse and 71% of Jola members agree with this sentiment.” Based on their findings from the focus group, “perceptions toward political leaders and parties are largely driven by tribal affiliation.” The report goes on to give figures as to what concerns citizens the most. At the top of the list was the cost of living; 53% of the rural population marked that as their greatest concern as opposed to 42% of urbanites. Next on the areas of concern list was Healthcare; 32% of the rural population was most concerned about that and 24% of urbanites. 37% of urban dwellers were more concerned about electricity and water and only 29% of the rural folks saw that as a concern. Unemployment was a concern for only 18% of the rural population and it was a concern for 21% of the urban population. Tribalism stood at 15% concern ratio for rural folks and 23% of the urban population was concerned about tribalism.

What the report does not highlight though is what constitutes “tribalism”. As small as the concern ratio is, which further diminishes away from urban centers, we are not enlightened as to what “tribalism” actually means. Although in the report it identified that; “former President Jammeh is a member of the Jola tribe and Jola tribal members held significant influence over various aspects of the government during his regime.” That “Jola tribal members see themselves as being disenfranchised by the [new] government.” This could be a main factor they see as fueling this “tribal tension.”

This now begs the question; what constitutes tribalism? What are the parameters that define “tribalism”? It is not enough to say “Let’s stop tribalism or let’s “Say No To Tribalism” we have to define what “Tribalism” is. But unfortunately, like most things Gambian, the term has become a cliché and one is either against it or for it, no questions asked.  Before a problem could be effectively solved, it needs to be properly identified.

With the surge in constant marches and advocacy against “tribalism”, the most glaring question has been left unanswered! WHAT CONSTITUTES TRIBALISM?

We all know, beyond politics, there is no animosity on display of tribal acrimony anywhere in Gambian life. If we agree to that cohesiveness, then the target to address then becomes – ISSUE-BASED POLTICS and that is where the advocacy needs to be centered, not fighting “tribalism” which hitherto is just a basterdized word in most cases.  If one holds the view that there in fact is “tribalism” in The Gambia, then we need to tread very carefully because the balance between addressing it and exacerbating it is very delicate and not everyone is equipped to talk about it.

Yes there are divisions in political ideology based on who one favors in terms of politics but tell me who among the current political leaders is baiting supporters using the ethnic card?

When the Barrow administration first came in, what was the initial cry? Some of the very people calling for “No Tribalism” today were the ones crying “tribal hegemony” in the appointments made to ministerial positions. They refused to consider prior political affiliations (since most were political appointments), no qualifications were considered. The one and only thing that jumped out at some people, was the last names of the appointees; so tribalism qualified. Yes politics is largely personality centered in The Gambia even amongst the “educated” folks, so yes people support parties because of some affinity they share with the party leader; including tribe, but does that in and of itself constitute “tribalism”?

We have seen here time and again people who went along with friends vying for office because they do not want to be seen to be advocating against them. We’ve seen people who broke away from their party’s nominated candidate to throw their weight behind somebody they like for past favors or because of personal acquaintance. Not because that person has past experience or a proven track record of managing elected or public office well, but simply because they know that person at a personal level and are conflicted between party ideals and personal preference. That is perfectly fine as long as you believe, based on personal interactions that their character is the kind we need in whatever office they sought.

We’ve all been there and we will be hypocritical if we say otherwise. Some of us held back from campaigning against certain candidates just so we do not hurt their feelings because of personal relations.

Whatever justification you give for why you are aligned the way you are aligned, the fact is that it is self-serving, period. So why do you have problems with others seeking that which serves them? No matter how flimsy it looks to you, that is what appeals to them and if that is by voting for someone they feel some affinity with, whether regional, personal, or linguistic, that in itself is not a problem UNTIL those seeking collective mandate use it as a selling point. They are the people who are going to serve us.

So what can we do about the voter who thinks along sectarian lines? We make voting targeted to real issues they care about; education, agriculture, cost of living, healthcare, roads, etc. THAT will always sell. But this constant “tribalism” this, “tribalism” that is engineering an act of self-fulfilling prophecy, reverse psychology if you like. Talk about it at every opportunity, it becomes embedded in the psyche and the human subconscious is a dangerous tool. Just like some of us chose to shun everything and only focus on the ‘tribe’ of the appointed individuals, tribe will become so ubiquitous in every facet of our society that sooner or later, the perception becomes a real issue that will be acted upon. What then?

This is how I see it and I am looking to be enlightened as to how else it is. But because I ask questions now I am brushing it under the carpet. But the fact is WE NEED TO KNOW what defines “tribalism”. The undertones will not suffice. Yes there are various indications of demographic shifts towards certain candidates based on tribe, but how we deal with it, can either make or break whatever is left of our social fabric. There is a right way and a wrong way to do anything

Let’s keep at it; when it blows in our collective faces, which is coming, we will be scrambling for solutions and looking at the wrong people to blame.

N’gha taa dorong.



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