LIVING IN A NATION BUT LOYAL TO A ‘TRIBE’ ?
Appreciation of history and the lessons it has brought along with it, which are available for the great enlightened minds for study, is important for the insight it provides for the well-being of the nation and its progress. Those who, therefore, lack knowledge of the pass without the intellect to craft for their present and for posterity are agents of cataclysm. The most striking evidence of this assertion comes in the form of the reoccurrences of events in The Gambia, true and elaborate as they were in 1942 towards 1951 when E. F Small “painfully watched the deconstruction [and destruction] of the painfully built-up unions and associations as a result of sectarianism and tribalism.” The two evils (sectarianism and tribalism) are still fresh within our political circle and ready to record another score in our political history.
Political historians and sociologist have disagreed violently on the nature, and extent of the political significance of the “tribe” especially in the advent of “Statehood” in the 17th Century or so. This debate is still relevant for The Gambia because it appears that much significance and loyalty (in every sense of the word) is still being given to the“tribe” as opposed to the deserving entity, the“nation-state.” It will be convenient to conclude that one of the fundamental reasons for the latter being given preference over the former, and the reason for our political backwardness as a nation is because of our seemingly bankrupt education system and pitiable ‘political socialization.’ To this end, I conclude there is no foundation to this nation.
THE TRIBES BEFORE THE NATION-STATE
Whatever steps that must be taken to reshape this country, it is fundamental for its people to understand some irrefutable historical facts relevant to the well-being of the nation and its people.
The first which is that, people have always been in existence in the Senegambia Region in different settings and under different ‘political authorities’ including but not limited to chieftaincy (others were under much stronger and organized empires and kingdoms) while others purely dwelt in a decentralized system like my little Jolas (laughs). This was in fact the global experience before the seventh centuries onwards to the emergency of the “State.”
These people (Jolas, Fulanis, Mandinkos, etc.) where different ‘nations’ in many ways. Primarily, the idea of what constitute a “‘nation’ is ambiguous and does not necessarily coincide with the idea of a society, a cultural area or a political autonomous state” as argued by Routlegde & Kegan, in “A Dictionary of Sociology”, Routlegde & Kegan publication Ltd, 1968 page.123. ‘Nation’ from the Latin derivation “nasci” means ‘to be born’ is understood to be multifaceted experiences that could come to reality base on cultural variation, political and psychological factors. Let us look at the beautiful examinations of the concept as elucidated by Andrew Heywood in ‘Global Politics’, page 158. He distinctively provided the following:
“Culturally: A nation is a group of people bound together by a common language, religion, history, and traditions, although all nations exhibit some degree of cultural heterogeneity.
Politically: A nation is a group of people who regard themselves as a ‘natural’ political community, usually expressed through the desire to establish or maintain sovereignty.
Psychologically: Anation is a group of people who are distinguished by a shared loyalty or affection, in the form of patriotism, although people who lack national pride may still nevertheless recognize that they ‘belong’ to the nation.”
From above references, we establish that culturally, prior to slave trade and colonialism as is evident even today, the multi-ethnicity groups in The Gambia shared (in distinguish ways.) common languages, religion (traditional religions) and so forth.
The Mandinkos of kabbu for instance, saw themselves as a ‘People”, say the “Mandinka Nation” so did the Wollofs of Jollof and the Serers. These respective tribes at the time equally had a common historical experience. What should not be debatable is the fact that these people, Wollofs, Mandinka, Banjako, Jolas among others did not see themselves as “One People’ but different ‘People’ living in “different settings” which will all later become one, under the name ‘The Gambia.’
They were equally not only under different ethnic/tribal Political authorities but also had the desire to uphold the “sovereignty” of their respective political entities in the form of communities, kingdoms or empires. Politically, they owe allegiance to the respective political authorities under their settings. What perhaps, may not have existed at a wide scale until recently was the psychological factor of the consideration of what could constitute a nation.
Evidently, however, the respective ethnic groupings owed loyalty to their tribes/ethnicities. The effects as we moved to establish a ‘Greater and Unified Nation-State’ is the refusal of some or the failure of some to understand the need to shift their loyalty from their former ‘tribal authorities” to the bigger ‘NATION.’ Consequently and in default tribalism established itself.
Note: It is important to note that “tribe” even during the colonial era was a term used for the identification of political groups with specific cultural embodiments in the same way as the term nation.
THE BIRTH OF THE NATION STATE.
We should acquire some historical perceptive regarding our road to State/nationhood. The narratives have always been as if we were naturally, “A People” or we were “One People” before the arrival of colonialism. That narrative is wrong.
The contact between the ingenious settlers in the territory later to be called “The Gambia” and the arrival of the Europeans about 1455 firstly by the Portuguese, then the French, English, and a host of few others will not only change the entire political organization of the “people” of the region and beyond but the effects will later see the unification of these ‘people(s)’ into different ‘colonial boundaries.” This unification and the strength of residence from ‘these people’ will later see them free from the yolk of colonialism.
That said, in March 1807, when the British House of Commons resolved to abolish the slave trade from 1st May 1807, we saw the inhuman trade enterprise replaced with what sympathetic historian described as “legitimate trade.” This trade which was very exploitative will see the tactics of the British through to colonizing “The Gambia.” To the people at the time, the abolition of slave trade was worth celebrating. They rejoiced over the fact that hundreds of thousands of lives or probably millions were to be saved in many generations to come from the stormy transoceanic waves.
However, before they realized and woke up to the reality of the plans of the British, they (the British) had long taken over the entire territory. In 1889, following the Anglo-French Convention, the two colonialists had, without the knowledge and consent of the people and with absolutely no consideration to the cultural or any other factors that may affect the ingenious residences, demarcated the land now called The Gambia and Senegal. Moreover, for the foolishness of the British at the time, whose interest was only on the bank of River Gambia, the small territory of The Gambia came to be what it is today.
This state or the boundaries of The Gambia came to be following the demarcation on 9th June 1891 when the French and British commissioners signed an agreement marking and agreeing on this present boundaries between The Gambia and Senegal.
In a sense, these two colonial invading nations considered the land of the indigenous as “terra nullius” (no man’s land). They never seemed to have considered them human in the first instance. It was not, therefore, the making of the indigenous that these colonial boundaries, “The Gambia” and “Senegal” or any African States came to be. It was purely a colonial architect.
Hence, none of the tribes or ethnicities in The Gambia at the time had any idea of the novel terrestrial political “re-organization” of the people and the effect it would have on their different tribal authorities in place.
Obviously, the tribal authority or “tribal nations” preceded the “nation-states.” The nation state which is viewed as a political association with established sovereign jurisdiction within defined territorial boundaries is largely argued to be a seventeen century concept. In principle, the state is usually considered as including institutions of government, the courts, the military, nationalized industries, social security system, and so forth that are responsible for the collective organization of communal life and are funded through tax. In this view, four features characterize a state: a defined territory, a permanent population, an effective government, and sovereignty. Our nation, therefore, came to be fully in 24th April 1970.
TRIBES IN A NATION? THAT!
In ‘A Dictionary of Sociology’ Routlegde & Kegan publication Ltd, 1968 tribe is described at pages 214 as a “socially cohesive unit associated with a territory, the members of which regard themselves as politically autonomous. Sometimes tribes are split into sections, especially where the territory is large in relation to the size of population. Very often a tribe will possess a distinctive dialect…” This insightful literally sketch of the tribe depicts that there are no more tribes in The Gambia and equally confirms that there were tribes in The Gambia. We must therefore begin to accurately describe and use the proper terms as a start. What we have in present day The Gambia are people who are enough with themselves as being common with shared language and culture and do consider themselves as distinct, culturally. That does not amount to a “tribe”. It could best be described as “ethnic group.”
It is relevant for such distinction to be established because it is dangerous (in account of the true meaning of the terms) to allege to have tribes in a nation. That nation state cannot last. It will be collapsed by the various autonomous tribes in it as is evident in the senseless Biafra-War in Nigeria, Rwanda and many States across the continent.
It was Napoleon I, who said in 1805 that; “There cannot be a firmly established political state unless there is a teaching body with definitely recognized principles. If the child is not taught from infancy that he ought to be a republican or a monarchist, a Catholic or a free-thinker, the state will not constitute a nation; it will rest on uncertain and shifting foundations and it will be constantly exposed to disorder and change.”
It is permissible to, at this stage make a tentative conclusion that there could not have being a better lasting guidance for nation builders other than the wit that Napoleon shared with the world.
The Gambia at present is a political unit that is exposed to disorder and unceasing changes fundamentally, because there is no firm foundation that satisfies the requirements of building a nation. Throughout the pre-colonial, the colonial era, and into the early post-colonial period most of those Gambians who governed or were part of those who governed the several fragments of our political structures did not have a sense of nationhood neither in their orientation nor did they manifest it in practice. The colonial master was equally not interested in building a “Gambian nation”!
Even though, politically, the “tribes” have lost their respective autonomy we have failed to build up a PEOPLE, a NATION. It follows, partly that people or decendants of these “former tribes” continue to struggle for their political dominance as a compensatory means for their lost autonomy.
In definite terms, we have failed to set goals, values, and certain principles as a means of binding the previous tribes” that existed in this territory, now The Gambia. Thus, in truth nothing is still Gambian, not values, not principles, not culture or anything else worth consideration or that which could sustain the well-being of this supposed nation.
In no way do I mean to demean our cultural diversity, but where such diversity is not understood as only being relevant for our interactions and were such diversity becomes an impeding block to the very being of the nation, it needs to be overcome by well-built national values, cultures and principles that would bind all its people. The political relevance of the “tribe” should be exterminated by all means necessary and the understanding of what it means to be a Gambian established.
One avenue of building a strong sense of understanding of nationhood and nationalism is through the education system and strong political socialization. Despondently, our education system is entangled between ‘Western miseducation’, and Arabic and European religious fanaticism and thus continues to largely loss purpose.
Our knowledge of the nation and its characters is fundamental for its very survival. It shapes our action, inaction and greatly influences the direction of our decisions in matters that affect all.
To be “loyal” to a so-called “tribe” while living in a nation state is the highest manifestation of “unpatriotism’ and indeed ironical. Therefore, we should particularly re-examine the role of our so-called imaginary tribes in our nations because our sentimental affiliation with them is a receipt for the destruction of this “nation”.
Those who are acquainted with the tribal campaign in the continent and the brutality it has yelled as a result would readily agree that one being a Manjako, Fula or Mandika is irrelevant for the progress of this country.
Toney F Mendy
3rd Year Student
Faculty of Law
University of The Gambia
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