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One Gambian, One Nation; Divided

GAMBIA-KIling“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke

“You have to expose who you are so that you can determine what you need to become.”
Cynthia A. Patterson

There is a narrative, a two sided narrative about the Gambia’s political evolution. It is the protectorate narrative and the colony narrative; one instance two perspectives.

The level of mistrust that graces our political space is not accidental or vacuous. It is borne out of long held suspicions of each other’s motives regarding political power. Unfortunately we find it hard to take a step back and give the other the benefit of the doubt.

We just emerged from a very tense political environment into an even more volatile and sensitive one. Our healing, just like our pains, are multi-faceted and need to be treated as such.

It is a well documented fact that tyranny; whether imposed from outside as in colonization or as exercised by despotic leaders who usurped all power from the sovereign, thrives on division and favoritism. The colonial invaders did it and that was our reality for over two decades. It will not be remedied overnight. Knowing that history, putting it in its proper context and learning from it is the only guarantee of moving past it.

Our parents or grand parents told us stories, we have no reason not to believe them for they were recounting their experiences. Their interpretations for why they went through what they went through may be wrong, but experienced it, they did. Those experiences and how they are interpreted gave us our two narratives.

To the the colony citizen, with citizenship rights and privileges, the native “comer” or protectorate native (the non-citizen subject of the British crown) was seen as an usurper, an unwelcome competitor for the meager resources they rely on, a challenge to their privileged position. So explains the hostility the provincial natives faced.

The protectorate native saw the colony citizen as a bully, disdainful towards him and his provincial roots and hellbent on proving and maintaining his perceived higher status.

The numerically larger protectorate being accorded a voice in the political process meant a shift in the balance of power. With its heavy Mandinka population, the Protectorate People’s Party became the “PPP are all Mandinka” even though the likes of Michael Baldeh, A.M. Camara were pioneers. And the UP, that dominated the colony politics became the “Wollof – Banjun Suruwa party” even though the Seyfolu were aligned with it. Politics, grew more sectarian. This is why “UDP is Mandinka party” is ill-advised. It evokes negative memories and its untrue.

Colonial policy stacked the odds heavily against the protectorate, education was confined almost entirely to the colony. The vacuum it created made the grassroots PPP short on the number of ‘educated’ folks within its ranks, a fact Jawara accepted and sought ‘competent’ folks from the other side to help the country through its infancy. See why “incompetent” doesn’t actually mean incompetence? It evokes latent negative memories.

That move of course angered the grassroots who thought they were breaking free of the bullying now that they have taken over power only to witness the sustenance of the old order. That sense of betrayal and the negative reception of colony native dominance in the civil service was viewed with a ‘tribal’ lens. That opposition to the manifest imbalance which favored a heavy presence of educated colony natives in the civil service was seen as an expression of a sense of entitlement.

“Who do these Mandinka folks (PPP for short) think they are? This country belongs to all of us.” Sound familiar? History is repeating itself right in front of our eyes and we think people are overreacting when in fact certain words and trends have deeper meanings than they seem on the surface. But we are oblivious to history and worse want historical revisionism that disregards the past.

Outside of politics, two Gambians, prominent in the story of Sir Dawda, whose story is Gambia’s story, represent what Gambia truly is.

Pa Yoma and Almami Jawara’s relationship gives us an insight into that Gambia of old. That Gambia is still alive and kicking but being encroached upon by social media ‘native strangers.’ Pa Yoma saw the Potential in Jawara and convinced his father to send Jawara to school to enhance his potential, a notion old man Jawara was not very inclined towards. Not only did he convince the older Jawara to his side, he brought him from Barajally to Banjul to look after him and be his guardian. Lo and behold, his foresight and kind gesture gave us our first president, a young man who’d lead the masses to break us free of colonialism.

On the other side is Almami Jawara, a man willing to give his son up to another man with whom he only shared trade relations. The two men were not related, the older Jawara, up to that point most probably never saw Pa Yoma’s home or the conditions of living thereof. But gave his son up anyway, trusting Pa Yoma will do right by him. This was a time when vehicles were uncommon and a visit would be very few and far between. Those two men define The Gambia we know, and they are numerously abundant even this day. I for one will not believe that any spirit contrary to that will take root in The Gambia anytime soon.

A dear friend and brother recounted how his brother was posted upcountry as a teacher and the host family, with their moderate means embraced him. Lived and ate free with them while he served his country’s future. So close did his brother become with that family that he felt a part of it even though they were of different ethnic groups.

As was with Jawara and Pa Yoma, so it was with darboe and P.S. N’jie. There is P.S n’jie the man and P.S N’jie the politician, as with all politicians one aspect does not always define the other. Politics/economics aside, these differences are latent to non-existent which is why bigoted people should have no place in our political space.

Politics is not for the faint of heart or the insincere. Let’s step in each other’s shoes, look back and learn from the mistakes of the past to expose who we are so that we can determine what we need to become.

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