By Guest Editor
Part One Of Three
The History of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP): How the Party Came to Existence, is indeed an interesting contribution in the attempt to shed light on our recent past. Coming as it does at a time when our country and its people have been catching hell under an autocratic dispensation that no one thought was possible to befall us under the rule of the PPP. The Gambia had been a haven of peace, progress and prosperity not only for us citizens but also for tens and thousands of other West Africans who fled from war, virulent dictatorships and poverty. Our fellows from the other countries of the sub-region gasped in wonderment, how can you, small and without any resources to speak of, make it! No war, no big disputes, signs of prosperity everywhere to be seen. The country’s Dalasi currency quoted regularly in major European dailies, its port a gateway for the whole sub-region and its style of governance, source of envy for all, it was of course, ‘The Gambia, no problem.’
There was poverty indeed but because there was hardly any greed or wantonness, everyone looked satisfied with fixed but broad smiles on each and everyone’s countenance so our affairs charmed all visitors and became a social exotica that was met with goodwill the world over.
But who was credit due to for making the managing of our lot and affairs so successful then apart from the highest High? Was it Dawda Kairaba Jawara, his PPP, or ourselves, his subjects? Or was it due to non-human factors, like the times? Or due to the value system inherited from our past? Or the smallness of the size of our hamlets, villages, towns and of our country itself?
In my view, it was due to all those factors mentioned above and even many others not mentioned here within, that a pluralism of views, on perception of events and occurrences must be tolerated if not encouraged. We cannot always be at those points of viewing that make it possible for us to have the same viewpoints on all matters. At any one time, we are at one point of observing an object so that we miss all the other possible points. It is by taking in as many viewpoints as possible, by accommodating as many other views, that we come nearest the truth. This is why I cannot but tolerate the view point maintained by www.pppgambia.com on The History of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP): How the Party Came to Existence, even if I do not agree with many of the postulations made in it. The points that I find somewhat disturbing, if not alarming, are many and various; let me just take up some here, in italicized:
The Protectorate People’s Society (PPS), a grassroots organization formed to facilitate the national affairs of the protectorate people.
I keep on wondering what the “national affairs” of the protectorate people could mean really. Was there any set of national affairs of the protectorate different from those of the people of the colony of Bathurst and the St. Mary Islands? I doubt this indeed.
Though it could somewhat be taken that, “All the social, political and economic opportunities were endowed to the few urban elites while the protectorate people were alienated from such endowment,” but this was not a colonial construct, but a universal phenomenon, on the contradiction between town and country that transpired everywhere, even in colonial centers themselves, be it the U.K., France, Spain or Portugal. Perhaps the essence of this is best captured by the Mandinka word tenda Wollof word teerugi, or the Creole word watersi(de), where most trade in goods was done and encounters with new products, new styles and therefore new ideas, fashions and ways, also occurred. The fact is that not all in the colonies were endowed and not all in the protectorate were bereft of these endowments, as there were the chiefs, members of the rural nobility or of the class of rich farmers, who owned or inherited vast properties and lands, owned herds of cattle to fertilize the lands and swayed over scores of serfs, “strange laborers” to work the farms and could become usurers who gave out subsistence loans to destitute farmers on very high interests. These small group of endowed protectorates had the means to farm prime lands, get the best farming implements, the best stock of seeds and if they were not themselves the district chiefs or village alkalolu they were best connected to them
The www.pppgambia.com also stated that: In the early 1950s a new paradigm began to surface challenging the status quo of the dominant urban elites. Paradigm is simply a model of perception or way of viewing a particular object.
It can be agreed that 1950, in effect was still a postwar period for most of humankind spread on most parts of the globe. The West, like the East, were all still licking their wounds after a most devastating military conflict that humankind had ever endured. The West, in the early 1950s was busy rebuilding itself using the US-funded Marshall Plan. The early 1950s saw the passing away of brutal ruler of the Soviet totalitarian empire, Joseph Stalin, the process of de-Stalinization orchestrated by Khrushchev and the Hungarian attempted revolution to break free from the Soviet system. But the time also saw the attempts of the colonized peoples of the world almost all them in the global South, peopled by colored and impoverished folks, breaking free from European colonialism. This had in fact started in India and Pakistan in 1948, leading to independence of the Dutch Indies and culminating to the Bandung Conference, a tri-continental clamor for freedom, independence and non-alignment in the Cold War that had then just started to ravage and create havoc the world over.
If the eyes of all Asia were set on Nehru and Sukarno, that of Africa was on Nkrumah. In fact it was while a British Royal delegation that was on its way to attend the ceremonies marking the independence of Ghana in Accra, dropped by at the port of Bathurst, to pay a courtesy call on Governor Percy-Wyn Harris, that the first but smallest British colony on the West African, began to get its feel of the blow of the Wind of Change. The head of the delegation, I think, was Lord Mount Barton.
As was usual at the time, when the Governor had visitors coming in from London, he would call in supposed representatives of the various communities of the Island to meet with the visitor at the gardens at Government House. To be on that list of visitors was the loftiest and islander could hope for. The Mandinka residents of Bathurst were routinely excluded from that list. Though many thought it was deliberate act of exclusion but it might have been by default or the ignorance that comes with British detachment. There were few residents of the Island belonging to the Mandinka-speaking ethnic group. Most who were there, came only seasonally as labor-seeking wanderers, thus the name bara-nyining. In fact before the coming of Governor Percy-Wyn Harris, people from the protectorate, in effect Mandinka-speaking, since they formed the bulk of the rural population, needed a pass signed by a Bathurst yard owner to avoid being arrested and thrown out of the town. Six years earlier, such boys and men would be drafted into the Royal Armed Forces, RAF, shipped to the war front in Burma, or deployed for other menial jobs at home according to the principle, “either go to war or do war job.” This pass-system infuriated the Mandinka-speaking residents of Bathurst perhaps as much as it did Blacks in apartheid South Africa. But infuriated as they were, they were not able to unite against any single person to unite around.
The most prominent Mandinka-speaking personality then was none other than Sanjally Bojang, a labor contractor in the ground-nut haulage industry. With whip-wielding lieutenants of Kumbunah-notoriety, he had been heard of by almost all bara-nyining, even before they had crossed over to Bathurst.
Governor Percy-Wyn Harris had been of liberal persuasion and had realized that the Mandinka –speaking population of the Bathurst had long been un-represented in the lists of invitees to Government House to meet visiting dignitaries. He had noticed that even the two camps of Muslim and Christian Lebano-Syrian merchant communities had always been over-represented. The Wollof –speaking community had also been sufficiently represented by Alhagy Ousman Jeng and Sheikh Omar Fye who were somehow strong rivals with each other as well as with some leading members of the Aku Creole community.
Thinking he was trying to right some long-done wrongs Governor Harris invited Mr. Sanjally Bojang to the Government House reception for Lord Mount Barton and co. This did not only scandalized the feelings of the other native invitees, it sparked agitation among the Mandinka residents of Bathurst. They felt that Sanjally Bojang was not a proper representative of the Mandika-speaking community of Bathurst. They mistook the reception at the Governor’s for talks on the colony and protectorate of The Gambia’s future, given the then prevailing talk of independence all over and that of the Gold Coast which the guest was to attend.
The Mandinka-speaking populace of Bathurst was then rather small, but it was also fractious and had several groupings or kafos that were more of mutual-help groups than civil society type association. Their primary goals was to help repatriate the dead back to their original villages for burial. They were also helpful in aiding members with other life-cycle celebrations like naming and marriage ceremonies. There was the Burama Njie Kafo of 13 Allen Street, the Kangbeng kafo of mostly Badibunkas of Leman Street, where the Hajo Jaara Drug store used to be located, opposite the AMRC office, where now, UDP leader Ousainou Darboe has his law firm. Then there was the Musa Kieta’s Jangjangbureh Kafo, then on New Street, two compounds away from the end of block, left adjacent to the Lasso Wharf market. Apart from theses kafos, Sanjally Bojang had his Kombo-Niumi kafo which was kicked to life only when the labor-contractor needed it.
But Mr. Bojang’s attendance of the Government House meeting sent shock waves through the Mandinka community in Bathurst, jolting into protests against his alleged “usurpation “ of the position of their political “political representativev.” It was this that ignited the paradigm-shift as far as Mandinka’s were concerned. Instead of letting their representation to be “usurped” they had better build their political platform that wouldn’t be usurped. Those who spearheaded this shift were young men like Ba Tarawalley, Bakary Sidibeh, an elder brother to late Seedia Sanyang of the Agric Bank, Jay Saidy, Sheriff Dibba, Sheriff Ceesay, etc.