By Janko Camara
In the past few days, the name “Terri-Kaffor” has come to denote all things negative, thanks to a deliberate vilification campaign started by of one of the online radios. Suddenly “Terri-Kaffor” has been “re-branded” to us as the originator of every evil that ever took place on The Gambian soil during the First Republic. I have no affiliation whatsoever with the Terri-Kaffor that we used to know and hear about in the First Republic. Therefore, my reference to the group is just tangential to the underlying subject matter which may not be visible to all. My intervention is based on my believe that what we see and hear about Terri-Kaffor is just a façade beneath which is a sinister move by a selected few to sow anti-Mandinka feeling amongst the population and also to project the entire Manding-speaking Gambia as evil and the cause of Gambia’s current predicament. This is why I feel highly obliged to address the subject matter and drive home the truth despite my very busy schedule. If this monumental lie is left unchallenged, the consequences can be very dangerous for two reasons:
1. It will ultimately result in tribal hatred (mobilizing all other tribes against one tribe – the Mandingo Tribe) since people with less mental sophistication might be swayed into believing this falsehood and thus start nurturing hatred for this tribe.
2. Those who were born post 1994 might grow up with the fallacious notion that “Terri-Kaffor” was a negative concept and anybody associated with it was evil.
In view of the above, therefore, I have decided to challenge the wholesale lies being peddled around. Let me also say that the main propagator of this lie, in my opinion, is just a political pawn used by his bigger masters in a game of Political Chess that he has no clue about. So for his own sake too, I write this piece to emancipate him mentally from the obvious bondage he appears to be held in. As the late Reggae star, Robert Nester Marley, put it, we need to emancipate ourselves from “mental slavery” for it is only then shall we achieve The Gambia that most of us yearn for – a truly democratic Gambia where all are given their due and where the Rule of Law remains supreme.
So to begin, if Terri-Kaffor is not what it has been portrayed to be, what then is “Terri-Kaffor”? Etymologically, the term Terri-Kaffor” is a Mandinka Phrase comprising two words – “Terri” and “Kaffor”. “Terri” is a derivative of the Mandinka word “Teeroo” which means “Friend” in English Language. “Kaffor” can loosely mean Group or Association. Therefore, the compound word “Terri-Kaffor” means a Group or Association of friends. So, if a group of friends adopt a name e.g. Terri-Kaffor, or Allen Street Vous, or Vietnam Border Boys, what is wrong with that? What is in a name? what is all this hullabaloo? Why all this Razzmatazz?
In Banjul of yester-years, we had “Terri-Kaffor”, just like we had the Allen Street Vous (comprising a group of friends). Most of the people lampooning the Terri-Kaffor today do not even have a scintilla of knowledge about the group. Some might have been very small boys working on some outlandish farm in Niamina and were “not hammered by social life” at the time, borrowing the words of a long-time colleague in the academia. Therefore, their castigation of the Terri-Kaffor and literary taking it to denote the entire Manding-speaking Gambia is anchored on ignorance and, as I said earlier, the fact that they are being used as pawns in a political game that they clearly have no clue about. This is Politics ala African. The truth about Terri-Kaffor (in the First Republic) was that it composed of people from different tribes, and, in some cases, different political ideologies who were united by only one factor – their provincial origin and, by extension, their social background. So, whilst the name “Terri-Kaffor” is a Mandinka name, the group’s membership transcends tribe and tribal affiliations. Therefore, Terri-Kaffor is not a proxy for “Mandinka tribalism”, as is being currently portrayed by some outlandish mimic journalist. The most prominent member of this group, by virtue of his position in the then Jawara Administration, was Bakary Bunja Darbo. For those who were of the ripe age with political maturity and intellectual sophistication (not small boys who could barely read or write at the time), and also if we are to be honest with ourselves, Bakary Bunja Darbo was one of the most respected and respectable ministers in the Jawara regime, at the time, due to his demonstrated intellect, competence and integrity. Hassan Bubacarr Jallow, the then Justice Minister, was another icon in the Jawara Administration. To some degree, these two gentlemen, among others, added a bit of colour, character, class and integrity to the Jawara Administration. Of course, this is not to say they were perfect. However, in relative terms, these were people with demonstrated integrity and the common people had so much confidence in and respect for them. This, in fact, was the main reason why “Demba Darbo” or “Dumbuto Jalango” was re-called by the Military Junta to serve as their first Finance Minister. His acceptance of this offer was his undoing. Obviously, this was a serious error of judgment on his part which, given the benefit of hindsight, he should not have accepted. People can attempt to re-write history but the truth shall always prevail in the end. I am not holding brief for Bakary Darbo, certainly he is capable of defending himself. I am just saying it as I saw it happened. I just brought this point to demonstrate that apart from the Terri-Kaffor being a social and “cross-tribal” group, it also has produced civil servants that were outstanding.
Given the above, the current debate on Terri-Kaffor appears to have been started by people who are bent on advancing their sinister agenda of promoting tribal discord by plaing one tribe against the other so that in the ensuing confusion, they can pursue and drive home their bigger and most important agenda. They are full of hatred and usually they are the first to cry foul always nagging against “unfair” treatment. I have said this in an earlier article and I will repeat it here: 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 today’s Gambia. Educated people cannot be blowing tribal trumpets at a time when 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. It appears, however, that this warning is not sinking in some people. Therefore, without mincing words, let me blatantly say that the case of Mandinkas in The Gambia is a case of “Jal mu Yallah Jal….”. We had better accepted reality and move on. Likewise, Mandinkas must also not think that they alone own Gambia and can salvage the country without working with the others. We all need each other. The singer Michael Bolton has said it all in his song “Lean on Me”. In my opinion, we all deserve a dignified life and if this is really true in everyone else, we do not need to be told that only unity can lead to the achievement of such a noble objective.
Without attempting to offend anyone, I dare say maybe we need to dig a little into our recent past history to remind ourselves so that the fickle-minded ones among us do not get swayed by the lies being currently peddled around. I would like those waging war against the Minding tribe, using Terri-Kaffor as a proxy, to answer the following questions for me:
1. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that brought down the National Trading Company (NTC) to its knees, being the head at the time?
2. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that brought down The Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GMPB) to its knees, being the head at the time?
3. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that brought down The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (GCDB), being the head at the time? Who were the principal loan defaulters of the moribund bank?
4. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that brought down The Gambia Utilities Corporation (GUC) to its knees, being the head at the time?
5. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that brought down The Gambia Airways to its knees, being the head at the time?
6. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that brought down The Gambia Telecommunications Company (Gamtel) to its knees, being the head at the time, even though this one happened in the Jammeh era? Ask the long-serving Gamtel staff.
7. The 1987/88 Customs saga which uncovered monumental levels of corruption within the institution, was it the Terri-Kaffor members that headed the Customs at the time; and how many of those implicated were Terri-Kaffor members or from the Mandingo tribe?
8. Was it the Terri-Kaffor members that were responsible for the then chronic underperformance of the Gambia Post Office (GPO), being the head at the time?
The list goes on and on. You see, we must stop the joke and be honest for once. Almost all these institutions were set up by the Jawara Administration after independence to cater for the wellbeing of the population. These were important and relevant institutions that a nascent nation, like The Gambia, needed at the time but which were all destroyed due to either the incompetence or lack of integrity (or both) of their leaderships. So looking back at history, who were truly responsible for the corruption which eventually gave a ready justification and platform for the Military takeover by armed bandits parading themselves as “Soldiers with a Difference”, even though they proved to be not any better. Given all of the above, who, therefore in their right minds and without biased sentiments, would know all these yet continue to heap The Gambia’s woes on the Manding-speaking tribe of The Gambia? I was born and raised in the Greater Banjul Area (call it Urban Gambia, if you like) and if I should have any element of bias, it should be in favour of those born in so-called Urban Gambia. However, the truth is: almost 100% of all those who led failed institutions in the Jawara era were people considered to have come from Urban Gambia and had the “social and intellectual sophistication” to head those institutions. They turn out to be massive failures. Your so-called “provincial born”, in our experience as a country, were the “Yaaraam” who feared, if not God, but their family name and would not do anything to soil it. Of course, Yahya Jammeh spoiled all of that for them too.
I will not end this piece without sending out my usual message to our wannabe or mimic “journalist” and other media practitioners: we have had enough of the character assassination and the totally irresponsible and reprehensible manner of conducting journalism, anchored on the promotion of tribalism. Enough of the tribal vilifications and provocations. DEFA DOI!!! In the recent past, people have been arrested in The Gambia whilst some were dismissed from their jobs mainly due to the irresponsible comportment of some outlandish and a rather comical character parading themselves as journalist. Freedom of Speech is not absolute. In fact, Freedom itself is not absolute but relative to the freedom of others. Therefore, 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 the public good and not the opposite. Remember, you cannot erase what has already been written in this digital age, and not only shall you be judged by history but society shall hold you accountable for your contributions in turning our peace into pieces. When war starts, no one is immuned to the consequences. We must remember that the media played a key, albeit dastardly, role in the Rwandan genocide and that was why some individual members of the media had to account for their roles. No sane, DECENT and well-raised Gambian, whether journalist or not, should promote tribalism or allow themselves to be used for the castigation of other tribes. LU OPA TUURU!!!, goes the Wollof saying. With these, I humbly move the motion to hang my pen.