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Culture or Naiveté?

In the midst of our frustrations with the revelations being made at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), it is easy and quite common to hear that we are a naïve people for letting our elected officials act with so much impunity.

To a large extent, naiveté could be an easy conclusion to come to but equally important is our penchant for settling for selfish gains and burying our heads in the sand when it comes to the hefty price the next man or woman has to pay; who cares what the next person’s struggles are as long as our bread is buttered?

We often hear how something is so un-Gambian that it can only be done by non-Gambians, such as killing or high crimes of that nature. Although that may sound xenophobic, it actually references our diverse cultures and how such things are viewed contemptuously by all Gambians. We have been raised to hold human dignity above all else, to he kind, generous and always willing to help others. Newcomers to villages are welcome with open arms, land for settling and farming given free of charge (still obtains) and the young men and women help such newcomers build their mud huts from start to completion at no cost to the stranger.

When someone dies in a community, the community members become the undertakers for the deceased and the support system for the aggrieved family. A similar is true of joyous occasions when they pull their meager resources together to welcome a baby or see a woman off to her matrimonial home with festivities.

Young boys and girls are initiated into adulthood with life lessons for social competence and to reinforce our value systems in the upcoming generations; respect for elders, care for the weak and infirm, charity and a sharing culture. Our traditional communities are so close knit that it is considered offensive to refer to lifelong friends and neighbors as friends; friendships create bonds so strong we call each other brothers and sisters even if we do not share the same ethnic backgrounds talk less of family backgrounds. In our value system, ‘friend’ sounds so much of a lax term that we have to bring the person into the fold of family to show emphasis on the bond that exists. When a Gambian tells you so and so is my brother, sister, uncle or aunt; ask them how they are related for there may be no biological relationship at all (usually the case) only a shared bond of long held respect and care for one another.

This fact cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Whether at home or abroad, once a person’s Gambian origins and upbringing is established we automatically let our guards down and fully trust the person, no questions asked.

This fact serves as some sort of security blanket that we feel safe under. That care free attitude is what may be interpreted by the untrained eye as naiveté . We refuse to belief that there are outliers among us, people who look at our culture and values as primitive, restraining and inapplicable to them. People who are willing to do the unexpected for personal gain and shun the collective interest as we have been raised to.

Humans are the same everywhere; society imposes restraints and creates boundaries to confine our instincts within certain parameters. When people say such and such a crime cannot possibly be committed by a Gambian, it is not out of contempt for the stranger but an expression of unfamiliarity.

From numerous accounts at the TRRC, we know personal goals and expectations drove the agenda of the military leaders from the staging of the coup through to the transition and the entire reign of terror presided over by Yaya Jammeh and his A(F)PRC. Promises of promotion, of increased pay and risk allowances, of land and better work conditions were made to get the rank and file on board with the illegalities that overthrew a democratically elected government and replaced it with a vengeful and murderous tyrant.

With Jammeh at the helm of Gambian affairs, the seal is broken off of our cohesive and cordial society. Brother turned on brother, sister used as an agent for the tyrant against her brother. Men turned into cold blooded killers to fit in with sadists and sociopaths all to prop up a tyrant and still we are none the wiser.

We currently use tribe, religion and customs to denigrate each other, to label one another, to promote bitterness and rancor for no other reason than personal gains or for personal satisfaction. The generations of old mastered the human character, realized the dangers of over indulgence in pursuit of our desires and so put safeguards in place to contain our worst base instincts. As primitive and crude as we may think their means are, they worked; and if we refine them just a little bit, they will work even better for us. But sadly we are advocating for shunning one and all in the name of modernity.

We bully people into conformity only for us to be confronted with challenges we are ill-equipped to contain and then turn around and blame society and illiteracy for the new problems we face. Ironical isn’t it?

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