Without doubt President Jawara is happy, like million Gambians, to witness the downfall of a brutal dictator. And it is right that the new president call a courtesy on President Jawara to show respect and collect wisdom. And it is also right that over the weekend many localities belatedly celebrate the electoral defeat they were denied because of the brash annulment attempt by the loser [Yahya Jammeh]. The people are entitled to freely show their emotions especially after 22 years of barbarism and murder.
Going forward, the new dispensation must keep in mind key fundamental areas in the Gambia ethno-political landscape which are essential and need to be noted, if we are to deliver well for all people living within the recognized borders of the Gambia.
Restraint in the area of tribal affiliations and its manifestations. 22 years of tribal bigotry against the Mandinka in particular, has sky-rocketed the tribal sensitivities of people who are ordinarily not tribal oriented. But because of the intense cultivation of the tribal card by Jammeh, every Gambian is now fully tribal conscious. For good or for bad. For good when, for example it motivated the people to fight against tyranny as the majority voters did or worst when it reaffirms the resentment against the Mandinkas. This is the case at hand and it must not be cast away as some fringe opinion. How the new political leaders handle this issue is crucial. The visibility of politicians with Mandinka backgrounds in key political position is inevitable but can be manifested pompously or channeled neutrally so that other tribes will not be agitated to perceive the visibility of these politicians as a re-emerging Mandinka domination. This is not to say that these politicians must hide. It just suggests that these politicians be mindful of their gestures, utterances, and public display of their tribal backgrounds. It suggests that the President may be entertained by griots but the traditional display of gift in form of money/cash on national television, should be avoided. Though this gesture is culturally acceptable to some ethnic groups, some might see it as a symbol of cultural hegemony claims and cronyism. Teeri-ya Kafo or the Banjul-Connection comes to mind!
Accentuation of tribal integration and the celebration of community across ethnic lines must be the new MOTTO and NATIONAL IDEAL. Key political positions equitably spread according to the tribal makeup at the national at as well as local government levels should be pursued to dispel fears of majority domination. This doesn’t necessary mean that the Mandinkas will be disadvantaged against through a policy a la “quota for endangered ethnics”. It just suggests that an ideal representation of the tribes based on their share of the population should be pursued to promote inclusiveness.
Another important ideal worth promoting is the celebration of our cross-ethnic unions (e.g. intermarriage; communities etc.) as a force for good and as a very important aspect of national identity. 1/3 of every Gambian today is of mixed parentage- even our president hails from such union. This fact must be promoted, utilized and seen as strength. It breeds understanding, cooperation and trust, commodities we need today to enhance our social capital defined as “THOSE TANGIBLE ASSETS [THAT] COUNT FOR MOST IN THE DAILY LIVES OF PEOPLE: NAMELY GOODWILL, FELLOWSHIP, SYMPATHY, AND SOCIAL INTERCOURSE AMONG THE INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES WHO MAKE UP A SOCIAL UNIT”( Author Lyda Hanifan). The new Economy went further “…SOCIAL CAPITAL PROVIDES THE GLUE WHICH FACILITATES CO-OPERATION, EXCHANGE AND INNOVATION.”
Avoid pomposity. Billboards and personality cult (praise singing) must not be encouraged. This might be culture for some while tribal conspiracy for others. The cabinet must be neutral on such sensitivities. And since the cabinet and president embody the state, they must project sense of neutrality on issues that relates to identity to a particular interest, religion, tribe or region.
Get to work. Symbolize work ethics. Tell the people that only through hard work and effort can we reap the fruit of this new found emancipation. The courtesy calls should now draw to a close and the presidential motorcade should not be announced before hand to avoid people lining the streets. The visibility of the president must be kept to the minimum. People should go to work and the president’s own work ethic must be the inspiring element and mirror the narrative that will be told to the public to embrace hard work that will uplift the country from under-development.
They must however see that in practice. President’s clothes must be cut to size instead of overflowing robes symbolizing waste! President should project action man. The clothes, the appearances, the gestures, the visit to farms and faroto (rice fields), mingling with the general population etc. should induce in us action and national enterprise. The president, in his own words, must keep the “ball rolling” and this motion must be a cornerstone of the new government’s action plan. From here people will see that the state is here to create the enabling environment for all to prosper. And that it is not a CLUB for tribal feasts and self-fulfilling prophesies of tribal pre-eminence. PERCEPTION COUNTS!!
When all is said, the Barrow government pulled-off a good start under duress. We appreciate the maturity exhibited before and especially after the election. The representation of the Gambian people at the international level was superb and it did convince the international community that there is indeed alternative to Jammeh tyrannical dispensation. We hail the first step taken to tackle the infamous NIA, selecting committed opposition stalwarts in key cabinet positions and those individuals willingness to take responsibility. Here we categorically defend the choices made from the VP downwards in the conviction that: THE ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CLAUSE IN THE CONSTITUTION TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER ANY CONFLICTING LEGISLATION IN THIS CONSTITUTION THAT DISCRIMINATES AGAINST CITIZENS ON THE BASIS OF RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL AFFILIATION, TRIBE, STATE OF HEALTH OR AGE. We celebrate the restraint in tone by the government towards elements of the former government to pre-empt people who might have taken the law into their own hands and resort to reprisal or revenge in settling scores with former abusers.
Tourism is slowly coming back to normalcy and Gambians in the diaspora are visiting home in droves. They have no reason to be afraid and are bringing with them foreign exchange, knowhow or just happiness to their loved ones they longed to see. This list, by no means exhaustive, merely indicates the huge achievements the change of leadership has brought in – within a space of 3 weeks. Someone summarily noted “we can breathe again”.
Finally, my motivation to write this piece can be shortened to the following conviction: the state must project neutrality in the dispensation of its action at all times, so that We the People can go about our activities, contribute our quota to national development based on our knowledge and abilities without bias or ill will, irrespective of our background.