Gambia

Losing Ourselves

For colonialism to succeed, the invaders must adopt an air of superiority and cast native ways as inferior in every aspect. All colonizers share that characteristic. They will represent themselves with their best attributes and highlight the seemingly worst and often misunderstood ways of the natives interpreted to suit a negative narrative and conclude that in fact the natives are inferior. That skewed logic is the “evidence of history” that unfortunately our very own “intellectuals” buy into; consequently every prescription they proffer is the proverbial ‘garbage in (flawed evidence), garbage out (proposed solutions to our “problems”)’. That is one explanation of why we are in this seemingly unending cycle of stagnation in terms of development, both human and capital.
The sad truth is that the narrative, sustained over the past many centuries has had an effect on us as a colonized people; the inferiority complex. We have come to believe that in fact we are as our oppressors have labeled us, that in fact we are less. “See how advanced their societies are and how backward we are; see how democratic and open their societies are and how intolerant ours are,” etc. etc. that our backward culture is to blame for our lack of ‘advancement. The purveyors of the narrative that we need to do things exactly like our former colonizers are doing are those we view as “intellectuals”. Steve Biko once said that “the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” That reality is what we are living today. Those we view as educated or intellectuals for a large part have had their minds ‘programmed’ by those very colonizers and that most potent weapon; their minds, have been unleashed on us to further enhance the colonial narrative.
Suddenly, completely ignorant folks, with no insight whatsoever as to how our societies are shaped or molded together are the self-appointed experts on what the problems of our society are, and what the remedy should be. Diagnosis; tribalism and backward culture! Prescription; loyalty to the nation state and shunning African culture! To them the wise and experienced elders can take a nap because they do not know how ‘democracy’ works. Like hell they don’t! You (the more knowledgeable than his elders) are the ignorant ones but too proud to admit it since you are confusing western consumerism with democracy. Without realizing it, their prescription is for a misdiagnosed ailment and it is only going to rip our societies apart and in the process advancing the course of those who, centuries ago held us in bondage and kept our minds captive. The irony is that they claim to be pan Africanists. But just like a well programmed machine, they will say that “we are proponents of democracy and human rights advocates”; which implies our ways were neither democratic nor advanced human rights – the colonial premise. What in fact most of these so called human rights activists and champions of democracy are promoting is westernization which is not the same as democracy.
On the other side of the narrative are the masses, a large portion of who view fluency in the language of the colonizer as equivalent to knowledge. We listen to anyone who can articulate their points well and often fall short of questioning their logic or reasoning. In our case, speak English well and you’re ‘the guy’. That fluency masks the ignorance within. Even on religious knowledge and matters of faith, the unassuming Faa Nyonkoling may only know Fatiha and the last three Surahs of the Qur’an, but his entire life is the perfect representation of the character of a true Muslim; he is honest, he is sincere, he is modest, he is content, he is generous with his meager resources, he is patient with hardship, does not talk about people’s shortcomings, keeps confidence and is always admonishing good conduct, hard work, truthfulness and empathy. Yet, in the eyes of the villagers of Wasabali Kunda, Faa Nyonkoling is a simpleton who has nothing to offer other than outdated traditions. The go-to guy is Alhaji Abdul Malick just returned from Arabia and speaks with every fifth word being an Arabic word; now he is the true Muslim. Instead of admitting his lack of knowledge in Islam, he will use his Arabic literacy to mislead people as long as the respect and attention such fluency accords him keeps coming. The same applies to our social media loudmouths. Neither disciplined nor informed but the ‘boldness’ to speak up and articulately so has earned them followers and so they march on spewing garbage in their wake.
Now this is by no means an attempt at generalizing, but in fact it is an attempt at highlighting instances of such manifestations of inferiority complex. The wealth of knowledge in our modest and unassuming elders is such a treasure throve that it will take real intellectual skills to decipher them in relation to the context such knowledge was acquired; but out of intellectual laziness or a predisposition to consume everything from the colonial masters as gospel, so we just prefer them over our “oral traditions.” Like much else, we just want ready-made stuff, and like every ready-made item, unverified knowledge is poisonous and worse; subjugating and misleading. The only remedy to that has been captured many a time before; “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery….” so says Bob Marley. “Who taught you to hate yourself?” inquired Malcolm!
In their attempt to subjugate us, the colonialists made it a duty to devalue and eventually eradicate our belief systems, our culture, values, customs, traditions and the last frontier is language! Start small, end big if you like. Culture can be manifested in many ways but language is the total embodiment of a people’s culture. How many of us can express ourselves in our native languages without injecting some European or Arabic word? Now imagine a generation or two from now and the challenges they will face in understanding our culture. We have set course on a trajectory that can only end in tragedy for our people as a collective, but are insisting that we are doing the most good.
How often do you hear that Africa’s problem is tribalism; in the ‘New Gambia’ of course it is the choicest topic of discussion; yet if people are asked to point out such cases of tribalism they fall short of giving any convincing answers; what do we promote in its stead; nationalism. In the greater drive for a unified Africa what is more an impediment, tribe or nation state? The nation state needless to say has a foreign design to it. The partitioning of Africa to suit various Western interests never took into account existing norms and institutions. Attacking any aspect of what is left of our culture without looking inward for substitutes is playing right into furthering that colonial narrative. Being proud of and upholding one’s culture is not synonymous with being unpatriotic, in fact it is a collective of such cultures within certain geographic regions that makes up a country. Try to ‘assimilate’ all into one melting pot and you are sure to kill off some.
Show me an intolerant Gambian and you have an uncultured individual. Our society is unique and worth being proud of. Thousands of years of culture and traditions of peaceful coexistence and intermingling of people of different customs and value systems required an intricate and delicate system to maintain; our forebears did it with no outside ‘help’, but that legacy is under threat from none other than copycat wannabes who falsely project an image of intellectually sound individuals, when in fact they are as ignorant as a toddler when it comes to their knowledge of how such an intricate system of peaceful coexistence was woven and maintained. Our task is to challenge them, and it is simple. Understand and celebrate who you are and embrace your neighbor; that’s all it takes!

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