A call for National conference under the banner of ‘Community cohesion or insecurity: How Should the New Barrow Government respond to the challenges of divisions, polarizations and feelings of insecurity in the Post-Jammeh period’

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Author: Dr. Ebrima Ceesay

Thanks to his politics of divisions and polarization, it is now self-evident that ex-president Jammeh’s main legacy, undoubtedly, is having left behind, an intensely divided and acrimonious Gambian nation. Yahya Jammeh will be most remembered, among other things, for having left behind an extremely politically polarized and divided country, as made evident by the bad-tempered, venomous, spiteful and vindictive debates among many Gambians, especially on the Internet and social media. Many of these online discussions (mainly on social media) are characterized by bitterness, hatred, hostility and resentment to the extent that I am now very worried because any lack of community cohesion in the country would be a threat to a lasting peace and stability in the Gambia.

The partisan divide in the country now is glaringly obvious, and relationships in the Gambia or among Gambians, are so polarized that I now have concerns about the future direction of the country, because without community or social cohesion, it would be very difficult to maintain long-term peace and stability in the country. The divisions in the county are manifesting themselves in different ways – one of which is to see, almost on a daily basis, so many Gambians, not just those in the Diaspora but also (Gambians) at home, using the Internet to spew “tribal” hatred. There is now an endless barrage of hate-spewing Gambians on social media – castigating each other or one another.

In fact, yesterday, there were two videos on You Tube, where a lady who belongs to the “Jola language grouping” was heard insulting those who belong to the “Mandinka language grouping”. The lady was speaking in Mandinka, and I almost shared the videos with this listserv. But I had had a second thought, given the fact that I cannot speak Mandinka. So, I called my Gambian neighbor, who is a native speaker of Mandinka, to listen to the two videos and afterwards, he was the one who advised against sharing the two offensive or repulsive videos, as the insults to the “Mandinka language groupings” coming from the lady were very painful and unbearable. Decent Gambians must now stand up and denounce these hate-spewing bigots.

However, what this shows are early signs or initial manifestations of breakdowns in community cohesion and interaction in the Gambia. We are now beginning to see or witness the rapid evaporation of a cohesive society in the Gambia. And without social cohesion, often called by academics “the glue holding society together”, it would be very difficult to maintain the Gambia’s long-term peace and stability. And the extent to which the new Gambia government is equipped to deal with this potential threat to our national unity, peace, stability and security remains unclear. As a result, the new government’s effective management of cohesiveness and diversity is critical.

Consequently, I am advising the new government, given the intense polarization and divisions, in the country to make social or community cohesion in the Post-Jammeh period – a public policy priority, because any mismanagement or mishandling of the country’s diversity and these brewing social tensions could lead to total unrest and chaos in the country. In the wake of the Kanilai incident, and also having heard Foreign Minister Mankeur Njie of Senegal say, just the other day, that there were groups trying to “destabilize the Barrow government”, it is now the time for the new government to invest in community cohesion programmes, for the sake of (re)uniting a divided Post-Jammeh Gambia. Without a socially cohesive society, cohesion and interactions among our citizens would face further risks. Interaction and cooperation between diverse communities in the Gambia must be promoted, as a matter of urgency.

Therefore, the new government must not only initiate (or come up with) a workable strategy for community cohesion, co-operation and partnership among our respective or various communities, but also ensure that such a proposed strategy would be put into practice. Gambians must continue, despite our political differences, to co-exist peacefully and harmoniously, as well as demonstrate respect for one another.

In my view, promoting or fostering community cohesion, in the post-Jammeh period, is an important policy challenge for the new Barrow administration. To this end, I am calling for the setting up of a national task force, preferably, led or headed by the Policy Analysis Unit, under the Office of the President. The proposed Task force must also include representative from Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Gambia Bureau of Statistics, Civil Society, Religious Groups and other NGO partners.

The primary objective of the proposed task force would be to come up with policy recommendations, in order to help foster continued national unity by outlining areas that can improve relationships and interactions between Gambians. The proposed task force, hopefully, would be able to offer new insights into how our communities or various “language groups” can interact peacefully, in the Post-Jammeh Gambia period. In short, it would be the duty of the proposed taskforce to help the Barrow government better understand how community cohesion, in the context of a post-Jammeh Gambia, can work – by coming up with policy recommendations (or workable policy solutions) that would help promote good levels of community cohesion and interaction in the country. The new government has a special responsibility to promote greater inclusiveness and also ensure that all Gambians have a voice to be heard, as well as continue to trust the institutions of the state.

Yet, it must also be pointed out that ensuring that Gambians are continuing to live together in peace and harmony is not just the sole responsibility of the new government. It also requires the involvement and active collaboration of all of the country’s stakeholders such as the politicians, ordinary citizens, civil society, government and businesses, in order to jointly address these issues of divisions and polarizations in the country.

Lastly, I also urge the University of the Gambia (UTG) to consider setting up, at least in the long term, a Centre for Intercultural Understanding in the Gambia, or a Department of Ethnic Studies, where courses on cultural diversity, cultural pluralism and ethnic relations would be taught to help Gambians in particular, also and foreign students coming to UTG, understand and appreciate our respective diverse communities. I also called on the Barrow government or civil society groups in the Gambia to organize a conference, at the appropriate time, under the theme: “Community cohesion or insecurity: How Should the New Barrow Government respond to the challenges of divisions, polarizations and feelings of insecurity in the Post-Jammeh period?”

By Dr. Ebrima Ceesay

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