By Madi Jobarteh
Yes, without any apology and certainly with no exceptions, Gambians are acting stupid by fomenting among themselves the cancerous idea of tribalism in our politics. Because I am utterly annoyed and disappointed at what I hear from Gambians including our political leaders, it is clear to me that someone needs to tell it to our face that we are acting very stupid. Not only what we are saying, but also what our leaders are not saying and not doing.
To say that there is no basis for tribalism in the Gambia is an understatement. But then to see everyone getting tribalistic is dangerously stupid and unthinking. Yet the fact is that the Mandinka are acting tribalistic, just as the Wolof are being tribalistic like the Jola as well as the Fula. The Manjago are acting tribalistic in the same was as the Aku and the Serer just as well as the Karoninka and the Sarahuleh. In essence everyone is acting and thinking tribalistic right now in the Gambia. We are all acting cynical, hypocritical and dishonest.
Those Mandinka who claim other tribes are unfairly attacking them, are also responding in the same tribalist way they allege others are doing. Those Wolof who think the Mandinka are acting tribalist are also responding in the same way as those Mandinka, just as those who accuse the Fula for being tribalist are also acting in the same way as those Fula tribalists. So who is not tribalistic in the Gambia?
I said ‘tribalistic’ and not ‘tribalist’ because I believe we are merely acting as if we are tribalists, but in fact we are not. Rather we are acting tribalistic, i.e. we are merely using tribe for a purpose and I will show you soon.
So why are we acting tribalistic? We are being tribalistic because there is a power struggle among the political class and the social, economic and political bourgeoisie. There is a struggle for positions, privilege and power within our parties, at the local and national levels, in the country and in the diaspora as well as inside the and outside the government. Hence our tribalism is not ethic-based even though it reflects ethnicity. Our tribaism is economic and political hence power-based but nothing ethnic. There is no iota of hatred among the ethnic groups and indeed each and every party has all the ethic groups represented in their membership and leadership. Therefore where is the tribalism?
The basis of the tribalism is primarily inside our political parties fomented by the very leaders and their supporters at different levels, at home and abroad. The basis of our tribalism is about positions, appointments, power and resources. In a nutshell the basis of our tribalism is dishonesty founded on the hunger for power and privileges. Unfortunately there is also huge ignorance of those who do not realize that many people are speaking and acting tribalistic only for their own selfish interest and not for the good of their ethnic group. But the majority ignorant people do not also understand that hence they also carry on with the tribalistic narrative unknowingly. Let me tell you how it works…
In the first place, APRC leaders and supporters do not see anything good about the Barrow Administration simply because they have been booted out of power. Thus they have a clear agenda to undermine the new government in any narrative that can sell. The cheapest and quickest commodity with which to do that is tribalism. Hence to APRC, the Barrow Government is a Mandinka government and each and every hiring or firing that Barrow makes, to them, it is nothing other than based on tribalism. They do not care about the merits of that hire or fire and the particular profiles of the persons hired or fired. They foment tribalism because they missed those privileges and positions.
The APRC focuses on Mandinka because they have created this cheap narrative that UDP is a Mandinka party and therefore everything and anything about UDP is Mandinka even if there are other ethnic groups inside UDP. This makes UDP and Mandinka bashing very easy and effective, which can spread like wildfire.
Just like the APRC elements, there are others such as the civil servants, business persons and community leaders from different ethnic groups who are equally fomenting tribalism against the new government simply because they have lost the positions, contracts and privileges they enjoyed under Yaya Jammeh. When change occurs it brings with it displacements and this is why not many people accept change. Hence some of the folks fomenting tribalism are merely individuals who have lost their previous positions and privileges, thus tribe is the cheapest and quickest way to criticize.
Within UDP, there are elements at home and abroad who hold the distorted idea that only they must have a place in the Barrow Government because for them, UDP suffered most under the APRC Tyranny. They think none deserves anything better in the Gambia more than UDP folks. Therefore to them anyone who challenges UDP and criticizes its leadership, such a person is just dishonest and tribalist. In fact they would even claim such a person is non-Gambian because such a person is a Fula or Jola or Wolof. By this false narrative they therefore also reinforce the false narratives of their opponents that indeed UDP is a Mandinka party. Overall these UDP people just want to hijack the Barrow Administration just for themselves to secure positions and privileges. The cheapest and quickest way to silence and kick out everyone therefore is to label them as tribalist.
Therefore even where the UDP by definition is not a tribalist party, yet by default some Mandinka elements inside the party create the impression that indeed UDP is a Mandinka party, consciously or unconsciously. By their words and actions, they taint the image of the party as a Mandinka hegemony.
Those in PDOIS on the other hand consider anyone who challenges their party or their leadership as an unpatriotic and unthinking Gambian who is merely a tribalist especially if such a person is Mandinka. These PDOIS folks perpetuate the notion that only PDOIS as represented by Halifa Sallah are the only righteous and conscientious citizens who are genuine and sober. To them anyone else who does not support and agree with PDOIS then such a person is either a tribalist or a Halifa hater.
In NRP just as GDC, they feel they are the victims being hated by everyone just because they are Fula. Hence they perpetuate the idea that all Fula must support GDC or NRP because all others merely hate them for that matter alone. They are quick to refer to UDP to justify the distorted notion that it is UDP who are tribalist and not them. They do not claim any superiority in ideas like PDOIS or superiority in size like UDP, yet they claim, especially GDC that only they represent the good of the country. They accuse anyone who is critical of their party and leadership as being tribalist.
Meanwhile PPP merely holds that all others are hypocrites who do not have the best interest of the country at heart. They entertain the false notion that they did not misrule this country as APRC did, and they have withstood the storms in good and bad times especially as led by OJ. While they do not accuse anyone of tribalism openly, yet they perpetuate a notion that only they mean well for this country, and all others do not most of the time. Consequently they only help to maintain the flames of tribalism.
What all of these trends show is that there is an underlying narrative in these parties, which speaks to tribaism and personality politics. The parties perpetuate a political discourse, which is personal and sectarian such that even if they speak to the issues, such issues are expressed with tribalistic undertones. Hence our parties are not being genuine and honest to the country yet their supporters buy into that tacit sectarian narrative to also propel it like wildfire. On the surface they all claim to be against tribalism, but underneath they all are, and this is what is also generating insults and ridicule against each other’s leaders.
It is therefore necessary for ordinary Gambians like me and you to begin to scold these parties to become responsible and honest. We expect that Ousainou to call on his party members openly that they should stop the politics of insult especially against other party leaders like Halifa Sallah, OJ, Mama Kandeh and Hamat Bah. We expect Halifa Sallah to also openly call on his party members to stop ridiculing other parties and their leaders such as Ousainou Darboe, OJ, Hamat Bah and Mama Kandeh. We expect OJ, Mama Kandeh and Hamat Bah to shed off the false notion that they are victims and to openly condemn tribalism and ask their members to refrain from holding to contempt other political leaders.
Let us tell APRC and its leaders such as Yankuba Colley and Fabakary Tombong Jatta to recognize that by virtue of our democratic dispensation in line with our constitution, Yaya Jammeh was voted out of power. Let them accept that a new government is in place. Let them challenge that new government on the basis of policy, law and the decisions, and not to give a tribal narrative to each and every issue. That is dishonest that potentially divides and harms the country.
Therefore none is fomenting tribalism other than these leaders and their supporters and they do it only to secure power and privileges. But by default they are threatening national peace and security. We must demand that they accept the republican principle that power belongs to only the people and political parties can only go to the people to seek power. But let them go to the people without dishonesty but to speak genuinely to issues in order to win the hearts and minds of the people. We must condemn anyone who accuses another person of tribalism simply because such a person disagrees with your party or leader.
If Madi Jobarteh criticizes Mama Kandeh it does not mean I should be perceived as an anti-Fula tribalist. If Madi Jobarteh supports Ousainou Darboe, it does not mean I am a Mandinka bigot. I have a right to agree or disagree with Mama Kandeh or OJ or Ousainou Darboe without being perceived as a tribalist. Even if I were to utter hate speech against Hamat Bah or Halifa Sallah, no one should therefore conclude that the Mandinka hate the Fula or the Wolof on account of what Madi Jobarteh says. Challenge the statements of Madi on its head and leave out his tribe because Madi is not a representative of any tribe including his own.
Above all let Pres. Adama Barrow speak to his Coalition and all political leaders to stop fomenting tribalism among their supporters and across the country. Let Barrow talk to Gambians to urge them to shun tribalism and politics of insult and deception. Dishonest and tribalistic politics should have ended with Yaya Jammeh on December 1. We must not in anyway perpetuate tribalism ever again. Even Yaya Jammeh was not tribalist. Rather he was merely using tribalism to entrench himself in power to acquire resources and privileges. It is therefore stupid of us to continue to perpetuate tribalism.
We can recall how Yaya Jammeh spoke very derogatively about the Mandinka, but he also did speak very derogatively about the Jola on many occasions. Was Jammeh therefore anti-Jola? Certainly he was not. He spoke in a tribalistic way against the Jola or the Mandinka, not because he hates these tribes, but because he was seeking to entrench his dictatorship. To the Mandinka, he was seeking to divide and rule not just the Mandinka, but the entire Gambian nation by making other tribes believe falsely that the Mandinka hate him. To the Jola, he was also trying to incite them to believe that he was for them in order to control them, and this is why there was never an opposition against him in Foni. So in both cases he spoke in a tribalistic way, but Yaya Jammeh was not a tribalist. He was being dishonest in order to maintain power.
Stand up and condemn tribalistic politics in your party and from your leaders.
God Bless The Gambia.