Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: No country or people could deserve how the Gambia’s identity politics went from inclusion to division, political tribalism has reached a new peak, leaves the Gambia in a unique perilous situation, and seriously, all this malarkey about power and the presidency in addition to and mainly, the birthright entitlement to occupy the presidency of the Republic of the Gambia amid December 4, 2021. Consequently, the presidential election is not only out of order but appalling, disturbing, and reckless behavior of some political leaders. We cannot let our elections be this vulnerable again with poison politics, For a nation that prides itself as the peace-loving nation “Smiling Coast” with a unifying presence in Africa, for a country whose white stripe on the flag represents the desire for peace and unity, the recent obsession by the political class on this issue stands as a stark contradiction. As a supposedly unified group of people, the concept of being a Gambian is meant to be more superior to any given ethnic, regional, or tribal concern. As one nation, one people, one destiny, we are supposed to place the interest of the Gambia above and beyond any sectarian and parochial interest. However, from all indications, Gambians seem blasé about the fact that their future could invariably be navigating towards a dangerous trend, towards a form of tribal politics.
Fatoumatta: The continuing barney on who or which faith, tribe, or region has more right to be in the presidency honestly, really ridiculous in a society that favors multiculturalism and diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive development and innovation. Astonishingly, we can talk about the unity of the Gambia and equal opportunity on the one hand and turn around to demand the tyranny of the majority at the expense of the minority of political representations and positions in the same breath.
How on earth can the Gambia achieve political stability when elitist and tribal lords are wrangling for political power and are using regional and tribal sentiment as a tool to acquire it? How do we expect the unity of this nation to be certified if there remains in our psyche an irrational element that can be exploited and influenced in a manner that does not benefit us as a nation? I really do honestly believe that this ‘our turn to eat, your turn to eat’ and their turn to eat’ and the issue of the “we vs. them” mentality perfectly exemplifies the Gambian crisis source. To continue bickering on political entitlements of this country is, without a doubt, a manifestation of all that is wrong with the Gambia. However, for heaven’s sake, at what point do we as countrymen and women become blind to the thought of our faith and tribes when we know that we are supposed to be Gambians first? Nobody is saying that we should not take pride in where we come from, our identities, or who we are, but at some point in our existence as a nation, we have to think; think about what is in the best interest of this developing nation.
Fatoumatta: It is fantastic and horrible that day in, day out politicians on social media and television, in print media and interviews continue to overtly debate the issue of elite cultural hegemony, tribal and regional politics with all conviction without seeming to give a toss that the consequence of their declarations is fast sowing the seed of discontent and further polarizing the nation. We continue to hear debates and forums and all sorts of political alliances about classism, elitism, and tribe. However, the country has the most valid claim for the presidency come December 4, 2021. There can be only one president. That president will naturally come from only one tribe, only one tribe, and belong to only one religion. Now, because of the combative atmosphere of tribal politics that has already been set by the politicians, the regions and tribes that eventually lose out in the skirmish are bound to feel short-changed and angered. Is this what we envisage for the progress of our democracy and the harmony of our country? Do our politicians not see that the remnant of discontent and fall-out from the regional political claims they are making holds the promise of evolving into more inter-tribal hate? Do they not appreciate that our revival will only come about when we arrive when leadership in this country is earned on qualifications, competence, and character instead of a tribe, religion, region, and personal interest?
Fatoumatta: I do believe that every objective and fair-minded person in this country, no matter their tribe, would relish a setting where they could vote for their political leaders based on whether those potential leaders honestly have the intent and ability to rectify the pandemonium in our power sector, create jobs for us, grow our economy, flush out corruption, resurrect our education sector and make the Gambia a better place than it is now; not because of where they come from. If those that have the clout and opportunity to speak on our behalf continue to allow the regional and tribal entitlement calls they have been bellowing out to continue and deepen, without considering the consequence for the nation as a whole, they would be doing this country more significant damage than has already been done.
Despite all of our past and present problems, except the religious extremist and tribal bigots behemoth that has recently reared its ugly head, the Gambia has known the worth of relative peace. From what we have seen in the history of our Continent, a tribal, ethnic, and regional dichotomy is the surest way of guaranteeing a nation’s fragmentation. We only need to look at the accounts of countries like Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, and Somalia to fully understand the damage ethnicity, tribalism, and regionalism can cause and the importance of social cohesion and triviality of ethnic and regional identity concerning national identity.
Fatoumatta: The genocide in Rwanda was probably one of the severest in global history. Of course, one cannot ever envisage such a calamity taking place in this country by the Grace of the Almighty. However, what happened in Rwanda must stand as a lesson and a testament to the rest of the world, Africans especially. There was a time in Rwanda where the topic of ethnicity, tribe, and the region was treated in much the same way we treat the issue in this country. Without anticipating the danger of this, Rwandans allowed that sore to fester and fester, chafe and putrefy until it erupted in the tragedy we witnessed in 1994. The Rwandan misfortune began with civil strife because the different ethnicities could not share their countries’ resources among the various ethnic arrangements and tribal boundaries. It ended with the mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people. Today, as a result of their nightmare, if a Rwandan were asked which tribe they belong to, they would always answer that they are Rwandan, never a tribe, only Rwandan. Tragically, it took so much pain and bloodshed for them to embrace that reality.
While other instances may not be as grave as that of Rwanda, other examples of the consequence of tribal and regional dichotomy can be seen from the situation in Kenya. From a country that held so much potential, allegiance to tribal and regional identities have become so deeply rooted in the body politic of Kenya that the politics in the country today has been reduced to a tribal democracy which is so bunched according to ethnic lines that each tribe and ethnic group has been forced to establish its party.
Fatoumatta: Suppose Gambians desire to continue as one people and not tempt fate in the irresponsible way we have been in the last 56 years. In that case, we must stop nurturing the growth of this ethnic and regional trend that has the potential of jeopardizing our democracy and fragmenting our existence. Every one of us in this country deals with the same problems and challenges. The vast majority of us are trying to feed our families, bring up our children, go to school, find jobs and sleep soundly at night. When we have no security, it is not because we belong to a particular religion. When we are confronted with rising fuel and market prices, it is not due to the fact that we come from a specific region. When our most basic needs are not satisfied, it is not because we are members of a particular tribe; it is because those in leadership have not provided it despite where they come from. The Gambia is what we have; it is ultimately what we are. We cannot afford to let politicians use our diversity as a tool against our social cohesion in the guise of regional politics. We cannot afford to do that.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia has been through enough already. It has been dragged through a civil war, been exposed to religious and sectarian massacres, and its image has been desecrated globally. Therefore, those of us who form her should embrace unity in the interest of her advancement, stability, and wellbeing. Our forefathers did many positive things for this country, but they also allowed differences in tribe and region. The present crop of leaders must not continue with this trend because by advancing the cause of regional politics that they are doing now, they are doing nothing more than sowing the seed of discontent for the Gambia.
Alagi Yorro Jallow