A favorite dictum of African politics is that a week is a long time in politics. It follows, then, that three decades is virtually an eternity.
This is how long these notable political philosophers, Sidia Jatta, Halifa Sallah and Sam Sarr including some who may be better known for their work in other areas of politics has been at the forefront of the Gambian political scene, mucking in the scrimmages, throwing and taking punches, getting smeared in political mud, and doing some smearing of their own and generally making the whole political scene worth watching and listening to them.
These political scientists have managed to establish themselves as one of the most promising leaders in this country, a mantle they carry to be political champions of their generation. They have risen to become very vibrant, competent and famous political figures in this country, outweighing the known political heavyweights in their own game, something that propelled them to become the architects of People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) and the founding editors of the powerful FOROYAA newspaper.
They are a force to reckon with. Those who have tried battling them politically have been met with full force of wits, intellect and political correctness from men who understands politics well.
We cheered them on when they agreed with them, even going so far as to brand them cross-tribal and socialist. This was so, considering in the Gambia, a politician has not arrived until he is baptized with a name from a tribe not his own.
In this sense, Sidia, Halifa and Sam as they were known in the Gambia, arrived a long time ago. The People’s Progressive Party government also lambasted them when they thought they were going astray, though typically this was whenever they defied ethnic stereotypes, corruption and human rights violation to reach across this or that tribal divide. But that means nothing in the Gambia, where a person can be a darling one minute — because he backs your tribesman for high office — and an enemy the next, because he has the temerity to run against another of your tribesmen.
That’s just who Gambians are. These political thinkers — People universally refer to them using their first names — has lasted a lifetime at the business end of their political spectrum. But it is now time for them to go.
In recent times, young politicians and some Gambians crawling on social media barely out of their napkins have taken these eminent politicians recently as an opportunity to hurl insults at them. They conveniently forget that the very structures over which they lord, the very country that they now bestride with noisy tweets and Facebook posts and many of the freedoms they enjoy, would never have been possible without the sacrifice of these gentlemen and their contemporaries.
These men endured years of persecution from the PPP government and under the dictatorship of the Alliance for Patriotism, Re-orientation and Construction (APRC), banged up in detention without trial, to birth the openness and the democracy that we now take for granted, and in whose free air the new political class now hold forth with their salt-in-the-wound rubbing.
In so doing, they come to resemble Chinua Achebe’s unwise little bird eneke-nti-oba, who so far forgot himself after a heavy meal that he challenged his personal god to a fight. Sidia, Halifa and Sam are a yardstick against which to measure the performances of our old and new crop of politicians. They made mistakes — like everyone else — but their virtues far outweighed these.
It is this very standard against which we will now judge the fortitude, the fitness-for-purpose, of our new leaders. They have not begun on a good footing, letting their followers humiliate these men in ways that are decidedly un-African. Like Achebe said, those who mock Sidia, Halifa and Sam should remember that he whose palm nuts have been cracked for them by benevolent spirits, should not forget to be humble. Thank the men and their colleagues for their selflessness and service and let them be.
And to the doubting Thomases, they have prepared the way for sons and daughters born, sons and daughters who will change the political thinking this country.