“You can’t have an understanding with a man like that [Jawara]. He never means anything he says. He’s a liar. He’s a rascal – low born and low bred. You see, the PPP are all Mandinka people, and Mandinkas only understand money, meat and groundnuts. They are all lazy. Character and honor is meaningless to them.” This was P.S N’jie going on the record for a foreign journalist; Berkeley Rice to share his thoughts on the short-lived political “understanding” between his UP party and the PPP.
See, we have been here before, somehow in the midst of political disagreements tribe has a role to play and it’s always the Mandinkas that are to blame. Aside from the fact that an aspiring candidate for the presidency could hold such unsavory and bigoted views about a majority of the constituents he’s vying to lead, being so naïve as to lay at the feet of a western journalist that our post independent nation will crack along tribal lines was the perfect answer for his quest of proving that The Gambia was an improbable nation.
You can try to defend P.S N’jie as much as possible, or try to infer a different meaning from the above statement, but utter them he did! Either to gain a favored view from the colonial administration or position himself as the most honorable candidate can only be speculated upon, but his contempt for the Mandinkas was safe to share with a foreign journalist, or so he thought.
It could also be argued that his contemptuous view of the Mandinkas, who are mainly provincial, was reason enough for him to be okay with the status quo and not advocate for the extension of the franchise to the rest of The Gambia beyond what was termed the colony. The British thought of the Africans as lesser beings and so should lord over them as subjects. Limiting the franchise to the colony area was to perpetuate the colonial mindset and offset any resistance by creating the illusion of participatory democracy, where the privileged few like N’jie will not see the institution as being the bad omen that it was. This omen will be undone by the emergence on to the political scene of the Protectorate People’s Party.
An amalgamation of provincial natives who refused to yield to the status quo, advocated for the inclusion of all in the political process. This means extending the franchise to their provincial relatives who had hitherto been neglected and alienated from the political process of their homeland. A condition that was okay with the political elite of the colony area. The sustained and far reaching campaign for universal suffrage introduced Sir Dawda K. Jawara and the PPP to the sidelined Gambians who would embrace him and the party wholeheartedly and remain loyal for decades. This obviously put them at an unmatched advantage over the rest of the players and so their names and personalities won no favors.
Fast forward to the second republic; with no political experience or education for that matter, Yahya Jammeh knew from the onset that when the political space opened up, he stood little to no chance against the seasoned politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties of the first republic. With the potential of absolute power and a desire for wealth dangling before him, nothing was about to get in the way of his ambition and so he outlawed the participation of all political players from the first republic except the PDOIS duo in the political process that was due to start in 1996. This move disenfranchised and alienated all party supporters and sympathizers of the PPP, NCP and GPP; history on replay yet again. With their leaders barred from political participation and coupled with dormant structures, the parties were effectively dead leaving behind supporters with no one to turn to.
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe emerged on the political scene to fill a vacuum. His emergence would rally the supporters and sympathizers of these parties around him giving birth to the United Democratic Party. The UDP gave the people another choice besides the military junta. The party emerged from non-existence to pose the greatest threat to Yahya’s schemes. From that day on attempts to kill off the party were set in motion.
The lifting of the ban on the previously banned parties at subsequent elections was a move aimed at exploiting old loyalties in order to fragment the UDP to no avail. Intimidations, assault, jail terms, killings and disappearances all failed to dislodge the party. The people have proven, yet again that loyalty can be bought with care and consideration. When all else failed, claims of tribal motivation for the formation of the UDP emerged and had only been gaining momentum ever since. These accusations of tribal bigotry was for no otherr reason than to put the Mandinkas on the defensive and leave them with only one option; show your lack of tribal bias by denouncing the UDP in favor of another party, preferably the junta.
The narrative has not changed much from over fifty years ago. How a difference in approach and political ideology could warrant implications of tribal affiliations is beyond the comprehension of most.
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, a man who gave it his all to see the restoration of democracy in The Gambia is suddenly the villain just because his party has a different view of things and wants to approach the next phase of our democracy in a manner not in conformity with what Halifa Sallah prefers?
Gambians, especially those with platforms need to move away from politics of personalities and be issue centered. There is no doubt, both Darboe and Halifa mean well for The Gambia, but because Darboe has a different approach means he deserves vilification, and by extension his tribe? How does one reconcile that? Actions, they say speak louder than words. Calling for ‘no tribalism’ whilst every statement and analysis on air is rife with veiled anti-Mandinka rhetoric is evidence to the contrary.
As much respect as Halifa deserves, unreservedly; he should not be sanctified as being beyond having the wrong approach. In a democratic space, criticism and differences of opinion is not tantamount to disrespect. An alternative view is always worth looking into for its merits and de-merits before being adopted or cast aside. It is safe to say, that Halifa coming out at the time he did and casting the UDP and NRP position in seemingly bad light before all the options are fully explored to a conclusive end, has effectively poisoned the well putting those two parties on the defensive, that is wrong. And now the surrogates feel the need to attack, vilify, and insult the person of Ousainou Darboe for daring to hold a different view, where is the democracy we call to? And if we are being fair, why does Hamat Bah’s name and tribe not surface in the shouting matches and insults? It’s not as if the NRP is a drag along party of the UDP.
We can list all the sacrifices Halifa and the PDOIS made to help us to this point and it will be a long list. The same is true for Darboe and the UDP, so this is not a contest of who gave up more. But lest we forget, until his release from prison, the UDP had a leadership vacuum when Adama Barrow yielded to popular demand and resigned as party head of the UDP to run as an independent candidate to head the coalition. The UDP yielded away from their party led position, sacrificed a vacuum in the leadership of the party to see us through. The least we can do is to give them a chance to lay out their approach for contesting the National assembly elections and judge their position on its merits. That is what mature political discourse requires.
Let us use caution lest we create a political culture and a nation divided along ethnic lines in a manifestation of self-fulfilling prophecy. The Mandinka loyalty lie with The Gambia, if the only way to proof that is by embracing a non-Mandinka then we are asking for trouble. The veiled tribal bigotry and tribal undertones need to cease.