Tribalism, Migration and Politics in the Gambian Context

By Alieu SK Manjang

A close onlooker of the Western politics would apprehend the ubiquitous presence of native and migrant dichotomy in the political discourses of these countries. With the rise of populism in many developed democracies, this has come to inform many social policies, as they become inescapable concepts that occupy the political agenda of many political parties in relation to elections and distribution of resources. The recent Brexit mayhem and ongoing U.S election campaigns as well as the recent political developments in Germany, Italy and Austria, where far right political parties are gaining considerable political grounds, the issue of migration and entitlement to citizens always bring in the fore the question native versus alien. Apparently similar discussion is getting currency in other contexts, and The Gambia is no exception. However, this issue is addressed in the broader context of tribal politics in the country, which qualified the issue of migration as such a delicate and sensitive topic of discussion.

Historically, no particular tribe can solely claim prerogative right to the whole Gambian territory as their ancestral home. However, certain tribes and families can claim certain areas within the Gambia as their ancestral settlements and homes. Thus, the proposition that we are all migrants in the Gambia is not only truly naked, but it does discount the important unarguable and uncontested historical datum of the country, as it also constitutes a system attempt to correspondingly profile the natives of many settlements, villages and towns as migrants comparative to those who become the occupants of those places in the last five decades or so from neighbouring countries.
While it is a fact that migrant population is established across all tribes in The Gambia; the share of tribes in this population is disproportionately displayed empirically and by the official statistics. This tribal disproportion in the migration population presents itself as one of the imperative influences that contributed to substantial upsurge in the population weight of certain tribes in the last four decades relative to other tribes whose population weight is comparatively stagnant or showing a consistent decrease during the same period.

This reality is privately documented among the tribes, who recognize a clear line of demarcation between who are considered natives among themselves, and who are the migrants. If policy discussions and political discourses related to migration and the issuance of national documents do not capture this fundamental fact, it would always inflame unnecessary interminable tribal politics and sense of discrimination in the public place. Thus, it is a mark of dishonesty and political hypocrisy to indiscriminately qualify the whole tribe as victims of Immigration Department’s profiling with regard to the issuance of national documents. Acknowledging the migration pattern into the Gambia and the disproportionate settlement of migrants in many cities and towns would constitute a solid ground for any sober mind to determine that unequal depiction of tribes within those are denied our national documents or requested to prove their Gambianess is just coincidental, rather than systematically and institutionally designed.

This coincidence character of the migration population is forcibly shaping the activities of immigration departments in relations to the enforcement of migration laws and policies in many countries. In the advanced democracies, certain segments of the population in a polity are more likely to be considered migrants given their shared and common identities that are historically associated with the migrant population. This is not to justify the unfair treatment and that discrimination against certain groups of people who are generally conceived to be migrants; rather it is to emphasise that this unfortunate practice is not unique to the Gambia as a polity, and that it is a uniform feature of enforcement of migration laws across the globe.

In the Gambia, pointing a finger to an individual as a migrant is not always receptive; yet with the integration of the world by virtue of technological advances and the means of communication, what was contested and denied in the public with regard to the migration root of people become implicitly and explicitly acknowledged. The pronounced enthusiastic manifestations of loyalty to and interest in political affairs of neighbouring countries could be an indicator of one’s ancestral link to that particular country. This cannot be a wrongful practice; rather it shows how one takes pride in his or her ancestral root, even though this can be framed as disdainful by those who consider themselves a native. The Gambians in the USA, UK and other European countries recognise their migration status in those countries and proudly identify themselves with their home country with a keen interest in the political and economic development of the country. If this is Okayed by the Gambians and their hosts for example, people with a migration background in the Gambia shouldn’t consider mentioning their roots to certain countries within Africa as a stigma and offensive. These are inescapable identity markers that can be easily erased. This explains the reason why famous political figures and celebrities in the West are linked to certain countries as their ancestral homes.

Therefore, one can be originally a descendant of one particular country but still holds a citizenship status in The Gambia. Even though this is publicly known and easily traced by those who know the circumstances surrounding one’s migration and that of their fathers into the Gambia after the independence and in the last four decades, there are people who trying endlessly to erase that historical fact. It goes to the point that discussing the issue of migration and its patterns and the share of different tribes in the populations as marks of tribalism and a tendency on the side of certain tribes to impose their dominance. Such undisputed realities should be taken at their face values, as any attempt to colour them with one subjective interpretation would evoke counter subjective argument and emotionally driven presentation. This unfruitful encounter continues to be the point of departure for the spirit of tribalism in many individuals in the political context of the Gambia.

This politically coloured discussion of migration cannot and should influence the operation of the Immigration Department. The department needs breathing space to exercise their discretionary power which is created by the complications of classifying a Gambian in our written laws. Politicians across the political spectrum should not place their immediate political gratification and interest over the public interest by creating a necessary link between the operation of the Immigration Department and tribalism. The political drama of the last 22 years should be sufficient reason that politicians and the general public cooperate with the immigration department to work towards limiting unmerited issuance of the national documents to underserved people.

At this juncture of our political history, the public opinion displays a strong conviction against the possible participation of migrants in the political process of the country. The recent political development in both the Gambia and the neighboring countries and the movement of people between these countries and the Gambia in the times of crisis and stability revealed a conflicting conception of citizenship among the Gambians. With the prevalence of the communitarian conception of citizenship relative to libertarian one, extra caution should be exercised in the manner the voters registration would be conducted to avoid political crisis. This can only be avoided if politicians wash their hands out of the issuance of national documents.

One Comment

  1. Sella Dibba

    Biggest lies of the 21 century. So Mandingoes are not increasing in population. Mandingoes
    are more than 50 percent of the Gambian population.

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