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Cherreh wala mehw – Grains or milk?

In recent years, there have been calls to change some terminologies such as “Mansa/N’gurr/lamdo” because their usage gives the wrong impression to folks on what the functions of public servants are.

These terminologies referenced above are borrowed from the native Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulani dialects of the Gambia and are used in reference to presidents and governments respectively. They originate from the era of kings and kingdoms of the days of yore. The claim is, and rightly so, that the power and functions of the kings of old are incompatible with the powers and functions of an elected leader presiding over a democratic state.

Along similar lines, I would also suggest that certain adages and common sayings should be revisited especially when it comes to their usage. A couple of days ago, current Minister of Infrastructure in Barrow’s “caretaker” cabinet wrote on his Facebook page calling for unity and admonishing against “dumping sand in the cherreh…”. Although I am not sure what triggered such calls, but I will speculate by saying that he is speaking to the current situation as regards our evidently polarized nation and the unpopular government he serves. But whatever the reason is, it is beside the point I want to make.

 Here is the point. In broader terms, what the minister is speaking to references the old saying in Olof  “lekko chi ndab li, bu chi kopu soof” which roughly translates to say; because you’re not eating from the communal bowl [of cherreh – a native dish], should not warrant dumping sand into the bowl. Another way of interpreting that is to say; do not deprive others of what they indulge in just because you cannot partake in it.

Now therein lies the issue for me. No one citizen should feel like they cannot partake in the benefits that the commonwealth accords them or feel left out to the point that they want to “ruin” it for all concerned. That view is wrong on so many levels because we are talking about the common weal. After all, it is considered wrong and immoral in Wolof society and The Gambian community at large to eat a meal in the presence of others without offering them to partake in the meal with, stranger or not.

With that in mind, why then should some feel so entitled that they would ask others to essentially not spoil their indulgence for them for merely speaking out? The right approach would be to ask why a segment of society, the majority I must add, feel so left out of the commonwealth, and then sparing no effort in bringing them on board. In other words, working to enhance their welfare in tangible and impactful ways as it is supposed to be.

But there is another adage in Olof that stands contrast to the above and seems more apt when speaking to the common good. The saying that “Ku boka chi ghetta ji, naan chi mew mi” essentially demands inclusion in affairs that one is affected by and is entitled to. That saying was recently popularized in a song titled the same by Gambian rapper Ali Cham. The song was a direct and open condemnation of the tyrannical state that Jammeh operated at the time. And just like the adage it was coined from; it is a more appropriate idiom when it comes to national affairs.

For that hit song, Ace (as he is fondly called) had to flee the jurisdiction of The Gambia. That fact speaks to the state of mind of public officials. To Jammeh, criticism meant one was jealous of him. All the rapper was saying in essence was that all citizens deserve to have their voice heard.

Public officials in Africa view public office as a personal claim and do not take kindly to being criticized or called out for the wrongs they do, hence the heavy handedness that come to characterize governance in Africa.

It is rather unfortunate that when one cries out against corruption, injustice, or simply criticizes a policy decision that affects them, the reaction becomes one of blaming the victim. The critic now becomes the “jealous” person simply because he/she is not in the position occupied by the one being criticized. Such a view is also not devoid of context, because often we have seen ardent critics of the status quo turn into apologists and even sycophants for the very system they railed against just to have a share of the loot. With that mindset, criticism is not viewed as emanating from a sincere place hence the judgement against the critic.

This is the mentality of people in public office. Rather than being introspective and assessing what impact their decisions and actions have on the people they are supposed to serve, they divide the public into those who are blindly loyal to them and those who are opposed to them. If the criticism comes from a known opponent, it is brushed off as borne out of jealousy. The unfortunate thing about that is that the loyal ones are mostly sycophantic at worst and at best never offer any criticism. How then can a government serve its people with such an approach?

But it is not too surprising that the old adages of our ancestors get wrongly applied, because even the word of God is misinterpreted to serve a similar purpose. We witnessed it when Jammeh ordered for the murder of prisoners serving court handed sentences of life imprisonment and supposed Islamic “scholars” defended it as Sharia compliant even though that is a blatant misinterpretation of Shariah. Never mind the fact that The Gambia is run by a secular constitution. But hey, Jammeh was crowned Nasiruddin (defender of the faith) by the same set of “scholars” so how can he violate the same faith he is the designated defender of?

So instead of public officials viewing the public trust as if it is a bowl of cherreh that they and their cronies can indulge in, they should see public office as the ghetta that produces the milk that all citizens are entitled to drink from. That way, no one goes hungry.

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