Tribalism: Constitutional Constipation

The flag is meant to unite Gambians/Gambia Dk Image!


By Johnson

My Marxist/Leninist/Maoist Comrades cum Friends and I had been locked in disagreement. No matter how I marshalled my arguments I could not persuade him that Pan-Africanism was an African Personality to the World Working Class Movement.

Indeed within Pan-Africanism we faced possible unnecessary “ruptures” between so called “Nkrumahists”; “Garveyists; or “Negritudists” “Authenticitists” “Nasserites”; “Sankaraists” and so on with all the “isms” of the era.

How had we formed such radically different opinions and attitudes when the information available to all of us at the same time was the same? My friends and I grew up together for having marched in the same Parade at McCarthy Square on Coronation Day (June 1953). We militated the same if not similar clubs and movements during our school and youthful days. After University some of us continued to be Atheist Marxists and others including myself became a Deist Marxists.

Our worldviews are shared by others and are widely reflected in the literature, folklore, music, language and other aspects of our situational existence. As social beings we look for labels to easily describing our world views with an “ism”: “Capitalism”; “Socialism”;

“Revisionism”; “Fatalism” “Relativism”; “Ethnocentrism”; “Tribalism” and the suffix list of “isms” neatly stretches capturing and indicating our doctrines, body principles and practices. Suffice it to note that simple opinions grow up to build and strengthen attitudes.

These wonderful descriptive “isms” encapsulate our social, spiritual and psychological realities and package them for easy marketing and sharing with others!

Nationalism and the Rights of Minorities had always been thorny in all countries: USA, Europe (including ex USSR), Asia, Australia above all in Africa.

Paradoxically Chapter 60 of Ancient Manding Empire Constitutional Charter as Declared by Balla Fasekay and Sealed by Soundiata Keita had since 1230 addressed tribal issues as clearly as is being addressed by The UN Charter! Yet we today are faced still with this same gangrene without recourse for our History (eg: Cap 60 Manding Sigi-kang0.

Struggles for power in Africa could become extremely dangerous given the ethnocentric and other chauvinistic affinities linked to the dynamics that cut across inherited colonial border boundaries. Many African elites tend to use their roots and strengths from such tribal, religious and narrow-minded juxtapositions to gain social power assets for ultimate economic gains at all costs.  Indeed African Civil Wars are characterized and flamed by endemic cocktail of: “Tribe, Religion, History, National Flags and Anthems”.

I am not old enough to have seen and known it all but I have lived older and longer than the life expectancy of an average African! All Thanks To GOD unto Him All Decisions.

Post colonial Africa has evidences of conjoint struggles for vengeance by ethnic groups that become igniting ramification of bloody keg powder despite our Laic Constitutions!

The most erroneous of thoughts is to equate and judge a human being by the surname:

One basic question for all us: “Which Gambian can claim to have consistently belonged to the same tribe over the past three generations of ascendance? Allow me to proposes the following methodology in answer to this question:

1) List the surnames of one’s Father and Mother;

2) List the surnames of each of their Father and Mother;

3) List the surnames of their respective Grand fathers and mothers, continue the process

We will find out that each and all Gambians would have been Wollof, Peul, Manjago, Jola, Mandingo, Serrer, Bainounka, Sarahuleh, Koniagi, Mossi,  Ba-Kongo…Shona…Zulu

Indeed the most illustrious example is given by The Mouride Saint Cleric Sheik Ahmadu Bamba Mbacke whose Blood Half Brother and Companion was Mam Ibra Fatty Mbacke better known as Maam Cherno Mbacke (not to be confounded with Talibe Sheik Ibra Faal).

In this regard let us listen to the preamble of Sheik Ahmadu Bamba in his Book Massalik Al-Jinan in which The Cheikh wrote: “Do not let my condition of a black-man (Tribe) mislead you about the virtue of this work….skin colour (Tribe) cannot be the cause of stupidity”.

I was going through my earlier writings when I saw a Paper I prepared for the 1983 Second Manding Conference to have been conjointly held by The Dakar Leopold Sedar Senghore Foundation and then Gambia Oral History and Antiquities Division (OHAD).

My Presentation was entitled: “Reflections and Equations of Naancho- Guelewar-Cheddo Concepts of a Common Geo-Politico-Administrative Zone.

In the above 1983 presentation, I warned against dogmatic identification of tribes by family surnames noting that “Njie” Equates “Keita” Equating to “Jatta” whilst Kijera equals to “Mahanera” in Sarahulleh and “Kajahey’ in Jahanka. The symbiosis brewery of family house-names go on….

Going further in the paper noted that “there exists a genuine table of equating family surnames through which corresponding socio-cultural equations and diverse dimensions could be derived especially when we look into the Sanangu/Sanawyaa/Kaal systems by which seemingly unrelated populations are bound by blood, creed and culture in the region. Thus the Eastern Tilibonka of Mali is related to Badibounka; the latter to the Jarra; the latter to the Niominka Serrer, the latter to Jolla; the latter to the Peul; the latter to the Gabunka; the latter to the Kombonka what a vicious cycle of blood creed relationships!


Has it ever occurred to us that a certain prominent Jawara said to be a Mondingo has a Jola maternal link in the person of Lady Inna Sambou)?


Has it occurred to us that a “Jawara” can be Mandingo, Jahanka or a Sarahulleh, that “Sagnia/Sanyang’ could be a Jola and/or Mandingo depending; that a “Jatta” could be a Mandingo or Jola; that a “Saidy” could be Mandingo, Jola, Peul: Saidy-Bah, Saidy-Khan, Saidy- Liegh, Saidy Hydara.


Likewise a Fatty could be Mandingo Kabunka Animist “Maanna” or even a Fatty-Hydara of Holy Arabian Clergy by extension; depending on prevailing circumstances!

What two extremes “Fatty Manna to Fatty Hydara”


As proven above no single African has consistently belonged to the same tribe in three generations of one’s Paternal and Maternal Family Tree.


The Origin of The Family, Private Property and The State depicts the following basic ladder of Universal Human Social History:

–          The Primitive Horde

–          The Family

–          The Clan (characterized by Military Democracy)

–           The Tribe

–           With the arrival of The State with all its variances, stages, modes of production and socio-economic formations leading to Feudalism, Kingdom, Empire.……..

Going by the above we soon find that West Africa; indeed the whole of Africa by and large had gone beyound the tribe stages of the human ladder and had leaped into the the Empire and Kingdom Stages well before contacts with Europe; for example; Ghana Empire (III – XI Centuries), Tekrur (XII-XIII Centuries) Manding Empire (XIII-XVI) including Songhai..; and the Jollof Kingdoms (XVII-IX), the Fula Theocratic Federations (1727)…..


It is therefore unscientific, historical mendacity and humanly criminal to want us revert to tribalism after leaping through this phase centuries ago!


Whichever way: At Independence Our Senior Citizens “Strived, Worked, Prayed and Pledged Our Firm Allegiances” against Ethnocentric Constitutional Constipation as evidenced in our National Hymn; with our multi-colored Flag to represent our common aspirations as a People.


The Biological and Religious Family Should and Must Give Way To, Ideological and Political Families.



  1. Thanks Muhammed. Quite a helpful stuff to me and hope it will serve the same help to many Gambians alike, wanting some enlightenment with regards to the discourse on tribalism.

  2. Certainly some good enlightenment & responsible, to defuse societal tensions & subsequent carnage which tribalism breeds if not checked; for strife is never in anyone’s favours….

    It’s universally accepted in many parts of the world a married lady belongs to husband’s family; some retain their original surnames, some change to the husband’s; children too, blessed in the marriage, are given the patrilineal surname, so that’s their tribal inclinations the society takes, into generations despite the mothers from other tribes… However this could be different from other places pending on the communities & regions world over; hence I’m yet to observe any myself but have heard of places where polyandry is said to be acceptable where a woman could rotate between two/more men legally, just like polygamy in the Gambia…

    In Gambia in some communities, a sister & brother from the same parents can have different surnames, e.g. in Saaba village, Badibu, Singateh could be for males & Jamba/jambang for females, whilst other communities have Singateh for both male & female. & there are male jambangs too in other places…

    However, to serve the truth for our communal discuss for better understanding, there’s currently some bit of tribalism being practiced & fanned by none other than the murderous kanilai devil jammeh… There are some of his tribesmen & women on his remunerations, whilst some indulge in the act for sake of it, who openly engage in it to antagonise the Mandingo in particular, based on evil yaya’s own pronouncements….

    My own experience at Kanfengda village, the kanilai junction in Foni, from my last trip to Gambia was as direct result of tribalism…. Majority of the culprits engaged in it are the Senegalese/Cassamance jolas but some are Gambians; & it’s practiced countrywide, not just in Foni; some make a habit of frequenting public offices tormenting & psychologically torturing the non-jola workers…. The person I encountered, greeted me deliberately in jola as provocation in the presence of the soldiers who were searching through our vehicle in attempt to bully & scare me into subjugation…. I responded in Mandingo that I’m not conversant in jola, he asked why am I in Foni if I can’t speak jola, I too responded in same provocative tone meant both for him & the soldiers inclusive, by saying ‘even by looking at my person, everybody including himself, who sees me will know I don’t live in Foni’, I expected some reaction from the soldiers but it was one of the soldiers themselves who pulled me aside, appealed to me not to response to his nonsense…. In short it’s our collective responsibility to ensure the issue is maturely dealt with not to effect into the catastrophic inferno it degenerates into, in other unfortunate communities. God helps & bless the collective endeavours to salvage Gambia; Ameen.