Alagi Yorro Jallow

I am inspired by Frantz Fanon, as always, but also by other African scholars and public intellectuals, who have contributed immensely to the liberation struggle in Africa but also disappointed by fourth generation intellectuals on whose failure of thinking and imagination has been responsible for the political, social, economic, education and many other dimensions on the failures of Africa to become a beacon hope for all Africans.

I published earlier that intellectuals are those who are responsible for the collective success to identify and amplify our national identities into a social and political consciousness for nationhood. Captain Ebou Jallo has brilliantly analyze the contextual and epistemological definition of intellectualism in response to Dr. Yunus Hydara’s post on intellectualism. I will limit my interest on the failures of intellectualism in Africa and in the Gambia.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the intellectual failure behind our lack of nationhood is that the richest Gambians, who are the ones with access to the best education and the greatest international exposure, are, sorry to be crude, the dumbest ones of the Gambian lot.

They are stuck in the feudal era, piling propaganda and aggressiveness against those with a modern, national consciousness (which the latter feel like giving up). That is why, when the oppressed talk of democracy, justice and rule of law, the rulers reply with rituals and traditional paraphernalia.
So, this problem is not a problem of schooling. It’s a problem of consciousness.

The current ruling elite are, to put it crudely, intellectually backward. And as I said earlier, it breaks my heart to see us so unable to aspire for the sophisticated thinking required of a civilization – where we plant trees in whose shade we will not sit. Where we think not of what we can acquire but what we can provide. Where we think not “what’s in it for me” but “what does it mean for all of us?”

Where we understand that talking about “privilege” is not an attack on a person but a reference to a system that involves people. Where we affirm that life matters, and insist on atoning to God and the ancestors for life lost unjustly. Where we think philosophically, not fixate on the superficial.

The failure to understand all this points to a deep intellectual problem in the Gambia. And with a new government with some sense, I hope should discuss why this consciousness remains so alien to Gambians. Ask other Africans what we Gambians sound like – you’ll be surprised to hear how blonde we Gambians are.

But back to Fanon. Writing his last book, The Wretched of the Earth, as he battled leukemia, Fanon could see that African politicians would make a grave mistake if they confused the politics of race with the culture of different ethnicities.

Fanon strongly cautioned African politicians against adopting the colonial culture of dishing out power and resources based on skin color and cultural identity, all in the name of “Africanization,” instead of adopting a national identity based on social and political consciousness. He argued that the temptation to focus on culture, rather than consciousness, would make African leaders simply replace white skins in government with black ones. That simplistic reasoning would, in turn, trickle down to the masses, who would perpetuate the same bigotry through ethnicity.

The major problem, Fanon said, was that African leaders were not genuinely interested in nationalization. Instead, they settled for the mere “transfer of power previously held by the foreigners, [and] the masses make the very same demand at their own level.” Once this situation is entrenched, the difference between racist chauvinism and tribalism is “but one small step.”

The African countries would rapidly slide into tribalism because African leaders had failed to enlighten “the people” or “put the people first,” which, in turn, was due to the national bourgeoisie’s “petty-mindedness” and lack of ideological clarity.

Fanon was essentially saying that national identity could not be constructed on pre-colonial identities and skin color. National identity had to be ideologically and politically constructed.