The Gambia achieved its liberation struggle through the national movement’s noble spirit of communal harmony, religious and ethnic tolerance today stands as the victim of casteism, religious fundamentalism, tribalism buttressed by hatred and intolerance towards each other’s community and religion.
The secular elements preached by the sacred law of the land took a backstage and in its place the seeds of tribalism took center-stage. Here it is important to delineate the fundamental elements of casteism, religious fanaticism and tribalism in the country.
Fatoumatta: Another conversation is possible. A conversation of hope. Hope is what gives meaning to life. Hope is the substance that holds together the ambition and dreams of tomorrow. We have problems as a nation, many of which are a result of our individual action or inaction.
Democracy and national integration are incompatible and inconsistent with isolation and exclusiveness resulting in the unnatural distinction between the privileged and the unprivileged. Democracy deficit is at the heart of the failure of the national integration question.
While our constitution preaches secularism, equality and justice, our religions practices religious fundamentalism, our economic system breeds injustice and last but not the least, our social system provides the best breeding ground for social and economic injustice to flourish unabated.
Our caste system widens the gulf of inequality between the have and the haves-not, the privileged and the underprivileged, the upper caste and the lower caste further deepening the cracks on the wall of unity in the society. Caste rivalries catalyzed by power politics damage a country’s noble ideal of national integration.
Nation-building gets politicized and instead of consolidating unity, divisive elements creep in. If our society sows the seeds of disunity and rivalries, our religious beliefs must be blind and hypocritical. Casteism and tribalism, like fascism, can use pseudo-radical slogans to mobilize mass support; and of using democratic institutions to seize power (or fragments of it) and destroy democracy from a position of strength.
There is complete absence of two things in Gambian society. One of these is equality, we have in the Gambia a society based on the principle of graded inequality which means elevation for some and degradation for others.
On the economic plane, we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty, we are going to enter a life of contradictions. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.
We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy. And since independence, the entire realm of Gambian social and political demography is still battling to come out of these inner contradictions.
Fatoumatta: We are a constitutional democracy grappling with the concept of pluralism. Our idea of pluralism is organized around ethnic identity, not ideas. Ethnic groupings are compartmentalized into tactical alliance government supporters and opposition for the time being.
We have played this zero-sum game for far too long. Tactical supporters did not blink an eye in the malfeasance of the government. On the other hand, opposition supporters and civil society groups are now taking the government to accountability and stability.
Maybe, just maybe, if both tactical and opposition supporters — appreciating that that our collective destiny is found in a basket called The Gambia — demanded democracy and good governance that brings credibility across the political divide, irrespective of our ethnicity, we could have sidestepped our current dilemma.
Opposition supporters see a “political crisis” while the tactical alliance is moving forward with a “nothing bothers us” attitude. Whichever way you look at it, the country has missed a step and it will take time to recover. Fatoumatta: We may not like this tribe or that tribe, this leader or that leader. In many instances we will not even agree on how the country should be governed. But we must learn to engage with each other to reach a middle ground on any given national or political issue. We have failed to do so in the just-concluded legislative elections.
Many nations have crumbled from political leadership being unwilling to dialogue and compromise. Ethnic intolerance and religious bigotry brought down Bosnia Herzegovina and has inflicted deep physical and emotional wounds on Rwanda. Central Africa Republic is torn into two, arising from a pseudo-religious conflict.
Fatoumatta: Only fools enjoy the potential of self-destruction. As we seek to destroy others, we may as well be destroying ourselves. Allow me to use the analogy of a house. For example, the Gambia is like a mansion with many rooms and a large family.
A section of the family feels entitled and privileged while other feels excluded and dejected. If the family intends to remain together, then as a matter of collective self-preservation, all members must extinguish sources of discord and friction for the whole to survive. The other option is to destroy the house. Bring down the walls brick by brick.
Tear the solid roof apart and loot whatever moveable property that remains in the desolate remains of the former beautiful mansion — only to realize that you have no place to call home anymore. In a fight over remaining property, kill the weakest of family members, one at a time. This experiment has been tried elsewhere, with drastic consequences – Liberia, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Syria, Somalia. South Sudan is in the formative stage of toying with the idea of reducing their new “mansion” into rubble.
Fatoumatta: Don’t be the ordinary Fula, Mandinka, Jola, Sarahule and Wolof who buys into falsehoods of the Fula, Mandinka or Wolof elite. The primary falsehood, defending tribalism, is styled and designed to profit the elite, their families and close associates. If you support the opposition, exercise your right of choice, but ask the tough questions.
Are there truthful reasons? Do not be the Mandinka guy, who has hate for an ordinary Jola on the street and vice versa. You may not know it, but you are sailing in the same boat. The daily struggles of an ordinary Mandinka are no different from those of an ordinary Fulani.
Fatoumatta: Do not be the citizen who is quick to praise injustices carried out by a regime headed by your kinsmen. Do not praise a flawed government, just because it seems to deliver constant “victory” in a certain direction. Injustice has a potent boomerang effect. Tomorrow, the shoe will be on the other foot. Political formations change, leaders come and go, but the Gambia will always remain, if we work together to allow her to thrive.
Casteism and tribalism pervade the realm of religion, diversity and cultural domain. Casteism, religious fundamentalism and tribalism is a product of colonialism taken to new and devastating heights by self-serving nationalist leaderships.