Mediterranean Dead and Spiritual Escapism
Alagi Yorro Jallow
MAMUDU: Nothing has changed in decades. Or in the centuries of the Atlantic Cemetery that eats the youths of the Gambia failed by leaders. May the Dead, and Dying of the oceans rest in Alijannah Firdausi, but we the living must neither rest, nor merely read and write obituaries and eulogies as well offering prayer for the virtue of piety for the departed souls while homesteads burn.
Mamudu: Fifty-four years after independence we are still using the youth as weapons of destruction and insults instead of creating jobs for them. Fifty-four years after independence, we have less youths in employment. Fifty-four years after independence, we are still talking of perfecting things for the future instead of utilizing what we have to better our country today.
Fifty-four years after independence, the Gambia is still a hungry country competing with nine other countries mostly coming from wars and conflicts. While we celebrate the sovereignty and the self-rule attained fifty-four years ago, the Gambia today is still in need of various freedoms. Independence is not only the attainment of freedoms from being governed or ruled by another state, it is the achievement of complete freedoms across the economic front and the ability to ensure the safety, the decency and the well-being of all Gambian citizens.
Gambians are plagued by a vicious mindset of spiritual escapism from which they seem unable to extricate themselves. Almost sixty young Gambian lives are dead and forty-seven missing after a vessel carrying migrants sank off the Mauritanian coast. It’s an ugly story that should prick our conscience as Gambians with the tragic loss of young people.
Mamudu: The dead of those sixty young migrants is described as one of the deadliest incidents since migrants found other routes to Europe killing young boys and girls. My timeline is filled with calls for prayer, pronouncements that only God can save the trapped people, invocation of various Arabic and Hebraic names of deity that give the Gambian prayer warriors, especially the citified ones, a sense of spiritual sophistication. The Us-guys of African born-again clerics. You can’t keep praying yet you keep doing the same thing over and over hoping things will change. I believe it’s called insanity. What is there for Gambians to be praying for? It’s as baffling an oxymoron as Independence Day. Independence from what exactly?
Mamudu: On one wall, not a single question is asked about the owner of the capsized vessel and agents responsible for human trafficking; no demands for an up-investigation into this deadliest human trafficking and human loss; no call to action such as writing letters to National Assembly members; no suggestion to march together to the relevant authorities and demanding answers; no expression of umbrage at the constant death traps that are the Gambia’s youth struggling to generate employment for an expanding young population . Just a stomach-churning regurgitation of let’s-pray and that’s it.
Mamudu: What these prayerholics don’t realize is that their public display of piety in the face of a tragedy that demands answers and action only serves to drain the little power the powerless have left. This vicious spiritual escapism is all too common. It says to the victim: You are a pitiful creature that can do nothing, has no say in your destiny, has a God-given brain but refuses to think with it. A quick research will tell you about the gruesome plight of Gambian youths typically, young boys and girls who are forced by corrupt and incompetent leadership to risk their lives making the trip across the hostile and uninhabitable Sahara Desert and the treacherous Mediterranean Sea to an equally inhospitable and unwelcoming Southern Europe and beyond.
Mamudu: Falling to the floor in public prayer that gives you a temporary badge of spiritual superiority is easier. Absolutely, pray, yes. Pray to the deity of your faith. Pray to connect to the powers within you. Pray about that which you do not yet understand. Pray a prayer of gratitude for the gift of life. Pray if that is important to the wellness of your whole being. Prayer can and should be empowering and comforting. But don’t make prayer the weapon with which you kill your responsibility to act in the world you occupy.
Mamudu: If another vessel capsizes tomorrow and kill additional young youths, you can point a well-deserved finger at the Gambia’s calculating prayermongers who refuse to do anything else; who think activism and fighting for justice is beneath them; whose freedoms are won by the people they dismiss as trouble-makers. After you get off your knees, have the dare to join the frontlines in the battle for human dignity and fight for those who wield decision-making power to value every human life.
Mamudu: We saw rescuers carry a dead person out of the coast of Mauritania, a blanket respectfully covering them, but completing the erasure of identity. That image will never leave my mind. Another nameless statistic thrown on a stretcher of lost.
Mamudu: What is there for Gambians to be praying for piety displaying national tragedy offered for those boys and girls perished in the coast off Mauritania? Even God must be thinking we’re mocking him. The Gambia doesn’t need prayers. We need state and public officers to stop stealing taxpayer’s money and do their jobs competently as constitutional duty bearers create youth employment and better living conditions of every Gambian. We need people to take their individual and collective responsibilities as citizens, change our attitudes and culture about accepting incompetence and mediocrity from those in government and in National Assembly as a way of life. God helps those who help themselves.
Mamudu: To begin with, these self-serving politicians create untenable and dangerous socio-economic and political conditions in the country. The unbearable conditions then force hundreds of thousands of young Gambians to flee to the safety of Europe. These folks brave the uncertainties of crossing the Sahara Desert. These Gambian youths surreptitiously left their families and loved ones. They evade heartless human traffickers – who are probably no better than some of the very people they are running away from. The migrants weather the harshness of the Mediterranean Sea or winter climes they are mostly unfamiliar with. Finally, across the sea, they land on shores of countries that are mostly unwelcoming; oftentimes living among heartless, cruel, bigoted and xenophobic people. Some never make it; ending up consumed by the harshness that can be humanity. Some barely make it; forever scarred by the harrowing experiences – and yes, it is always harrowing. Fewer still are able to cobble together a living – arguably better than what they left behind – once they “make it” with more deaths, more prayers, more money in the bank for those who continue to put up these death traps on the cheap for a people who refuse rise up.
Fifty-four years after independence, the Gambia is a primary commodity exporter and a net importing country. How can the Gambia find itself among community of nations when the Gambia is struggling to create enough jobs for its expanding youth population when the cream of the nation attempts treacherous migration to Europe after fifty-four years of independence?