By Natta Mass
When you know a person, you can be a good judge of his or her character through your interactions and observations from up close. If a person is a stranger to you, his utterances and actions determine how you perceive him or her.
Tothose who know Ousainou Mbenga (I am not one of them), they may see a different side to him than what he uttered in a recent article. In his article misleadingly captioned; “No Agenda can Remain Hidden forever: United Democratic Party (UDP) Hegemony Declared,” Mbenga speaks the language of bigots albeit subtly.
So what if some guy in New York declared a “UDP government” what evidence is there for that? What about the tags emanating from without way before the New York meeting contemptuously calling the government a UDP government? Claims lacking the basic decency to respect the other members and stakeholders within the government. That aside, how many cabinet positions are there, how many went to UDP and how many went to the other parties? That shouldn’t be too hard a research to conduct. But No it’s not about the UDP and it did not take long for Ousainou Mbenga to reveal what was really getting him hot under the collar.
For all intent and purposes, the genuine struggle needs to intensify hundred-fold to prepare the Gambian masses with an unshakable fighting capacity to build the “new Gambia” rooted in our national advancement and not ethnic or tribal loyalties. Yes, the struggle continues. But against what? Tribalism and all forms of reactionary ethnic affiliations against our national interest. – Ousainou Mbenga
Aha! There you have it, the real reason he was fuming. Just like the Barrow administration is disrespectfully branded a UDP government, so too is the UDP branded a Mandinka party. So replace UDP with Mandinka and you’ll see where Ousainou Mbenga is really aiming at. It is that simple. Why else will ethnic or “tribal” ‘anything’ surface in this write up; supposedly aimed at unmasking some government conspiracy afoot.
You think I’m exaggerating, read on…
Lets assume the claim that U.D.P is the majority party and won the elections. Does that mean that everyone should be under their boot? Conversely, so what if any one of the ethnic groups in the Gambia constitute the so called “majority”? Does it means [sic] you have absolute power with total disregard for the rest of us? In my view, this arrogance is more destabilizing than the mere constructive criticisms made of the regime. – Mbenga
Why else would these two scenarios fit together if not to reveal the underlying intent of the author? Ousainou Mbenga, at least in this episode perfectly represented the narrative of those hateful bigots that hide behind nationalism, patriotism, constructive criticism and equality to mask their hatred and condescension for their fellow countrymen, especially the rural Mandinka folk while behind closed doors and in comfortable company will let loose the oft-repeated line of the bigoted; The Mandinkas think they own this country! That is what that line about “majority party” and “majority ethnic group” referenced above really meant to say. He even referenced that supposed Mandinka sense of entitlement further on in his write up;
We must win the masses of our people to revolutionary politics to cultivate revolutionary leadership as oppose [sic] to “leadership of entitlement” grossly impregnated with tribal/ethnic backwardness. The Gambian masses must know where their interest lies and who serves their interest. Has “tribalism” ever served the interest of the down trodden masses who are historically misused as canon [sic] fodder by the opportunist elite politicians? Never did, never will. – Ousainou Mbenga
You see, you just have to read between the lines to get the message. Here’s the tactic at play (not authored by Mbenga): Brand the government a UDP government, that way any failure (which they anticipate) will be blamed on the party to speed up its demise because the party is sectarian in their view. In the meantime with the government labelled thus, Hon. Ousainou Darboe can be singled out for all manner of resentful attacks to smear his name even in matters he has no knowledge of or a hand in. For good measure, throw in Hon. Mai Fatty to offset any accusations of singling Darboe out.
Meanwhile, Hons. Hamat Bah, O.J, and Henry Gomez are looked at as non-factors even though everyone is absolutely certain that neither Hon. Hamat Bah nor O.J is dragged along politicians who’d tow just anybody’s line. Dr. Touray is spared perhaps for fear of being labelled anti-feminist. The same way the bigots mask their contempt for Darboe and attempts at discrediting him and his party by labeling the government a UDP government; is the same way they label the UDP as a Mandinka party so that their contempt for the Mandinka can be shielded with claims of being “constructively critical” of a political party, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, except you’re not.
The roots of such contempt for rural Mandinka folk lies in that bitter political rivalry of the UP/PPP days that still lives on in many. Ousainou Mbenga has given credence to their claims even though he may not be one of them, but that much he has done. Instead of confronting their dissatisfaction head on, they try to mask it. That insincerity and lack of genuine discourse is why the issue of “tribalism” keeps surfacing its ugly head in our political discourse and until we are willing to take the bull by the horns, bring forth evidence pointing to such divisive mechanisms as are being claimed, it will remain an elusive topic; forever present yet never visible while in the process some of our folks are consumed by rage and hatred for a non-existent boogeyman.
To quote Mbenga one last time; “Let’s take possession of our brains and never relinquish it to opportunism.” I agree; one way to achieve that, I would suggest we take a look at issues within their right context and try to cultivate an understanding of issues from all angles possible. Every single political party in The Gambia has a cross-section of all the “tribes” in the country forming its support base.You know why that is so; geography plays into it, kinship, friendships, acquaintances etc.
During the UP days, PPP never had any hopes of winning in Banjul pre-independence, does that qualify as tribalism? See it is easy to dismiss ALL of the factors that led to the formation of the PPP and brand it along tribal lines; that is easy and convenient. If tribe was truly the motivation PPP will remain unopposed post-independence. The only opposition party of any clout against Jawara that was not headed by a Mandinka was the Gambia People’s Party of the late Assan Musa Camara, second Vice President of The Republic of The Gambia (God rest his soul). Foni, today erroneously branded “tribalist” by other sets of bigots was ever PPP’s for the taking.
Mbenga referenced the 1981 abortive coup; here’s a historical fact; Kukoi Samba Sanyang (God rest his soul) ran on an NCP ticket for the Parliamentary seat of Foni Kansala and lost to a PPP sponsored candidate. He went rogue after that. By virtue of his association with the NCP, Hon. Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, (God rest his soul) the party leader of the NCP was implicated in the 1981 coup. He was held in custody and later cleared due to lack of evidence.
When Yaya emerged, Foni went full blown APRC; no opposition allowed. Was any of that “tribalism” NO! Here’s why;
Power is the most coveted thing in the world. People generally want some affinity with power; the adage that power is intoxicating is very true. “Here was a rural native (in the case of Jawara for the rural folk of post independent Gambia) come to extend the franchise to us and he is one of us, let’s back him up” said rural folks (kinship). Then came Jammeh; “here’s a Foni native ascended to the highest office in the land, we’ll lift him up and never put him down” said the people of Foni. Labelling that “tribalism” is naïve, for rural Gambia is native to every “tribe” just as Foni has Jolas, Mandinkas, Fulas, etc. who all embraced Yaya (geography – he’s from our region). Now the difference between the two scenarios is; Did Yaya attempt to cut a demarcating line between the “tribes” to soar up his support? Of course he did in word and action; openly. THAT is “tribalism”- a systematic targeting, exclusion and domination, subjugation even, of others by virtue of their creed.
The people of Foni are not “tribalist” for supporting Yaya; he just gave them that sought after affinity to power through a shared language, culture and geography. That alone does not qualify as “tribalism”. If that qualifies as “tribalism”, well I’d be damned if you do not brand yourself racist for supporting Obama. Yes, black people the world over loved Obama, cheered him on, wished he’d win and celebrated his win. What’s better than being affiliated with the most powerful man in the world by ethnicity no matter how distant and unrealistic that may seem? Fact is it had a symbolic meaning, especially for black Americans. That’s the real fact. The problem would have been if Obama pandered to that narrative.
Yes, some people vote for candidates for the flimsiest of reasons. But besides Yaya, name a politician who courts voters along “tribal” lines. Our task should be to educate people on their civic duties and encourage them towards realistic goals that will motivate their actions and decisions. Educate them on such issues as policy and governance without faulting them for their choice; people want what they want.
Now, what we should especially task ourselves is to hold politicians to different and more rigorous standards; ergo if an aspiring or sitting politician ever opens his or her mouth on a political platform or beyond and utters incendiary or tribal undertones, or panders to such overtly (like Yaya) or covertly; we pounce on him or her and tear him or her down. With citizens, educate; educate; educate! After that we respect their choices and stop peddling this not so subtle bigotry thinly veiled in insincere utterances of UNITY, NATIOANLISM, or ONE GAMBIANESS when all you truly want is power and dominance to be the very thing you’re preaching against. What I can get on board with out of this whole write up is;
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE [all of the people]! ONE GAMBIA INDIVISIBLE (never has been)! DOWN WITH TRIBALISM! [And bigotry of all forms subtly masked in self-deluding patriotism].
The reader comes to Mbenga’s article with hopes of finding evidence of some conspiracy at work that will be brought to light, when all it accomplished was speak the language of bigots. There was nothing neither critical nor constructive in it, just mere speculation and innuendo accompanied by implicit tones of anger and contempt. Yes, a person can love his land (be a patriot) but be contemptuous (bigoted) towards some of those he shares that land with.
Let’s not speak things into existence. The human subconscious can be a dangerous weapon against the person’s being itself. Everyone knows the Gambia is the most close-knit society you’ll find anywhere. Beyond politics we all know that to be fact. So that fabric of our society, if any politician or opinion leader attempts to rip apart, we need to call them out, bring forth the evidence of their plot and condemn them to irrelevance. Insinuating such division speaks to the subconscious that each group should retreat back to their kin and then it becomes an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ scenario that none will ever win, everyone loses.
Just as we do not speak of sectarianism based on religion because Christians are underrepresented in politics, let’s not peddle a similar narrative along tribal lines. Let’s be like Hon. Henry Gomez; believe in yourself, believe in the maturity of Gambians and their embracing nature, be bold and go out and seek what you desire, you have a right to it. You will always find support across the board. We are after all a diverse people; we can all celebrate our individual cultures, speak each other’s language and uphold our valuable customs without fearing domination by one group or the other. We have tasked ourselves to “Join our diverse peoples [together] to prove man’s brotherhood.” For that is what we are; brothers and sisters!