By Foday Samateh
This regards your visit to Jali and related matters. For starters, I’ve long since decided never to address you by the office you occupy. And all Gambians should renounce glorifying the abomination of calling you president. You don’t have the dignity or the character for such a distinguished honor. Instead, you should only be called what you truly are: a despot or other variant of such ignoble meaning.
The visit evoked a multiplicity of reactions, none of which was heartening. The comparison that comes to mind is a sacrilegious trampling on a blessed ground, and the only remedy is to exorcise the place to restore its sanctity. You came to make nice after foul-mouthing Kiang for two decades. By the way, the lucre you bought as inducement for your peace-offering makes no difference to us. We are neither grateful nor rueful for accepting it. We’ve paid our taxes for twenty years to your regime and never got back so much as a trash can. So, however you look at it, it’s (a mere fraction of) our money you brought back. In America, they call it TAX REFUND. And we demand the restitution of the rest.
About your dubious promises. You want us to give you a piece of land to build a house for yourself, and in exchange you will bring running water and electricity to the village. You went further to state that this house would not be just any ordinary house, but your second home in the country; and you would transform the village into the second Kanilai. To all that I say: Amen. The appalling results of your Vision 2020 and its stepchild dubbed Vision 2016 show that your promises amount to Falstaff’s definition of a word as only a breath of air.
Far more troubling than your empty promises are your state of mind and sense of entitlement. Why should we give you any parcel of land in return for anything? Do you need to be told that providing basic services like running water and electricity is not a favor but a responsibility government owes to citizens? Why do you want more land after all the lands you’ve grabbed around the country? To ask for something in exchange for government services is extortion, a classic case of abuse of office. And who told you that Kanilai is the model of our aspiration? Having said all that, you must be surprised to know that I’m not the least opposed to you building your second home in Jali. But I’m obliged to give you fair warning as to my motives — it will end up being my estate at no cost to my pocket. After twenty years of seizing things you have no business possessing, you shouldn’t have any difficulty deciphering what I’m implying. You can imagine my giddy glee when I’m moving in.
The question you must be asked is why would you even pay lip-service to wanting to have a home in Jali at all? Didn’t you once again cast aspersion on the Mandinkas only a few days prior to your visit that you rather employ five Wolofs or four Fulas than one Mandinka? And with no irony lost on you, you drove into Jali, the heartland of the Mandinkas, grinning and telling us that you want to be one of us? What is your obsession with the Mandinkas? Do you hate yourself for not being a Mandinka? I see no reason why you should. I would have been just as perfectly happy to be a Jola or any other tribe. Being a Mandinka does not make me feel superior to anyone else; and had I been any other tribe I wouldn’t have felt inferior to anyone else. I don’t feel anymore Gambian as a Mandinka and I wouldn’t have felt any less Gambian if I weren’t. But, as for you, there’s no other explanation for your animosity toward the Mandinkas except your incurable inferiority complex.
Are there Mandinkas who don’t like you as the head of state? Yes, and that’s their constitutional and democratic right as it is the case for citizens of other tribes. Are there some Mandinkas who don’t like you as a head of state because you are not a Mandinka? Sadly, yes. But so is true for some in every other tribe. Some Fulas don’t like you because you are not a Fula. Some Wolofs don’t like you because you are not a Wolof. Some Serehules don’t like you because you are not a Serehule, etc. If you weren’t a Jola, some Jolas wouldn’t like you for not being a Jola. Had you been any other tribe, some in that tribe wouldn’t still like you for any number of justified or unjustified reasons, just like some Jolas don’t like you in spite of you being a Jola. And of course, some Jolas support you for no other reason than you are a Jola.
In your endless attempt to cast the Mandinkas as the tribalist in The Gambia, you conveniently ignore the political reality that prevailed under Jawara. Who had been the main opposition leader for most of Jawara’s rule? A Mandinka. The majority of people who ran against Jawara were from which tribe? The Mandinkas. The majority of the opposition support came from which tribe? The Mandinkas. Most of the opposition members of the Parliament were from which tribe? The Mandinkas. How was that situation different from yours? And needless to say, Jawara was a Mandinka opposed the most by the Mandinkas for every imaginable reason from the serious to the ridiculous. For example, it wasn’t uncommon to hear from certain supporters of the former main opposition NCP that Jawara shouldn’t be president because he came from a lineage of cobblers. They argued that Sheriff Dibba was the rightful person to rule the country thanks to his pedigree for descending from chiefs. Had you been a Mandinka, the nature of your opposition wouldn’t have been different to any significant degree. And when another Mandinka comes to power it will be more or less the same.
On the flip side, if the Mandinkas hate you, and not just some as the case is with every other tribe, how could you claim to have won four consecutive elections? Given the spread of the population, how could you conceivably win over fifty percent of the ballot in The Gambia without votes of Mandinkas. And what about all those many constituencies that are not only majority but overwhelmingly Mandinka you have won election after election according to the official counts? Have you been winning them fair and square or have you been rigging the results? Either the Mandinkas have been voting for you, which makes your tribalist spewing “motiveless malignity” or you have been stealing the elections, which makes your claim on power illegitimate.
I’m sure you receive reports and whispers of tribalist remarks some Mandinkas say about you. Those remarks must be cutting and scurrilous, and I add my voice to anyone’s in condemning them in the strongest terms. Without the slightest desire whatsoever to make excuses for them, it is also true that every tribe in The Gambia reserves certain demeaning and unfair stereotypes for other tribes. Notwithstanding the petty prejudice found among people everywhere since time immemorial, we’ve succeeded in co-existing peacefully to a level most other nations will find enviable. And lest you forget, look around you. Who have been your biggest political advocates, boosters and surrogates? So grow up for once and stop stooping to the depth of narrow-mindedness. Your anti-Mandinka screeds and tirades have become too stale and tired. They have no purchase on anyone anymore except your incorrigible and shapeshifting apologists.