Gambian Diaspora Leadership – Catalyst Voice of Conscience, Justice and Unity for Regime Change

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Alagie Yorro JallowAlagi Yorro Jallow

Democracy cannot be exported or imported. It has to be developed by the citizens themselves in order to succeed. In the quest for restoration of democracy and regime change, there is no one formula for success. Democratic cultures emerge from civil society in a unique way. But many of the challenges in achieving and consolidating democracy are shared, especially the always challenging transition from a non-democratic society towards democracy, via the building blocks of civil society.We are all aware of the belligerent and provocative behavior of President Yahya Jammeh and his regime. Though the Gambian people are  seeing repression coming everyday and there has been fewer marches and confrontation, there has to be serious anti-repression initiatives and solidarity initiatives put together, or we will get caught with our pants down and the cyber-warrior revolutionary mindset and commanding diatribe on the airwaves is not a solution, (Chowlii ). Many Gambians in the Diaspora want to see change, but they are not united in how that change should be brought about or what role they should play in helping to effect change.

This is arguably the most successful Diaspora in recent times to have come to the United States and Europe. This Diaspora is disproportionately well-educated; they have been incredibly successful and have now begun to pay attention to politics, and they are beginning to organize. And they can become a virtual part of the Gambian civil society. The Gambian Diaspora is quite diverse and not monolithic in their opinions, but they have proven resilient in many ways.

The Diaspora plays four important roles in any democratic process: (1) act as the voice of conscience to the world both outside and also within the country; (2) lobby diplomats for international support and cooperation; (3) mobilize activists for grassroots involvement both inside and outside the country; and (4) provide psychological and financial support to civil society groupings. In building a partnership with the international community, the Diaspora’s role calls for protecting human rights, spreading democracy, and building a civil society(Brown,2005). At the same time Diaspora can also play a negative role by acting as spoiler in a particular sense of ineffective communication and coordination with political parties in side the country. How will the relationship between civil society groupings in the Diaspora and political parties managed?

The most successful route for transformation by civil society of authoritarian repression has been that of organized civil resistance. Gandhi created the model for non-violent civil disobedience against unjust laws in the first campaigns for human rights he launched in South Africa, which he then applied in subsequent campaigns for self-determination. Democracy activists and members of civil society struggling to create democratic conditions under non-democratic regimes often face the harsh dilemma of finding the most effective methods for wresting change from a dictatorship.

By most measurements, the current situation of The Gambia is deplorable and the state of affairs is getting worse all the time. The struggle for democracy in The Gambia has grown long while the horrific events in Gambia are increasing tremendously. Some Gambians are expressing their discontent openly; others are not. Each of these has a reason of their own for their actions. One of the reasons why some keep quiet might be the disunity syndrome in the Diaspora’s struggle for regime change(fankungfankung).

Gambians in the Diaspora fear retribution against relatives and family members in Gambia and want to be able to continue to travel without interference from the regime. This is another troubling development in the struggle. Another frustration for Diaspora supporters is that wealthy Gambians seem reluctant to contribute to the cause of ending dictatorship.

And undoubtedly one thing that is missing in the Gambian struggle for regime change is justice and unity. And it doesn’t seem that there is enough of an effort to achieve justice and unity. Rather, it appears that for many the struggle is for fulfillment of some narrow political, ethnic, or other interest. This is a very important point—people want a worthwhile reason to sacrifice time, money, and energy. It may seem a waste of time if someone struggles wholeheartedly for justice for many years when others supposedly on his side were struggling for their own narrow political, ethnic, or other self-interests (Kunkiling nafaa).

The opposition political or civil society groupings have not been able to bring more people on board as they have been more engaged in discussion among themselves, usually about unity. These civil society groups’ discussions so far have not brought the desired results for regime change. That is why we have more than 28 civil society groups in the Diaspora of about less than 200,000 Gambians. This is because the respective civil society groupings are missing the main point of the quest for justice and unity; they are more concerned with power and influence. They apparently fail to realize that unity is always power, as long as the uniting factor is the speeding up of the movement toward justice, as opposed to a mere desire for political power and other narrow interests.

It is in fact my strong and long-held conviction that without democratizing our own state of mind, without committing ourselves to seriously and collectively organizing ourselves with the aim of waging a new war against our deep-seated differences, resentments, and hostilities towards each other, without demolishing the heavy, immovable wall that stands between us, and without even the will to understand the basic meanings of democracy (Penchoo  not Parchoo), which is, simply put, living together side by side, peacefully, in our community or society with tolerance and respect for the values and views of one another—the idea that democracy can take root in The Gambia, and that our people can enjoy its fruits, is an illusion.

Moreover, the many scattered efforts currently in the making among various groups and individuals in an attempt to implement democracy in The Gambia are likely to damage both day-to-day activities of Gambians and the process of democratization itself. It will be helpful for all to focus intensely on our own behaviors and make every possible effort to correct our carelessness, recklessness, and huge amount of arrogance as we fight to restore democracy in Gambia.

Challenging as these obstacles are, what is saddening and frustrating above all else is that while we live here in the Western world, while most of us contribute to the struggle for restoration of democracy and rule of law in Gambia, we have no one Diaspora leadership to guide and direct us. The emerging power struggle within the Diaspora leadership and among various groups, the desire of a few to rule the rest of us without our consent and approval, and indeed, our incapability to even agree and put our ideas on paper with a sense of togetherness and confidence in each other and a common objective in our struggle has put us in a difficult situation.

The Gambian Diaspora has always been actively involved, always engaged with the politics of Gambia, but many are entirely convinced of the indispensability of professional coordination for an effectively operating organization, whether political or non-political, and despite having the required knowledge, skills, and money, we have not been so lucky as to come up with the desired organization—an organization or organizations that would represent and coordinate our collective needs, voices, and the possible process of democratization of our country. This is partly because we often choose to disagree with each other and often prefer to be confrontational towards each other rather than collectively going in search of ways to operate that will be conducive to strengthening the common factors and grounds that could serve as our source of harmony and unity.

It is possible that it is the absence of such coordinating professional organizations, with unfailing leaders, together with our persistent disagreements and conflicts, that have made our own activities ineffective, so that we have continued to be entirely dependent upon the iniatives and actions of other players when it comes to events and crises taking place within our country or elsewhere in the sub-region.

We often seem unwilling to listen to each other, tending to choose the path of “go it alone” (fankunfankung and Kunkiling tamala). As the experiences of the past years plainly illustrate, the Gambian Diaspora often appear to be willing to come together or at least to show signs of temporary togetherness and unity only when one or more opposition members of our own family are at risk. We have been and still are exclusively dependent upon our emotions, which in turn depend on being awakened by the threats and actions undertaken by our enemies back home. The recent execution of the nine death row inmates and the arrest of Imam Baba Leigh and Ba Kawsu Fofana are typical examples of our temporary togetherness. It would be ideal if this current unity would continue, but who knows if it will last?

The biggest fear of President Jammeh’s government is people being organized and armed with weapons of unity, knowledge, courage, vigilance, and justice. What is needed is a unified, dedicated struggle for justice and sincerity. Justice has no religion, justice has no ethnicity, justice has no regional boundary; justice is universal and should be the only rallying point in our struggle for political change in our beloved Gambia.

The Statue of Liberty, to many people across the world, is supposed to be a symbol of freedom and liberty, a beacon of hope and opportunity for those who reach the shores of the United States. And the Gambian Diaspora needs a similar unifying force, a powerful call to arms and a singular, commanding objective. It’s the responsibility of the Diaspora to advance the Gambian cause, and at the same time to determine how their efforts can be aided by the international community. We must finally determine precisely what role the Diaspora will play in the democracy movement to end dictatorship (Tangal Cheeb regime) in The Gambia—and then we must follow through so that our efforts will be successful.

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