Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – Facebook can be a safe place for people with differing political persuasions to express views and exchange thoughts with others. So please keep commenting away, and continue to debate with spirit…. and civility.

Facebook at the same time inspires crass and even abusive rhetoric, spurred on by tribal and political groupings. The notion of a village Bantaba as a place to hear differing opinions now exists more in the digital space than the physical. However, we see increased polarization and self-selection in our network of friends.

The more I read the comments or statues on Facebook the more I am convinced that this country is hopeless.

Cyber-activism or blind activism is a disease which needs to be treated as soon as it is detected. Its symptoms are “forming and voicing one’s own opinions”, “refusal to giggle and blush at bigotry comments”, “rejecting crap from anyone”, “having own views and decisions and standing by it”, self-mobbing in moralities, gossips etc. etc.!

The most effective treatment prescribed against cyber-activism is personal whipping using keyboards, use creative counter punches soaked in “epistemological -techno-ethical” morals.

Granted, only a certain percentage of people are on social media. However, the number of percentage of Gambians that are active on Facebook and Twitter is pretty much a good indicator of the current state of our society. The semi-anonymity that the internet provides only served to reveal the true nature of Gambians. And the image is not good.

Probably the most accurate image of a Gambian is that of a fanatic. This can be seen in religious Muslim ceremonies such as Gamos, Seyarre, processions of traditional Christian ceremonies. Never mind that you grabbed on people’s eye sockets, if you get to wipe your sweaty towel on the face of the poon or ineffectual person. Never mind the reasoning, the logic, your religion is better than their religion, and your interpretation of Scripture is better than theirs.

This same fanaticism now translates to politics. The cult of personality surrounding the President has transformed social media into an echo chamber. What was supposed to be an avenue to connect with family and friends became a battleground for political fanaticism. Labels were put on people, instead of analyzing each opinion as it is. You had to take sides.

In the Gambia “patriotism” has an ethnic, religious, and regional identity. When someone who shares the same primordial characteristics as the president or leader of a political grouping “patriotism” becomes important, and holding government accountable to the people becomes “treason.” If the president is from the “other” side of the primordial divide, everything is neatly reversed.

Mark Twain was right when he said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” If your “patriotism” is situational, if it is inspired only by the primordial affinities you share with the person who is president, you are, to borrow from Twain, a “scoundrel.” If you are not with us, then you are against us.

It weakens me to see that we have devolved discussion into name calling, with Jaliba’s ghostwriters turning each opportunity to propaganda. There is no more reason or logic. Only pseudo reasoning that to some people, is indistinguishable to the real thing. The more reasonable people on both sides are left on the bottom, with comments that pander to the hive mind earning the top.

And thus, the cycle of propaganda continues. Repeat a thousand times and it becomes the truth.

The Gambian society is now a big circle, one hand in between the legs of the person beside them, moving up and down. And in the middle, the country, waiting for their release.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow 

The author is founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and is the author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013.