Is Gambian Politics based on Tribalism?

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By Lamin Gano

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During my Master’s degree programme on African Peace and Conflict Studies eight years ago, one of the modules was on African Politics and the research topic for this module was on the role of ethnicity (tribalism) on African conflicts/politics. I used Rwanda as a case study and argued that ethnicity by itself is not the root course of our problems but rather the manipulation of ethnicity by political elites, warlords, external forces and other groups clamouring for power or resources but are unable to do so through legitimate or democratic processes. Gambia being an African country, I can use some of those points in this blog post.



However, before I delve into my opinion on the nexus between tribalism and politics in the Gambia, I have a question for my readers to critically reflect on: Is your affiliation to a party based on the fact that its leader is of the same tribe as you or is your loyalty based on other reasons such as the quality of its manifesto or the leadership principles and qualities of your party leader?

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My opinion is that Gambian politics is not based on tribalism and I can use the results of the 2011 presidential elections to argue my case. In 2011, a Fula man (Bah), a Jola man (Jammeh) and a Mandinka man (Darboe) contested for the presidency. I will remove Jammeh from this analysis because he manipulated to win the elections by employing unconventional tactics such as wrongfully using and monopolizing state resources, civil servants, security forces and traditional rulers in combination with his usual threats and intimations. So I would focus on the remaining two.


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The Mandinka is the biggest tribe in the Gambia compromising of more than 30% of the population while the Fulas are the second biggest with more than 20%. Darboe scored 17% while Bah had only 11%. Both candidates had less than half of the numbers of the population of their ethnic groups. Therefore, if Gambian politics was based on ethnicity, then the results would have been totally different. I am sure that some people did vote along tribal lines, but the majority of Gambians are not into tribal politics.



If tribalism is not the driving force behind our political affiliations, then what is the factor that motivates Gambia voters? I doubt that it is the content of party manifestos for the simple reason that more than half of the voters comprised of our aunties, parents and grandparents who are illiterate (mine included).



To be honest, I really don’t know the answer to what drives the voting pattern in the Gambia for the simple reason that there has never been a change of government through elections in the entire history of the Gambia. However, I do know some of the qualities that makes a good leader such as knowledge, wisdom, honesty sympathy and empathy etc. I believe that these are the qualities that we should use to scrutinize our opposition leaders and our choices/loyalties to any candidate should be based on the content of their character and not based on tribe, gender, religion or other prejudices.



To criticize and dismiss any candidate based on superficial and flimsy excuses is not only malicious and shallow but will only serve to derail our collective efforts in achieving a peaceful and viable political change. Examples of such flimsy, malicious, unfounded and shallow allegations is the position held by some people that the UDP is a Mandinka party, or that Hamat Bah is under the payroll of Jammeh or that the PDOIS is not a democratic party or that the PPP is a Wolof party.



The latest victim of such a smear campaign is Mama Kandeh the leader of the new GDC whose only crime is that he served in Jammeh’s Administration. Is there any compound, family or household in the Gambia without at least one of the bread winner working in the government or the security services?



Our elections are six months away and the earlier we rise up above our prejudices and petty sentiments and then focus on the substantial issue of calling for, identifying and rallying behind one opposition coalition flag bearer the better for all of us. The second republic has expired but it is loaded with so much carrots and canes that it would take a coordinated and unified political approach to replace it. There is no need for an uprising or any violent means to finish a dying regime. All that is needed to end Jammeh’s game is a simple convention by all our opposition parties as proposed by the PDOIS party to choose a coalition flag bearer and even a vice president!!!


Long live the Republic of The Gambia and long live the peace, stability and our beautiful smiles!!!!

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