Thank you very much for your invitation to a critical dialogue. In your article titled The Godfathers: Fabakary Tombong Jatta et al. and published in Kairo News, you asserted that I am one of the Gambian scholars and academics who remains “… mute on the system we are fighting to disable; some are even working behind the scene to strengthen the dictator”. In addition to other Gambian scholars you mentioned, you also insinuated that I am one of those “… authors and social thinkers who are thinking Africa-wide whilst avoiding anything remotely Gambian” possibly because we “fear the consequences”.
Normally I will not bother to respond because my conscience is clean and I am working day and night, every day, towards building a better Gambia, a Gambia my children will be proud to call home. However this is a theme consistently raised in Gambian public and online spaces now reaching a crescendo and therefore requires exposition for the sake of accountability; as you also personally called me out, it is important to give an account of myself.
The heuristics of nation building are complex and multifaceted and the articulation of the Gambian “struggle” is even more complicated. For some, the totality of The Gambian “struggle” is the removal of President Jammeh and there are many nuanced positions before and after this in the political continuum. The varying positions require sober dialogue, devoid of vitriolic personal attacks. My Gambian “struggle” is to see a Gambia where there is adequate food, clothing, shelter and the opportunity for the pursuit of happiness. A Gambia where the ordinary people are the custodians of a free and democratic society underpinned by the principles of social justice. I have no desire to colonise this space or occupy it from a dogmatic position; it is a statement of my starting position and an invitation to dialogue.
The structured nature of oppression
Having clearly stated my position on the “struggle”, it is also cardinal to clarify my situatedness and positionality. My thinking is informed by Thompson’s PCS model (2003) conceptualising oppression, and by extension underdevelopment and poverty as existing at three interconnected levels: personal, cultural and structural. The personal is the direct discriminations we experience at the personal level; the cultural becomes the normality that shrouds our local and communal construction of reality and the structural can be understood to be the power structures that legislate and enforce normality. Althuser (1971) further exposes this as hardcore and softcore violence of the state. The softcore is the media, organized religion and society and the hardcore is the violence of the state – administration, army and judiciary.
Based on this framework, to attempt to dismantle oppression, poverty or underdevelopment at only one of three levels would not really achieve the desired outcomes; there must be a sustained and coordinated attack at the micro, messo and macro levels to achieve sustained change. This also assumes that there is a clear and strategic plan of action. For example to postulate the totality of the struggle as the removal of President Jammeh, in my opinion, will not lead to every Gambian having adequate food, clothing, shelter and the ability to engage in the pursuit of happiness in a democratic state underpinned by social justice. My view is that we must build the agency of the ordinary Gambian to be best placed to be the custodians of their own development and advancement. This calls for sustained capacity building at the personal and cultural levels; which should lead to structural changes. This might be sticking a plaster on a broken bone or it might just be the spark we need for the butterfly effect to take shape.
In relation to my strategic response, there are a myriad of possibilities including forming a political party, armed insurrection, community development approaches, setting up online radios, writing regular articles for online papers, working within the system against the system in The Gambia and a host of other possibilities. My strategic response is determined by the time and resources at hand as well as how best to achieve my strategic outcomes. My decision on the scale and nature of my engagement is greatly influenced by the fact that I do not believe in violence as an instrument of change and that the people affected are best placed to find sustainable solutions to the problems they face.
My response – disruptive pedagogy and pedagogies of hope
The great work that all the positive role models you mentioned or called out do is commendable; I have had the opportunity to see most of them at close quarters as well as the great work those in the lion’s den are doing in The Gambia is truly amazing, most times at great personal cost. The little that I do complements the great strides they are taking every day. I have no qualms about engaging in the public space and where this is necessary I have done this though symposia, seminars and other forma l and informal spaces I generated both within and outside The Gambia; I will avoid the hubristic tendency to list them for the sake of brownie points.
My approach has been influenced by a desire to promote a nonviolent disruptive pedagogy to challenge the construction of normality within given spaces young people and marginalised communities occupy in The Gambia. My praxis is informed by a desire to generate pedagogies of hope. This is a clear focus to provoke consciousness, in generating a new worldview, and support action, by disadvantaged groups to grow sustainable solutions. This has led us to set up Global Hands (www.global-hands.co.uk<http://www.global-hands.co.uk) which has over 50% of its activities focused in The Gambia. Our work in this area focuses on publishing counter orthodoxy perspectives; international development with a focus on the Manduar Development Hub and international study visits; education and public engagement with a focus on provoking consciousness and supporting action; and chapters which take a grassroots approach to development. Again, I refuse to quantify what we have
done in such a short time with Global Hands, I am sure you can easily find out with your investigative skills :).
No Suntou, death does not scare us but we have to seriously think about the most strategic and tactical way of achieving our objectives and at this moment, the work I am doing with Global Hands in The Gambia is the most effective way I can do this.
Althusser, L. (1971) “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”. In: Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays. (ed.) Althusser, L., New York: Monthly Review Press.
Thompson, N. (2003) Promoting Equality, Challenging Discrimination and oppression. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.