Of recent, we have witnessed some brazen steps taken by some of our compatriots to sell tribalism in a somewhat subtle and disingenuous manner. An on-line paper published a list of names purportedly belonging to the Jola tribe, occupying high offices in The Gambia. I have also read an article on two other online papers referring to the Jawara-era as a “Mandinka Hegemony”. I am therefore, tempted, one more time, to add my voice to those calling for objectivity and reasonableness in discussing tribalism, especially in a small country like ours. Most importantly, however, I am more concerned with the authenticity of the claims being published. For I believe, it is only when facts about “Tribalism in The Gambia” are established, that we can find meaningful ways of addressing the menace.
Whilst reluctantly admitting the need to discuss tribalism, I am of the view that such discussions should be conducted within the framework of moderation, civility and with the genuine intention promoting harmony amongst the various tribes, given that The Gambia belongs to no one particular tribe, but to all tribes living therein collectively. I have always refused to be a party to campaigns aimed at inciting one tribe against the other, for at the end of the day, there is no winner in such an immoral campaign. We all become losers. Now to the things that drew my attention.
The List of “Jolas Hegemony Government”: – Number One on this list was Abdoulie Jammeh, the MD of GCCA [Gambia Civil Aviation Authority]. There is nothing bad in him belonging to the Jola tribe, but the indisputable FACT is this: he has never been one; not in any of his seven generations. Historically, the family comes from Badibu and resettled in Brikama where he went to school. They have always been Mandinka. There were four other names on that list who have no connection, whatsoever, with the Jola tribe. So the very point of departure on this tribally loaded article is absolutely false. However, how many of the readership know this fact? What effect has such a bogus claim had on the readership? It appears to me that this author just looked at surnames and conclusively and conveniently boxed them into a particular tribe. This is wrong, as nowadays, surnames generally do not define one’s tribe. Camara, for instance, is found in Manding, Serahule/Soninke, Fula/Fulani and Jola. So how can one bare-facedly categorise people into tribes by simply looking at their surnames? This is why I am calling for maturity in discussing sensitive issues like tribes and tribalism. This act, in my humble view, is more of incitements of all tribes against one particular tribe rather than finding ways to infuse ethnic and tribal harmony among the various tribes living in The Gambia. Do we also realise that by putting out such distasteful and inaccurate information for public consumption we are inadvertently alienating our innocent Jola brothers who have never been part of the madness in The Gambia? As a matter of fact, this may have a boomerang effect. The “Struggle for Gambia” or rather “Scramble for Gambia” needs numbers from all tribes because all tribes endure the hardship in our tiny country. If Jolas are made to feel that at the end of the day, the “Struggle” or “Scramble” is about all tribes but them, they would join Yahya’s camp as a matter of survival.
I have said in my previous articles that Yahya Jammeh only employs tribalism in so far as it works for the attainment of his personal agenda. This is what people should understand and thus refuse to be used as tools. In the pursuit of his personal agenda, President Jammeh has dealt with anybody, irrespective of their tribal affiliation, who, in the figment of his twisted imagination, is (or wants to become) an obstacle in the achievement of this personal agenda. We have heard sordid stories of him exterminating his own kith and kin. So what tribalism are we talking about! The so-called appointments of his tribesmen to senior positions is only to garner support from them in the pursuit of his personal goals. Is he getting that support? To some extent, yes. Nevertheless, majority of Gambian Jolas have become very much aware of Jammeh’s schemes and are no longer amused, although they dare not say it openly.
“Mandinka Hegemony”:- One article said before the Jola hegemony, it was the Mandinka hegemony. The mendacity of some people is truly baffling, to say the least. One disease that continues to eat away the Gambian society is lies. I have consistently said that Jammeh remains in power due to our hypocrisy and our propensity to spin lies. I am not a big fan of former President Jawara but truth be told, he led an all-inclusive government, to the point where some of his Mandinka folks felt disappointed considering the circumstances that led to him becoming the head of the then Protectorate People’s Party. His cabinet comprised all colours and shades even if some of those brought on board had very doubtful characters from the word go. We need to stop this mudslinging; it is not going to take us anywhere. The fact that one tribe could not get the presidency does not mean that the tribe that got it should be vilified at every opportunity. That makes this Wollof saying so apt “Lekko Chi Ndap Warultah buga chey kopu suuf, Ngirr buga kor hagn kenen”. At the time of the 1994 coup, the third most important person in the country, who was in fact the Number One man in the Civil Service, was not Mandinka. This most important non-Mandinka personality was in charge of the Gambia’s Civil Service. Sixty to Sixty-five percent of the Parastatals, at the time, were headed by qualified non-Mandinkas. Therefore, this distorted narrative of “Mandinka Hegemony” should be debunked and jettisoned to where it properly belongs – the trash can. This brings me to my last point on tribalism.
Tribalism pre-1994:– Was there tribalism in The Gambia pre-1994? My answer to this question is an emphatic NO! What we had in The Gambia until 1994 was rivalry and petty jealousies between the Mandinkas and their cousins – the Banjul Wollofs. I qualified this statement because elsewhere beyond Banjul and its suburbs, these two tribes have continued to live harmoniously. The Fula, Serahules, Akus, Jolas, Manjagos and the Serers were never involved. The rivalry and the petty jealousies between these two tribes stemmed from the 1950s and it is normal that in a not-so-much economically endowed country like ours, usually the two most influential tribes compete for economic and political power resulting in petty jealousies and rivalries. When all is said and done, there is a set of people from both tribes that is inseparable: a Wollof woman and her Mandinka man. God being so good, He made sure there is no other force that can separate these two people. In reality, therefore, there was no tribalism in the Gambia before 1994. We all have that affinity with our tribes. I am proud to be Manding and I have no problem seeing a Fula or Serahule who is proud of their origin. The point of conflict is usually when one tribe begins to entertain the bogus idea of superiority to all others and therefore look low upon them. The bitter truth, however, is this: there is no Mandinka/Fula/Wollof/Serahule/Jola/Manjago/Serer/Aku republic. The geographical territory called The Gambia belongs to all of us equally. Therefore, our discussions should be tailored towards the need to reinforce respect for each other’s tribe; encourage harmony among the tribes and extol the virtues of each tribe, which others can emulate. In my opinion, the Mandinkas and the Banjul Wollofs should focus on their areas of commonality and use that to foster harmony between them. I am Manding, I have my Wollof friends from childhood who have never had any problems with my ethnic identity, and they know I do not joke with my Mandinka ethnicity. On my part, I have never had any problems with them being Wollof. My Wollof friends speak Mandinka very well and I speak Wollof fluently, although not like “Ollof Njie” from Walo. Over the years, my friendship with this group has blossomed to the point that we are now a family.
In concluding my thoughts on the above subject, I would like to state the following:
We should refused to lose our heads because of one man’s abuse of his privileges. Let us promote tribal harmony for that is the only way we can restore The Gambia of yester-years.
Those who are clueless and have nothing to offer their people resort to tribalism and tribal bigotry. We elect our political leaders to represent us and improve our lot, not to use tribalism as a red herring to divert our attention from the realities of life in The Gambia. Educated people cannot be blowing tribal trumpets at a time our country is looking for salvation. Never in History has the promotion of tribalism led to the salvation of any country. So it must be discouraged at all cost.
Those whose livelihoods depend on writing and publishing stories must understand that they have a responsibility towards society. They should be using their pens and platforms to promote public good and not the opposite. Remember, you cannot erase what has already been written in this digital age, and not only shall we be judged by history but society shall hold us accountable for our contributions in turning our peace into pieces. When war starts, no one may be immuned to the consequences.