If you take a look at our situation in The Gambia closely, a few things stand out and they are unmissable, but you have to look very closely, draw parallels and you will be able to see the correlation.
Noticed how just a few years ago some of us shied away from acknowledging we are from the provinces? For some it got so bad they will not even visit home. If there wasn’t a stigma/negative stereotype attached to it, why would some of us do so. That negative stereotype and stigma has to do with how you were made to feel inferior and uncultured. It was a defense mechanism against bullying to say you were from Brikama rather than admit to actually being from Basori or Jambanjelli. You’d say you were from Kerewan or Farafenni rather than say you were from Jajari or Duntumalang; Basse instead of Fatoto, Bwian instead of Sutusinjang etc. These major towns were relatively well known if not the administrative capital of their regions, so that gives some sense of esteem rather than saying you were from a village whose very name will invite ridicule alongside you being labeled all but a village idiot. Here’s a reference point for those who disagree that such acts of condescension actually took place in pre-independent Gambia and beyond.
These of course are not unique to The Gambia, ‘City’ folks have always had a sense of superiority over country folks everywhere in terms of how civilized they see themselves. Power is the most coveted commodity in all of modern human civilization; whether that be brought on by wealth, knowledge, political power, or any other forms in which it may manifest itself. There is, it seems an innate need in humans to be recognized and held in esteem. That sense of status elevation and superiority is hardly ever absent in any human endeavor. We simply want to be recognized, celebrated and even revered. There are very few among us that are immune to such desire.
Let’s see how this may; just maybe, have a correlation to our politics and the political landscape. Sir Farimang Singhateh was a Santonko, Sir Dawda Jawara is a Santonko, Yaya Jammeh;Santonko, and now Adama Barrow; another Santonko. Before native-led politics took root, the positions of power and influenced were all claimed by the colony (city) native, and it largely remained so under the first dispensation due to the need for ‘educated’ folks to steer the nation’s affairs forward. Yaya’s ascension disrupted that otherwise oligarchical system where people in positions employed and created opportunities for their families and relatives giving them head starts over others. Following various social media discourses from a distance, it seems the prevalent feeling, albeit not openly admitted is that “we cannot keep having these ‘illiterate’ (translates – Santonko) with their pea-sized brains (yes, that actual adjective was used) rule over us; we also have a say in this country!” This is part of the reasons why you hear “this country belongs to all of us”.
In addition to the fact nepotism is already an entrenched problem, some throw another contentious issue into the mix; “tribe”/ethnicity. The ethnic composition of Santo vs Douma (I guess that will suffice) is prominent, not in composition but in the lingua franca. That fact, some use as an appeal to emotions in their political discourse to garner the sympathy vote. Therein lies our problem; ENTITLEMENT, period. “We are the educated, we should be in charge.” Education being relative and usually means literacy
We’ve seen how the civil service was personalized so much we had a de facto oligarchy under the PPP. It was worse under the APRC when Yaya took it to another level by singling out his kinsmen as the most disadvantaged by virtue of their ethnicity rather than the fact all rural communities fared exactly the same. He injected the ‘tribe’ component into the mix to consolidate himself.
Here’s a simple experiment; filter your friend list on social media based on political leanings. The pro-coalition government aka CDL and those discontent with the government and gave up on all hopes that any good can come of out of the government, aka DSS. Now track them based on geography and you will see very distinct political leanings; the geographical locations being two; Banjul and Kombo St. Mary’s Division (KSMD) being one and the remainder of the country being another (colony vs protectorate). Make Foni an exception as they were forced to be loyal to one party and largely see things from only one perspective, virtually cut off from the rest of the country thanks to coercion to a large extent.
Even in the case of so called independents, those that are from the colony have silently lost faith in the government and those from the protectorate are silently sympathetic towards the government. Of course among that group too are those who sincerely stand the middle ground criticizing when called for and acknowledging good strides with complements. The rest you can decipher for yourself.
Only two of the current key political players are from the KSMD region who are either shielded, hailed, or turned a blind eye to although polar opposites in political ideology. Same goes for the other camp too. Mama Kandeh and his team are a counter weight, the swinger vote if you like, so he is tolerated but not fully embraced. Follow the political debate closely and these divides emerge; take for example the foul mouth who recently did a video calling the President an uncultured provincial from the dust laden Jimara. The same person is a self-proclaimed GDC supporter, party leader having hailed from the exact same area as the president; speak of an irony. It says a lot however one looks at it; and to think people ‘liked’ her comments and even encouraging her to the point of casting her as a victim also speaks volumes; one such being an aspiring mayoral candidate under the same party platform. There were others before her too.
This current rivalry, almost toxic between the UDP led camp and the Independent/PDOIS camp plays into that scenario in more ways than one. The UDP’s politics and strategy has never changed except to adjust to new realities. The PDOIS likewise; the two parties have been on polar opposites in political ideology. Why is it that for the almost 2 decades that Hon. Sidia Jatta headed the PDOIS its platform was less appealing than it is now? PDOIS’s ideology and politics has never changed, why the sudden surge in sympathizers and die hard supporters, who until very recently were establishment sympathizers? A lot of these sudden PDOIS members will be at a loss when asked who the late Dr. Omar Kumbamang Touray was. The only thing that changed in PDOIS is leadership roles; by all accounts he and Hon. Sidia Jatta both excelled in academics and obtained more credentials thereof than Hon. Halifa Sallah. And no, tribalism is not what’s to blame, all these gentlemen named are patriots and way above such sentiments, the question is the supporters who until very recently would not be caught dead near a PDOIS event. Why the sudden love affair?
“We want educated people in office!” They exclaim, but why now and not then? I still don’t think even the supporters are motivated by ethnic/tribal sentiments; at least not the majority. Those favored politicians share close kinship relations to either them or an extended family member; relationships that can be potentially tapped into for opportunities. To some it is not a case of being in favor but rather being against a UDP dominated political environment.
As P.L.O Lumumba said; if you want to be rich in Africa, join politics/the public service. Although that that argument does not hold true for all public servants and politicians, the characterization holds true for most.
What we’ve had in the Gambia is a problem of nepotism. Who you know gets you to where you want to go faster than what you know, so we see government as a form of an oligarchy; a fiefdom if you will. After the fall of the PPP government and the subsequent Alghali Commission, we witnessed the level of corruption in the junior levels of government. We also noticed the family relationships and kinships of the people facing the commissions. So it is not farfetched that as a country emerging from such a biased environment, some citizens view all politicians with suspicion as being cut from the same cloth; that is until they prove themselves different. That feeling; that “it’s the same old game at play, people empowering their relatives and since we are not related to them, there is no hope for us.”
One Gambia, one people has sadly just dawned on some of the ‘educated’ literate folks; the ordinary ‘illiterate’ Gambian has not only believed that, he lived it and is living it. That poison pill has just been prescribed for our social relations and some have swallowed it thanks to the same bunch – the ‘educated elite’. The more we sing it, the more life gets injected into it. If people internalize that notion of ‘us against them’ not along political affiliations but along ethnic lines; we’re in for a very long and rough ride ahead.
Let sleeping dogs lie!