‘The Nation School’: An open letter to an African Dictator

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As a preview to our exclusive Interview this week with Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow gainako revisited our archives to bring you one of the great ideas Dr. Jallow wrote on.. the idea of “The Nation School” below is a preview of the idea and a letter Dr. Jallow wrote to an African Dictator…

By Baba Galleh Jallow

As mentioned in our last segment, we firmly believe that the idea of the Family Nation can be actualized through the agency of the nation as a school, the Nation School. This means, of course, that the state must act not only as an institution of governance but also as a conscious politico-educational institution whose primary role is to facilitate and enhance the rigorous political education of the people. We refer not to the kind of political education that merely tells the people what good the government is doing, but the kind that will empower them to assume their rightful status and play their roles as the ultimate custodians of political power and authority. Through a sustained process of the proper kind of civic education, the people will learn to respect political authority and political authority will learn to respect the people and to recognize and assume its proper status as the loyal servant of the people. Within the framework of the nation as one big school, the state will recognize itself and be seen to behave as at once the head teacher and head pupil of the nation. Needless to say, Mr. President, we believe that you are utterly incapable of even contemplating such a scenario; which is why you represent a crippling obstacle to our national advancement.

We recall that as part of its overall recommendations to the AFPRC junta, the National Consultative Committee had suggested the establishment of a civic education council to help raise the political awareness of the Gambian people. You did indeed appoint a civic education council, but one whose members were your known sycophants, who were both professionally and morally unequal to the task. No wonder within a very short period, and after a few bungling broadcasts, the praise-singing caricature of a civic education council died a natural death. In your limited capacity for serious reflection, you saw the NCC’s recommendation to set up a civic education council as just that, a recommendation which you dutifully implemented since such a council could be depended upon to praise your “lofty” ideals. It was in order to demonstrate your legendary “truthfulness” that you proceeded to appoint such a council, complete with chairman and honorable members. In your parochial conception of our national political life, you had to be the one to name the members of the council and instruct them on what to do during their inauguration at State House. And you had to make sure that you had just the right people for the job and that if the need ever arose, you could easily will it out of existence. Happily for you, the civic education council simply went brain dead and quietly dissolved into oblivion.

The institute for civic education we envisage for our nation is one whose actualization would involve some serious brainstorming by qualified professionals. Its primary roles will be to facilitate and promote the idea of the nation as one big family and one big school, to facilitate and direct the honest political education of the people, and to facilitate healthy public discourse on all matters of interest to our national public. The creation of such an institution can certainly not be left to the whimsical hands of one person, especially not a person of limited mental endowments as Your Excellency who may choose to appoint one of your chief sycophants as chairman and several lesser sycophants as members. The constitution of a serious civic education institute of the kind we envisage will require serious reflection and brainstorming by a distinguished panel of social scientists, humanists, and other experts. We rejoice in the fact that our nation can boast several such experts and a wealth of academic expertise that could be tapped to help set up such a civic education institution. We are confident that many well qualified indigenous and foreign academics and institutions will be happy to volunteer their time and energy to assist in the actualization of such an institution.

It is a well-known fact Mr. President, that you hate the very idea of political enlightenment and popular empowerment. This is most clearly demonstrated in your bitter hatred of the private media and especially in your shameful appropriation of a draconian colonial law to silence Citizen FM. In Your Excellency’s severely parochial understanding, our national society is divided into two distinct groups of citizens: patriotic and unpatriotic – patriotic citizens being those who support you and the unpatriotic citizens being everyone else. This unhealthy dichotomization of our national society can effectively be neutralized through the promotion of a healthy political awareness that will transform our country into one big family nation.

The fact that most Africans have not attained any level of formal western education is often cited as an insurmountable obstacle to their proper political education. We reject this defeatist notion. We firmly believe that because people cannot read the constitution does not mean that they cannot understand its provisions if these are carefully explained to them in their own languages. All Africans can be made to fully understand every section, every subsection, every clause, and every nuance of their country’s constitutions if these are carefully explained in their own languages. They can understand the doctrines of parliamentary democracy and the separation of powers upon which the national political system is modeled if these are carefully explained in their own languages. They can understand the ideas of the independence of the judiciary, of habeas corpus and any other jurisprudential concept or legal instrument affecting their lives if these are carefully explained in their own languages. In short, they can understand anything written in any European or other foreign language and every aspect of the political machinery and establishment if these are carefully explained in their own languages by well qualified professionals. We believe that a truly serious civic education institution can effectively educate our people on these and all other matters political they need to know in their own languages and in a manner that would enhance their political enlightenment and empowerment.

We submit that Africans do not need to know English, French or any other foreign language to understand that President and Mansa (king) are two totally different concepts and institutions and that the latter – Mansa – has long been extinct from their political landscape. Through a proper and well-designed course in African history from the pre-colonial to the postcolonial eras, Africans can be taught – in their own languages – how their societies have evolved from the Mansa era to the era of President; how colonial rule dismantled the Mansa paradigm and replaced it with the paradigm of the Nation State in which the head of state is subject to the people. Of course, we recognize that an overhaul of any aspect of traditional African culture – political or otherwise – has certain potential dangers; but we are confident that such dangers can be significantly minimized if not totally neutralized. The really important objective is to transform the pre-colonial Mansa mentality into a postcolonial political mentality that will remove the chronic anomaly between political fact and political fiction, between political institutions and political habits of mind that selfish African dictators like you wish to perpetuate in order to keep Africans in political slavery. Africans do not need to know English to understand that the police man at the check point has no right to slap them, or to stop their car, seize their driver’s license, and go sit angrily somewhere waiting for some begging and a bribe. They do not need to know English to know that they are actually more powerful than even the president of the republic and that they have a right to proper legal redress in a properly functional legal system, not one infested with crowds of mercenary judges, magistrates, and prosecutors whose loyalty is entirely to a corrupt president and his coterie of corrupt sycophants. Everything they need to understand all these things exists in documentary form and may properly be explained in their own languages in a manner they will easily understand. There is simply no justification for the continued political ignorance of any African people on the excuse that they do not know European or other foreign languages.

Certainly, the people of our rural areas do not need to know English to know that if you deny them “development” projects because they do not vote for you or your party’s candidate, you are denying them their rightful property. They do not need to know English to know that all monies spent by you and your government do not come from your personal pocket, but from their own pockets, and from loans contracted in their names, which they and their progeny have to repay, or from gifts given to them through their government.  They do not need to know English to know that the state is inconceivable without the people because this fact can be clearly explained to them in their own languages. But of course, Mr. President, you and your government are utterly incapable of such potentially self-subverting honesty. You would rather feed the lie that you actually own both the government and the country and that you own your money and can spend it how and where you want. And so you go about donating money and vehicles and naming bridges and hospitals after yourself or your father, expecting the people to show their eternal gratitude by heaping lavish praises on you and begging you for money and development projects. This unhealthy misconception of state by society needs to be eradicated from our national mentality and can be so eradicated with the right kind of leadership capable of actualizing the idea of the family nation through the nation school.

The nation school envisaged by us is one in which the people will be continuously enlightened on both domestic and international issues through a well thought-out curriculum and a sustained process of education and dialogue on the concepts of national and global citizenship. It will be one in which the state will facilitate, as a matter of urgent national priority, the effective and widespread dissemination of information about itself – its historical roots, its philosophical foundations, its status in the family nation, the limits of its power and authority, and many other issues that will help our society evolve into one big community of well-informed political relatives who may disagree and even quarrel, but who will always observe the highest standards of fair play and civility on all sides. We repeat that Africans do not need to know English to understand the composition and workings of the international socio-cultural, economic, and political system within which they are inextricably embedded. Everything they need to know can be carefully and satisfactorily explained through their own languages by well qualified persons within the framework of the nation school.

We submit that all adult Africans and their children should be effectively socialized in the culture of citizenship from as early an age as may be considered suitable. Simplified versions of the national constitution and history should be taught to school children by well qualified teachers. We believe that a Citizenship Studies curriculum should be devised and introduced into all institutions of elementary, secondary and higher education as well as disseminated through national radio and television. Our secondary and high school students should graduate with a reasonable knowledge of the national constitution and the basic laws governing their rights and responsibilities as citizens. They should graduate with a reasonable understanding of the concepts of parliamentary democracy, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, term limits for the presidency, and some basic tenets of respect for human rights and the rule of law. Monies currently being wasted on bogus prestige projects, the purchase of luxury cars, armored vehicles, and guns, and on the hiring of mercenary judges, magistrates, and prosecutors from foreign countries need to be invested in the training of indigenous experts in the required subjects and disciplines. We of course, do not rule out the possibility of inviting expatriate teachers and other professionals to assist in the realization of these crucial objectives. And we are confident that a wealth of resources of the right kind reside in both the national and global environments and could be tapped through appropriate actions and channels. We are confident that well-meaning international organizations and various centers for constitutional studies and peace and democracy studies around the world will be only too happy and willing to assist in building the kind of new society we envisage – a society that nurtures and promotes a socio-political culture that privileges humane values, and helps in the realization of the kind of cultural superpower we discussed in a previous section.

We believe that an African country that declares itself a Family Nation and a Nation School and is seen to be genuinely aspiring towards the actualization of these novel socio-cultural concepts will have a vast fund of international institutional resources and goodwill to draw upon. Many organizations will be only too happy to assist in building a culture of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and individual freedoms in any African country where conditions are rendered favorable to their work and mission. We are confident that an organization like the Open Society Institute, for instance, with all the huge financial resources at its disposal, may actually be persuaded into adopting The Gambia as a model open society. Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the National Democratic Institute are just a few among many whose resources may be tapped to help the Nation School project at little no cost to the Gambian taxpayer. Of course, we are fully aware of the potential dangers associated with a massive infusion of foreign cultures and institutions into Gambian society. But we are convinced that acceptable ground rules and standards may always be suggested and worked out in a manner that will prevent many such dangers.  We stand ready to assist in the actualization of the ideology of the Family Nation through the agency of the Nation School under the right political conditions. We submit that for this process of transformation to begin, the kind of ignorant and selfish political leadership that you represent must be erased from our political landscape.

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