Navigating The Obstacles

BabaBy Baba Galleh Jallow

Moments after I shared my article “Looking Beyond the Power-Grab” on one of the Gambian community list serves, a critic hit the reply button and called it “cowardly academic crap.” After contemplating his “cowardly academic crap” for a while, I hit the reply button and sent him an empty response. So unreasonably uncivil was the intervention that another member of the list serve could not help observing that while he respected the critic’s free speech, he was “also free to conclude that his interventions are rude and negative without adding anything of value” and that “Incivility without purpose does not serve us well.” There was no further comment on the matter from members of the list serve.

I of course did not expect my critic to understand why I responded to his “cowardly academic crap” with an empty email. And I don’t know how he responded to my empty email. He perhaps called it cowardly academic crap as well. Whatever the case may be, the bottom-line is that in the face of our current challenges, and considering that our objective is to nurture a genuinely tolerant socio-political culture in our country, we simply cannot afford to be intolerant of harsh opinion, or to engage in pointless and potentially acrimonious exchanges. We are not obliged to accept or agree with people’s opinions; but we are obliged to persistently respect them, however unreasonable, however mistaken and misgiven we think they are.
Several days later my critic hit again. Reacting to “The Disengaged Public” on the same Gambian community list serve, he kindly proffered a polite compliment followed by a polite demand to know what my “solution to the African problem” was: “So Baba,” he wrote, “fine words. What is your solution to the African problem?” His question struck me as odd, not because it was mysterious, but because there was something wrong with it. Again, I hit the reply button and sent him a silent response. “It doesn’t really matter, to you, does it?” he politely queried in a follow-up intervention. “Keep up the good work! And enjoy your money! LOL!” Again, I sent him a silent response. I respected his right to criticize my writings, but I reserved the right not to engage him in conversation beyond a silent response. My resolve to keep writing, to keep speaking out, to stay publicly involved in the search for answers to our pressing national questions remained totally unshaken.
I could have of course politely explained to my good critic that we simply cannot define a thing by what it is not; that we cannot transform the essence of a thing simply by calling it another name; and that regarding his question, there is really no such thing as “the African Problem”; just as there was never no such thing as “the White man’s burden” or “the Dark Continent.” I could have politely explained (no quarrels here!) that like any other continent, Africa has not one but numerous problems. I suspect everybody knows this. But while I refused to engage him beyond a silent response, I fully respected his right to express his legitimate if unpleasant opinion on my writings and to pose an odd question on what he understood to be “the African problem.” Or I could have admitted that even if there was such a thing as “the African problem”, it would be utterly presumptuous and mediocre of me to pretend to know what “the solution” to it was. We should be able to say we don’t know when we don’t know, but not to questions seeking answers to nonexistent phenomena like “the African problem.”
I could not blame my critic for calling “Looking Beyond the Power-Grab” cowardly academic crap. He probably looked in vain and could not find anything that looked like his understanding of revolution in a two-page article in which revolution is mentioned twenty big times. And indeed, the revolution that animates my contributions to our national conversation is not a revolution of the violent sort; which is perhaps what my good critic was looking for. It is a mind revolution, a revolution of ideas that at once seeks to academically deconstruct the power-grab and to enlighten and empower the citizens where it matters most. Ours is a cultural revolution embodying the actualization of an enlightened nation; a nation of politically empowered and creative citizens; a nation where citizens are respected and treated like family because they are citizens enjoying equal rights, ownership, and responsibility for their country; a nation in which the state happily assumes its rightful status and role as disciplined child and faithful servant of the people. It is a revolution that seeks to actualize a nation in which public opinion may be rejected and criticized, but never disrespected or shouted down, except when it insists on being the absolute, inviolable truth that must be accepted without question or else!
Actualizing such a nation requires that we not only tolerate unreasonable and unjustified criticism, but that we are able to deal constructively with it. In order to eliminate the ugly politics of insults, enmity and hostile intolerance that desecrates our national ethos, we must deliberately seek and exploit the merit in every instance of criticism and dissent we encounter, justified or unjustified. Since we yearn for and envision a genuinely democratic society, we must arduously cultivate and unfailingly practice the difficult art of civility, for only then can we encourage the creativity and popular expression necessary to build a potential-enhancing civic culture. Remembering that labels don’t necessarily define or transform their object helps. For instance, I know that not all readers of “Looking Beyond the Power-Grab” thought it was “cowardly academic crap.” I also entertain the possibility that some readers may call it worse than that. And I am perfectly happy with that. We cannot expect everyone to agree with our views, just as we cannot agree with everyone’s views. In a parody of the Golden Rule, I would say always do unto others as you would do unto yourself.
Many Africans, especially among African Diaspora communities, avoid publicly expressing their political opinions for any number of reasons. Key among these is the knowledge that they may be criticized for their views, often severely; that people may disagree with them and potentially drag them into pointless, counter-productive and acrimonious exchanges; that they may even be insulted for their pains. These are perfectly legitimate concerns. But they must not prevent us from exercising our right and duty to participate in our national politics, to contribute to our national conversation, to publicly join the search for much needed answers to our biting and most urgent national questions. It is counter-productive to repress our political opinions, to keep our political thoughts and ideas to ourselves if only because some of them may hold important and useful lessons for the nation. We must come out of our political closet and share our thoughts and opinions on matters of common national interest. Good luck to our fellow critics.
Our ultimate challenge is to cultivate, nurture, and personify a genuine spirit and culture of civility by freely expressing our own opinions while respecting every other legitimate opinion. Illegitimate opinion of course – the kind that insists on being the absolute truth that everybody must accept or else – must be staunchly opposed and called out at every possible opportunity because it is inimical to our national wellbeing. We must insist that injustice is evil; that the nation equally belongs to every citizen; that no loud protestation of personal supremacy can ever nullify our national identity, embodied by all the citizens of the nation. We must insist that no citizen has the right – legal, natural or otherwise – to impose themselves or their opinions over an entire nation, to claim ownership of an entire nation, to act as if the nation were created for them to the exclusion of everyone else, to insist that they have the answers to all our national questions, or to deny their fellow citizens the right to freedom of expression, association, and equal opportunity access to public resources and offices like national radio, TV, and State House. But beyond rejecting imposed opinion and injustice with all our might, we must tolerate disagreements and criticisms from our fellow citizens and from other people, however unreasonable, however unjustified, however much we think them motivated by bad faith, or by loyalty to certain selfish and parochial interests of a political nature.



  1. Interesting but inspiring at the same time, I hope and pray that we have strength to challenge ourselves to delve deep in our hearts to embrace each other, and cultivate an atmosphere of understanding, Tolerance, and Compassion. As is the only way out of this madness.

    Now I’ll not be surprise if this critic turnout to be Yaya Jammeh himself or one of his advocate. Thanks very much Baba.

    • Thank you Troy, for your encouraging comments. I do hope and pray that we are able to handle our inevitable political differences in an understanding and respectful manner. I don’t think the critic is Yahya Jammeh – he is a European; but I won’t dismiss the other possibility to you mention. Bottomline: they can’t discourage or silence us. Thanks a lot.

      • Some guys probably thinking that those with opposing opinion with regards to African/Western relationships and development partnership are Jammeh advocates or pro dictatorships is a very dangerous misconception. Troy, yourself, you must be out here to disagree or agree with whoever you disagree or agree with and stop your snubbishness. Who wrote this and that caring less to respond to those writings. Jammeh has denied us the write to free speech and expression of opinion so mind one ends up like him who want to know everyone here online though he won’t respond to any comments. You must be one of his undercovers TROY to be suspecting that there are Jammeh advocates here. Who sees it a problem if Jammeh is participating here. The participation of Jammeh in any forum here in my opinion should be highly welcome rather than one getting paranoid about it.
        You can think of the persons with online opinions to be Jammeh or his advocates rather than expressing your own opinion. Probably you think that is the most pay to our national resolve. I hope too the post dictatorship atmosphere won’t curtail a sense of pettiness, obscuranism, intolerance to differing viewpoints and snubbish hatred. This is Jammeh or Jammeh this and that, indicates nothing but many Gambians desire to dictate to a silent multitude. How do I know you agree or disagree with me if you snub just to write a line to be deciphered? Aleast write something for the benefit of those who might be having illigitimate opinions.
        We should build and not disTROY. You see,……………I can write, ‘TROY’, ‘BABA’ or ‘SUU GHI’ to question the truth or reality in their opinions. Can you be doing the samething for the benefit of the rest?? Don’t TAELINN or GARUWALE in a national discourse on conversation.

        • Ggapm Agapm : I don’t understand what you’re trying to say, so I have no response.

          My advice for you however next time you feel like criticizing others, please make sure they understand the words and substance of your criticism.

          In civil or social engagement such as this, one should be able to use common words to say uncommon things, and remember this for others to understand your writings you first have to be able to think clearly. thanks

  2. Baba, be brave to mention @names. Type out the names and their respective illigitimate opinions and express your disagreement with such online opinions. We must be able to approah each other with openess and clarity. This is of course and opportunity for me again to express to you how much I too disagree with you in your phrase, ‘western education’ in your article, ‘The Disengaged Public’. I totally disagree with you that education is western. Education for me is what people know in form of knowledge, that can help families, societies, communities, regions, nations and continents fulfil the expectations of their purpose for living in a civil society. The viewpoint that education is western to me is demeaning and disrepectful to non western people of the world over. Consider the fact that medicine, astrology and many technologies are not western but probably the western research later in these areas have only advanced to where we are today globally. What academics and intelletuals of Africa are unable to do I think is, to draw Africa/West ligitimate issues of discourse from the mouths of the African dictators but rather will see such discussions as mere rhetorics and pro dictatorship.

    • Sir/Madam (sorry I can’t pronounce the name you use here): Thank you for your comments. I don’t think I ever said education is western; I know better than to make such a claim. I totally believe that education is universal and is to be found in and possessed by every culture and civilization in the world. Thanks.

  3. Baba,  You are a great thinker, and for that I admire you a lot, the regime in the Gambia more specifically Yaya Jammeh would do everything in his power to silence you, now that his critics are becoming more vocal thanks to online radios and newspapers, he know fall of his regime is very eminent, hence he increases efforts  to counter any threats in or outside the country, including the use of Gambian embassy and their employees, and other individuals in Europe, America, and everywhere in the world, to disrupt, distract,  and distort anyone by any means necessary. But all I can say to you is that you are on the right side of history and that lot of people look-up to you for your firm believe that Africa in general and Gambia in particular deserves better, and that Yaya Jammeh is a disgrace to human kind. Thank you for good work. you are the most down to earth person I have ever seen. 

    • Thank you Balake Musa, for your kind end encouraging comments. I wish you the very best in all your endeavors.

  4. Dr jallow, I must tell you I admire your honest assessment and continuous involvement to educate citizens about issues of national concern. I have been following your writings since your early days at independent newspaper. You are among the few Gambian intellectuals I admire and respect.

    I always believe that if we are to treat each other the way we want to be treated by others then we won’t have military dictatorship or abuse of citizens rights. This is why sometime I try to ask personal question to those who deny or support the violations of the rights of others. I think the critics fail to put themselves In the positions of those who are being abused, therefore they Engaged in selfish political interest at the detriment of others. Politics is personal opinion or belief which should be geared towards common benefits or interest in order to move our country forward. When It becomes personal benefit or individualistic interest alone, corruptions, abuse and violations of laws become a new phenomenon. Dictator Jammeh and all those who commit crimes against Gambians should ask themselves ” how would they feel if they are in the position of their victims ?”
    Greater leaders like Bill Clinton always try to put himself in the position of the victims or those who are underprivileged. Politics is about empathy and representation of the interest of the masses.
    Please let us all continue our good work, the critics will join us when they realize that they are on the wrong side of histroy or when they becomes victims of the system they supported.

    • Thank you Maxs. We are all students of life and I am grateful that people find my small contributions useful. Thanks a lot for the encouragement and kind compliments.

  5. Truly inspiring words…and as always, very entertaining to read…I am surprised that you have not yet been labelled a “SOCIALIST”….

    My only disappointment is that such wisdom comes from a “Yetteh Jallow”..

    Keep up the good work, Sir..Your wisdom is invaluable…I think it may be time for another story…

    • Thank you Bax. Your encouragement is equally inspiring to me. I think I may not be labeled SOCIALIST because my humble ideas are just way far off from anything “socialist”. But who knows, someone might just decide to honor me with the great title which I will then politely beg to turn down.

      I also think I sense a desire on your part to join the Yetteh Jallows. You are welcome to join, but you must first buy a ticket first and then pledge your loyalty to the Jallow clan before we accept you.

      Thanks a lot.

  6. Troy, you are not at all obliged to understand what I wrote, glad to believe myself that I do understand your writings. You rang the bell to tell opinionists that only Jammeh or his advocates will be disagreeing with their opinions an alarm totally unhelpful to our discoursions.Therefore, understanding that fact simply means that I know more reading than writing and so there is room for improvement in that aspect.
    I said you must be the Jammeh advocate, ‘ undercover agent’ by trying to verify the residence of dissidents in the diaspora. If you have any interest in knowing the addresses of the Gambia dissidents, then you must go public online yourself.

  7. Baba, I didn’t say you should be pronouncing names. I only urged you to write them. Good I see a picture captioning your articles so I can guess you are a SIR and not a MADAM. Isn’t It easier to write ‘Ggapm’ if gender is the least important factor here.
    Sorry for relating the phrase ‘western education’ to your article, ‘The Disengaged Public’, where classes of diasporans and their roles in the society were categorised. In the article, the case of the Gambians living in the diaspora for themselves and their families was stated. Baba, as a fellow citizen’sadvice, please keep writing even whereas your opinions and writings didn’t sell in some quarters. These quarters too can definitely be inspiring. Perhaps a few Gambians are like this;alergic to over appreciation and praises.
    What about a president for instance who only cares about the one who appreciate his deeds?? Is this not the problem at hand right now?? A president alergic to all opposition and anytime you see him smile, because there are praise singers and giggling hypocrites around him,so the reality of good governance fades into thin air. These are attitudes that will hold us back even without Jammeh and his advocates.I saw dictatorship been entrenched in the Gambia with attitude as a child and couldn’t do anything about it. Intellectualism got very little to do with it.

    • Thank you Sir/Madam. Your contribution to this conversation is highly cherished and generously appreciated. It adds much meat to the table. I’m sure it will be very helpful if I add a dot here and a dash there. Thanks a lot.

      • Thanks to Baba for appreciating my participation in the coversation, though you seem to prove to me to be a bit intellectually petty by being preoccupied with gender here and not matter in the conversation.
        Let’s focus on the matter and not on vague dots, dashes around it and who adds them up there.