Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: There is no doubt that what happened in Rwanda twenty-seven years ago exhibits the worst of man. Sometimes, we do not see ourselves as stooping to levels lower than that of raging animals. However, when we reflect on incidents such as the holocaust and twenty-two years of the Gambia’s malevolence and horrors of dictatorship and the torture and murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, Deyda Hydara, Solo Sandeng, and others, the barbarism that we are capable of humans once given the right nudge petrifies me.
As we look back on one of the darkest periods of man’s existence and reflect on the evil that man is capable of, one would have thought that at the very least, if we learned anything from that particular incident, is not to take for granted the issues of a tribe, ethnicity, and regionalism in Africa.
Whether we like it, we must embrace the lessons learned during that genocide 27 years ago as we move towards a petrifying the December 4, 2021, presidential election and see the sensitivities of tribe, religion, ethnicity, and regionalism being manipulated to score cheap points, a feeling of dark premonition comes over one. There is no doubt that we are playing with fire.
Much like Rwanda, in the Gambia, ethnicity has largely stunted socio-economic development. During the colonial era and post-colonial, the boundaries of the English colony were drawn to serve parochial interests, mainly without regard for the territorial claims of the indigenous peoples. The Gambia thus became a forced marriage, which did not receive the approval of the couples involved. As a result, diverse ethnic groups comprise the population of the Gambia, and the country’s unity has been consistently under siege in every elections cycle.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia has been divided more so than ever before, and Gambians suffer from a disease of no longer thinking individually but instead only seeking after the common good of their own “tribe.” Gambians used to stand united in the face of moral issues, though never perfectly. As a result, the Gambia has been one of the most incredible instruments for social change in the sub-region in history, though not ideally. However, we now live in a country that does not seek to unify itself. We live in a country that would rather see tribal bigots profiling other minority tribes than to see respect for fundamental human rights. We live in a country where the most important things a political leader or Godfather’s utterances are personal attacks, insults, and fanning tribal sentiments. For example, they refer to people who do not subscribe to their political beliefs and tribal identity as “Hasidiyaa or Hasido,” for example. I say all of these things to show that Gambians no longer care about true patriotism. Instead, tribalism permeates Gambian lives.
Gambian Politics today is messy with a dangerous political class. They seem more intent on destroying their political opponents than solving any of the actual issues impacting Society. Gambians demonize those on the other side of the political spectrum at any opportunity given. The Sosalasso party and its loyalists seem more interested in name-calling, assuming motives, and general bully tactics to forget what they are truly fighting for. This is an example of how tribalism has made politics incredibly toxic.
Fatoumatta: Discourse in this country is problematic. Without the ability to speak to one another, nothing productive can be achieved. Polarization in this country is at an all-time high, and that is not a good thing. The political left is going further to the left, and the political right is going further right. Gambians seem to care about arguing about people rather than arguing about issues. The rhetoric of both parties does not seem to help anything but only seeks to divide further. If these trends continue, this country may have a problem that cannot be amended. That is the division of Americans to the point where they see each other not as ordinary citizens but as enemies.
Tribalism has wholly infected the thoughts of ordinary individuals. People are much more likely to doubt the moral offenses of those in their party, especially if they believe that it might hurt their chances of power. This defensiveness for awful things can be seen within both political parties, and it appears to be only getting worse.
If we start treating individuals with respect and dignity, no matter their party affiliation, much of what corrupts Society today can be solved. It would be far more beneficial for our country if we weighed the ideas of others instead of relying on opinionated beat-downs of character. Treating your fellow Gambians with some common decency is starting to end the political tribalism in today’s system. If you genuinely want to help, are seeking the discussion of ideas, and genuinely seek the end of tribalism in politics, stop thinking it is us vs. them, but believe that we are all Gambians. I do not feel that a party title you associate with is worth the disgusting character attacks in today’s system, and neither should you.
Fatoumatta: Sadly thus far, it is disconcerting that most Gambians have become slaves to their ethnic origins instead of exploiting these diversities towards national development. Unapologetically, most Gambians are fanatics when it comes to ethnicity. Hitherto, most things are done in the Gambia usually have an ethnic undertone and connotation, be it in politics, employment, or social amenities. Ethnic/tribal affiliations are always solid and visible. Since independence, there has been an ideology of ethnic chauvinism, elitist cultural hegemony fragmentation, and pervasive tribalism resulting from allegiance to one’s ethnic group, which has invariably not worked well for the country’s development.
Also, particularly in the political sphere, when politicians lose elections or are in one political CrisisCrisis, they tend to devise strategies that will appeal to tribal sentiments, such as making unguarded statements that infuriate a segment of the Society, causing unnecessary tension.
Contextually, however, no one is born a racist or bigot. During childhood, children are pure, innocent, and unspoiled concerning their perception of life. They relate very well with everyone irrespective of your ethnicity, with an authentic cheery innocent look and smile. This is undoubtedly cogent evidence that human beings are generally without any sensitivities or prejudice from infancy until they begin to associate and relate with the people around them.
Parents, guardians, and Society play a vital and enormous role in the lives of every human being. As none is born a bigot from childhood, their parents, guardians, and Society shape their perception about other tribes and races.
Fatoumatta: Growing up from tolerant or liberal parents, guardians, and Society goes a long way to producing susceptible and tolerant adults that would blend well with Society. The two-major Abrahamic religions in which most Gambians subscribe to believe that Almighty God created the universe, with clarity in both religious books that he created human beings in his image and His infinite wisdom. We are all here to stay together despite ethnic, racial, or gender differences. However, there still exist people who are still not prepared to dispense with their hostile upbringings and their negative perception about how they intend to live with others who differ from them. Hence, these types of people need an imperative, consistent and vigorous.
Education or sensitization to prune the negative perceptions of their inimical and parochial view of other peoples, race, and ethnic affinity.
Regrettably, though, we keep on retrogressing socially in the Gambia due to our inability to cogitate about our lives appropriately to live in peace and harmony amongst ourselves and as civilized human beings. So far, we are still crawling as acculturation/socialization with our fellow human beings is concerned. Thus, ethnocentrism in our nation is continually making it very difficult for some ignorant people to accept, cherish fully, and tolerate their fellow Nigerians as colleagues, friends, or be in courtship, simply because of their differing tribes. I find that very sad.
With recent happenings across the country, the Gambia should indeed be wary of the grave and detrimental effect of ethnocentric tendencies vis-à-vis the atrocity and barbarity that occurred 27-years ago in Rwanda due to ethnic prejudice. Therefore, the Gambia must learn from the history of such countries as Rwanda and learn how to live in peace.
Ethnocentrism has driven many a country to its demise – Nazi Germany met its demise partly because of its hatred and annihilation policy of the Jews, the recent Malian CrisisCrisis with the Tuareg rebellion, the two-Sudanese civil wars fought between the Arab-dominated North and the black African south, which resulted in autonomy and later the independence of South Sudan in 2011, Albanians and Serbs have hitherto been plagued and ravaged by ethnic conflict, et cetera – and if in the Gambia there is the need for disintegration, we should carry it out in a peaceful consensus manner rather than via conflicts or war.
However, ethnicity is not the problem in the Gambia but Gambians themselves who choose to abuse or utilize ethnicity for their selfish interest. They tap into sentiments of bigoted members of a particular tribe to cause havoc. There is nothing wrong with ethnicity as it can make and create avenues for healthy competition, especially in terms of economic development. For instance, the period after independence saw a healthy competition between the major tribes in the Gambia whereby the South-West led in cocoa production, groundnuts, and cereals in the North. At the same time, palm products and root crops dominated the economy of the South-East. Importantly, attachment to a citizen first to their ethnic group before the country is terrible for its unity. Suppose Gambians learn to value nationalism more than ethnicity. In that case, there will indeed be an increase in economic and political development, and the Gambia will reclaim its rightful position in the comity of nations.
GHOSTS OF THE PAST SHOULD BE LESSONS OF THE FUTURE.
Fatoumatta: Almost three decades on, and it still haunts so many people around the world and me. On April 6, 1994, Hutus began slaughtering the Tutsis in Rwanda. As the ferocious slayings continued, people and governments worldwide stood indolently by and watched in shock as the murders continued. By the time it was over, 100 days had gone by. The Rwanda genocide left approximately 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers dead.
As we reflect on the Rwandan genocide, there has been so much analysis and talk about the atrocities that happened at that time. However, although blame seems to have been apportioned by many analysts and the general public at large, once the history of Rwanda is observed, one finds that there is not much fault one way or another. This is because the history and evolution as a country that let Rwanda spontaneously combust on April 6, 1994, is not so different from so many countries in Africa; the colonialists lumbered together other tribes and ethnicities.
In the first instance, when it was first settled, the people who lived there raised cattle. Soon, the people who owned the most cattle were called “Tutsi,” leaving the rest referred to as “Hutu.” However, these tribes co-existed peacefully for the most part. Until the Europeans came onto the scene, the terms “Tutsi” and “Hutu” took on a racial role.
In 1894, when the Germans colonized the area, they embraced the Tutsi more than the Hutus simply because the Tutsi had more European features, such as lighter skin and long hair. By virtue of this, the Germans gave the Tutsis more roles of responsibility.
After the Germans lost their colonial rule to the Belgians in Rwanda, they made it mandatory for every Rwandan to have an identity card labeled Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. Even though the Tutsi constituted only about ten percent of Rwanda’s population and the Hutu nearly 90 percent, just like the Germans, the Belgians favored the Tutsi by giving them almost all the leadership positions.
Fatoumatta: During the struggle for Independence in Rwanda, the Belgians switched the status of the two tribes by giving the Hutus most of the leadership positions in the new government. The culmination of this history led up to the dichotomy and animosity between the two tribes. As decades went on and generations were born, the hatred between the two tribes ferociously festered.
All these feelings and emotions came to a head in April 1994 when the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda was shot out of the sky, killing all on board. For decades, President Habyarimana, a Hutu, had run a totalitarian regime, which excluded the Tutsis. Finally, however, the president signed the Arusha Accords, which weakened the Hutu hold on Rwanda and allowed Tutsis to participate in the government.
The flame had been ignited, and for over 100 days, people began to be slaughtered and killed in the capital. The violence spread over several weeks, and men, women, and children were tortured and murdered with guns, machetes, and clubs. Women were systematically raped before being killed, and others were kept as sex slaves.
Fatoumatta: Even the thousands who tried to escape the slaughter by hiding in churches, hospitals, schools, and government offices were not saved from their ghastly fate. To further degrade the Tutsi, Hutu extremists would not allow the Tutsi dead to be buried. Instead, their bodies were left where they were slaughtered, exposed to the elements, eaten by rats and dogs. In addition, many Tutsi bodies were thrown into rivers, lakes, and streams to send the Tutsis “back to Ethiopia” – a reference to the myth that the Tutsi were foreigners and originally came from Ethiopia.
Fatoumatta: Whatever direction Gambians go in the next couple of years, I implore every Gambian to be a good student of history and remember the ghosts created by the hatred that gave birth to one of the darkest periods of human history. May we not let the deaths and sacrifices of the thousands and millions of people who lost their lives purely for the accident of birth that made them who they were to be in vain. Let us cull back some of the ethnic hatred many of us seem to nurture to avoid a similar fate. May the ghosts of those who passed always be an excellent lesson for the future.
Alagi Yorro Jallow