The False Labelling Of Gambia Gov’t

Natta Mass

By Natta Mass

A response to Sutay Kata Sanneh

I am sure our widely read brother has heard of the saying; “It is not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Just like the old Mandinka adage; Kumo fore nyaa yeh kumo tinyaa leh. Believe it or not we are a deeply conservative society, culturally and traditionally speaking. And just like the law in physics states; to every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism which by definition requires highlighting a problem and then prescribing possible solutions to it. Attacking people or being cynical about their motives because past experiences put you on edge does not qualify as criticism, it is an attack and the response will be defense, which then gets labelled sycophancy or being intolerant of criticism. Take your title for example; It’s Our Time To Eat. The New Gambia. Telling this story from the point of view of when the oppressed becomes the oppressor: How much more cynical can one’s take be of the ‘New Gambia’? Others are hopeful and if they dismiss such cynicism it is because they hope for better days than has obtained in the past. And frankly it is too soon to make any decisive conclusions devoid of bias. This is why Halifa’s take on ‘System Change’ was challenged, but in contradiction of terms, here we have Halifa Sallah being sanctified while the others (UDP) are being vilified.

The fallacious labelling of this government as a UDP government is not in fact authored by the supporters of the UDP or the government; thanks for that goes to the opposition; yes those opposed to the composition of the executive and the format for the National Assembly elections. If any UDP or supporter goes along with that narrative it is an indication of their embrace of that notion as the stage has already been set to fault the party for any failures of the government due to the association of the President to the party, so it is understandable that they stick with him and don’t throw him to the wolves because he resigned the party for the cause of country. Calling on Barrow or Darboe to assert legal authority is not the same as advocating for tyranny. Maybe citing incidences of such “position seeking activists want[ing] Darboe or Barrow to act as a tyrant” will help. Calling for the hiring or firing of individuals may be seen as lobbying in some quarters based on trust in the case of the former or distrust in the case of the latter. Along those lines of distrust were claims that hiring some people will result in their sabotaging the system; THAT is relevant to the narrative. Some people are seen as divisive figures and hence their hiring decried. Since we are speaking of political appointments, loyalty is a key component, of course so too is competence and even more so. In your “prophecy” made “almost four years ago” you described our political landscape as being overwhelmed by the “worst” of our society because the “intelligent, successful, and thoughtful professionals” are busy pursuing their careers with total disconnect from our political affairs; why then should such people be sought to fill in political positions, they can apply to be technocrats as any patriot would do?

It is demeaning and condescending to bundle together those citizens who sought active political participation, for whatever reason, as the “worst” and proceed to describe them as seeking paid positions. If you look back on the political struggles of the Gambia pre-independence to now, you’ll find the “worst” citizens bearing the brunt of political heavy handedness while those “intellectuals” remained comfortable in their career-seeking/advancing goals. That piece frankly was a mischaracterization of those gallant citizens; then and now, and not according them the deserved respect for their role and contributions to our nation. Most of these folks know their lack of qualification both in literacy and ability to assume any roles in the change they seek; yet they marched on unfazed, unintimidated and at great personal cost to most.
Your attempt at equating the status quo to the Jammeh era falls short of conviction in that Jammeh, as you referenced at the beginning of your write up openly named and vilified Mandinkas, swore to hire non-Mandinkas before dreaming of hiring any such “traitors” to any position. His actions fulfilled his words. Now you say “…you have a personal issue with a non-Jola just make a phone call and their faith is sealed. Now flip the coin and you will see the same traits in the new sheriffs in town. They will argue that Barrow should hire their “freedom fighters” in important positions devoid of Jolas.” You mentioned Isatou Badjie but not the arguments put forth by those criticizing her appointment, just settling for her being Jola is convenient in serving your narrative. Listing the other names is equally for convenience since no reasons were advanced from the opposed to their appointment. Bamba Mass, Suntou Touray, Alieu Manjang, to name but a few all have been vocal and still are; when asked they see their role as a civic duty, which frankly it is. The likes of Fabou Sanneh have been, and continue to be the same vocal “supporters” they’ve always been albeit without the coveted reward that they supposedly sought.

Yes, there are those who join politics for the sheer passion of being cheerleaders to their chosen candidates, but out of all the appointments, from party executive level (of the UDP, since you named them) to political appointments, who among them is undeserving of that position or is unqualified in terms of education or experience or both? Based on that that logic too, one can conclude that those opposed to the “UDP government” are still in the struggle because their wishes of an alternative government within which they can serve did not materialize and so they keep the struggler mentality? See we should avoid instances of broad-brushing or enhancing stereotypes based on flawed arguments.
Coming back to the Halifa issue, what he said in Birmingham was that “What we achieved in The Gambia was regime change, not system change….” Compare that to his statement made at the press conference hosted on his return; “What we achieved was regime change, we are yet to achieve system change…” see what I mean by kumo fore nyaa? The watch word here is ‘YET’ it gave the whole issue an entirely new meaning. Whereas the second statement implicitly acknowledges that system change is a process and we can all agree that ten months is too short a period for any meaningful long term change to take effect in a system as complicated and intricate as a governance system. The original statement on the other hand gave a bleak outlook of things, implicitly stating that we replaced Yaya Jammeh but what was will continue to be, I am sure you can appreciate the passion displayed in trying to denounce such a prognosis. That may not be what he meant to say but as all speakers know, you are in control of what you say but how it gets interpreted is entirely out of your control once the statement is made. The change in tone reflects that fact and I bet if the original statement was stated that way, the response would’ve been more timid, if any was forthcoming at all.
The change in attitudes you advocate needs to be reflected across the board, not just targeting one group or the other and asking them to change. For example, why would an observer of our political evolution look at things selectively? Yaya appointed Jolas, so let’s see if Barrow appoints Mandinkas; Minister of Foreign Affairs – Mandinka! Ah here we go again, tribal hegemony. What happened to qualification or competence? Instead of counting heads and lobbing them into tribal groups, why can’t we look at their qualification first and foremost? What will suffice with that narrative, in my opinion is if the president overwhelming appoints people from other tribes; which is unrealistic.
Theworld over, political appointments go to political appointees be that in a democratic system or otherwise. If those who chose to take part in politics are the worst, well then that is a fact we have to contend with. “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato. In our case I’d say our most patriotic assumed office. Those who hold the self-perception of superiority may wallow in self-pity.
The machinery of state, the civil service is manned by people hired based on merit and competence, hence the PMO. This is why one of the key characteristic of the civil service is continuity and the requirement that they not participate in active politicking.
As we speak, the army, which was the main instrument of the tyrant is undergoing reforms to make them more responsive to democratic ideals and the upholding of citizens’ rights. Professionalism is being injected into the psyche of the security services to put duty above personalities so as not to create a new batch of “the likes of Saul Badjie, Ousman Sonko, Solo Bojang, Sanna Manjang, Kawsu Camara Nuha Badjie, Umpa Mendy, Bora Colley, Sanna Jarjue etc…” The constitutional review is in process and a timeline given for its reformation; those are significant in transforming the system.
It is easier to change institutions than it is to change people’s attitudes; in fact that is an individual task. We can start by addressing issues and personalities in a manner devoid of condescension and patronization.
We can start acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of the common man and woman who got us here today. The common man and woman who realized that they cannot wait for salvation to come from the ‘intellectuals’ who are supposed to know better and stand up for justice, but who chose self over the collective. If that same intellectual wants to turn around today and start brandishing his knowledge about what democracy is and what it isn’t or what system change entails or doesn’t entail; then the common man and woman, the “worst” of society as you labelled them can be forgiven for rising up in arms to defend what they fought for. They can be forgiven for refusing to listen to that ‘intellectual’ who sought convenience over truth, that same intellectual who now wants to “hijack” their achievement in the name of creating a New Gambia; a monkey work baboon eat scenario? They can be forgiven for standing up to that professional who brands their perceived “savior” from the clutches of a mad king as unworthy and unqualified; a replica of the tyrant they deposed.
MartinLuther King Jr also said; “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” When it mattered the “educated elites cum intellectuals for the most part kept their distance and stayed mute; the common man and woman is remembering that silence today, especially if the silence is broken by condescending remarks.
Criticism is all well and good, but let it not be done in a manner that is unappreciative of the efforts of the “undisciplined”, and “immature” “worst” of our lot. Worse yet are attempts by those so-called intellectuals who want to relegate the common man and woman to irrelevance for their lack of “political maturity” so they can swoop in and build a New Gambia fit for all but the common man and woman.



  1. Great response. Thank you.

  2. Natta, good anaysis if we have to take the “intellectuals” to task for abandoning the political arena to the socalled “common man”. And indeed the work of the ranks and files of the party- every party for that matter, must be acknowledged. My understanding of Mr. Sanneh’ thoughts and warnings though, is that we don’t fall prey to Jammeh’s ways of cultivating cronyism. We can and must be better. An approach away from “our time to eat” towards an approach that cultivates national services and inclusion are the ideals worth fighting for. For though we may not all be rewarded with a position, but a prosperous country would have space and opportunity for all of us.

    Besides that: were you my class mate ? Gambia senior secondary school (1998).

    • Indeed Kemo, I was; class of ’99.

      I do get get the gist of what Mr. Sanneh was pointing to but his language at best was insensitive towards the efforts and stance of the average participant in our politics, who had and still remains those considered in the wider discourse as the “illiterate.” The game has to be played and it’s voluntary, if the intellectuals are busy with their self-actualization needs then the common man and woman will assume the role. With the open and more conducive environment now, they are more than welcome to assume their rightful roles while thanking and acknowledging the not-so-intellectual’s contribution in creating the conducive environment for all to participate.

      Hope you keeping well.