The Gambia, it is called. A name that stunned the place of its birth and the global community– a reference point, exemplary and rich in credentials. A small nation with abundance of great minds, awesome beings credited with attributes of openness to visitors, tolerance and hospitability. Within its environs, prevailed coexistence and respect for diversity amongst the multiple groups from varying ethnic extractions. Despite having a mismatch in language and culture due to historical circumstances which shaped her people’s experiences influencing their way of lives in matters pertinent to governance, social and economic ventures, they endeavored to reconcile their differences with a firmer interest projected towards what they had in common, as men and women who pioneered the struggle for nationhood which introduced republicanism and selfhood, a people with corresponding vision of creating a state that will be built on the robust principle and foundation of owing allegiance to a republican constitution and not any ethnic or political convergence. This was the strength of the long-survived bound that paved the possibilities of a long-observed peace, stability, socio-cultural compromises through intermarriages, joking relationships and festivals in honor of shared historical encounters and heritages. A legacy and customary way of living that earned the founding fathers, their ancestors and the republic a great deal of respect and recognition at the international sphere. It had privileged the Gambia an avenue to prove the strength and beauty in diversity through unionism. This was the Gambia that was passed on to us by a generation who had the conviction that their sacrifices is worth the time and trials that tried stumbling them in their effort to create a country in which tolerance would be uphold and cherished as the threads binding the various fabrics of society together; the very one that tied the Manjago to the Wollof as if they were from the same cultural decent, the one that merged the Fula with the Mandingo intricately that trust emerged with intermarriage solidifying the alliance, the same one that made the Aku, Jola , Sarahuli and the Serer alike as men and women of a common destiny with a unified voice and correlating interests that is selfless and national.
Unanticipated, the wind changed its trajectory, the large, tolerant and compromising hearts narrowed, the dwellings got tighter, the promises to the ancestors became vulnerable changing the dynamics disproportionately. The Gambia, once renowned for her diversity accommodating-attitude was seen leaving her course towards polarization fueled by political divergences in views and militancy that brought about the unthinkable, the new movie, astonishingly dumfounding referred to as ethnocentrism. This became a dagger that ripped the robes tying the Gambian society together. Contempt found refuge in a country then described as the cradle of love, the smiling coast of West Africa. Political parties who should have been the vehicles of interest articulation rallying behind the masses irrespective of their ethnic composition and make the voices of the governed audible to the government to inform policy misrepresented their role together with their followers. Gambians started embracing political parties not on the basis of the fundamental and genuine rationale of “issue base politics” which is committed to providing solutions to the downright daring realities that undermine the progress of society in the prospects of peaceful coexistence, social wellbeing, economic growth and development, but yanked on the lame and pointless excuse of according solidarity to parties on ethnocentric grounds. Not only did this phenomenon undermine our democracy by weakening our political culture, but to a more advanced phase, impaired our reputability, pride and uniqueness of being the smallest country within the sub-region that was idolized and use as a model to preach with optimism and zeal, the attainable prospects of peace in more ethnically and religiously diverse countries who rip the bitter fruits of these conflict- generating discourses as did Nigeria in the late 1970s and Rwanda in the mid 1990s.
Interestingly, this unpleasant historical precedence received an insignificant cautionary attention from those citizens involved in ethnic contestations and violence. Some have chosen to become an enemy of their own selves by entertaining unjustified complexities base on difference in outlook regarding who shouldlead us to the glorious land. This had spread to affect relationships that were once smooth in socio-cultural and even political terms. It had made the Mandingo to regard the Fula a non-national who sailed from the north to the Gambia, likewise the Fulani regarding the Mandingo as nothing more than a non-citizen who travelled from the small lands of Kangaba in Mali into the Senegambian region and Gambia to be precise. These tendencies which are ethnically motivated, cuts across almost each and every ethnic group that resides in this country; a happening that contravenes the societal constructions and virtues that our forefathers had instilled in us as good sons and daughters of this beloved nation.
It is about time that we perfect the irregularities. It is about time that we reintroduce the old order, the peaceful one that was notable for its unifying, tolerating, accommodating and binding abilities. The one that accompanied the founders of this great land through their trials to establish statehood that was to be administered on the hallmark of justice, equality, tolerance on ethnic, religious and political differences and freedom for all. Let us renew our spirit towards the course of building a Gambia that will use heterogeneity as an advantage to better the lives of her citizens and commit ourselves to what we share which is our rich political history, our national constitution that treat all sundry as equals vis-à-vis its enshrinements, and our national anthem which echoes the enticing and moving rhythm of our sameness as children of diverse people whose actions are guided by justice towards the common good. Let us pledge our firm allegiance and renew our promises in our efforts to restore positive peace that will crush every element of structural violence that ethnic sentimentalism had generated and pray to the good lord to keep us clinging onto the right and yielding course. To the Gambia ever true.
Kara (Ndolozi) Jallow,
Prospective Political scientist.