(Is Jammeh using Momodou Sabally against his own Mandinka tribe?)
Gambia has many problems. Thankfully, in the scheme of things, tribalism is not one of them. Gambia’s mere size resulted in calling into question its viability as a sovereign state which almost cost it its political independence. Correspondingly, its economy was also small and lacked a productive base that posed serious challenge to economists as to it economic viability. By way of illustration, when Britain left in February 1965, Gambia’s recurrent budget was less than two million pounds sterling with Britain contributing seven hundred and forty-five thousand pounds or 37% of the budget.
British colonialism promoted tribalism and parochialism, pitting colonial territory versus protectorate, urban versus rural, the educated versus the uneducated, Muslims versus Christians, United Party versus PPP; a divisive strategy of colonialism that tested the social coercion of Britain’s smallest colony on the Dark Continent. These were deliberate policies designed to maintain colonial control by pitting tribe against tribe and urban dwellers against rural folk.
Gambia’s size once considered a bane of its existence as a viable state among the Comity of Nations in the post independence modern era also turned out to be its blessing – a blessing in the sense that the demographic profile of this ‘improbable nation’, as Berkeley Rice prefers to characterize The Gambia, coupled with fluid and slow in-migration made it possible for interaction and intermarriage to take place.
I would like to argue that the extent to which the fusion of the various population groupings into an amalgam of hybrids denied those divisive forces the potent use of the ‘tribal card’. Are there folks who still cling to tribalism ? Certainly. But they are few and, therefore, inconsequential, politically speaking. We must therefore deny them the space to advance this pugnacious and vile form of politics.
Today, the main practitioner of tribal politics is Yaya Jammeh. He’s doing so out of ignorance – ignorance of history in general, and Gambian political history in particular. Like those politicians before him who tried the tribal card, he’s failed in his efforts to galvanize the tribes to turn against each other. Even his own Jola tribe is not buying his insidious ploy. Tribal politics has never taken root in post-independent Gambia as manifested in the fact that there has always been a coalition or representative Government of various groupings and various interests and beliefs – business, religion and region – in the democratic traditions of the Gambia we came to know and love.
Failing in leadership, and as the net closes in on Jammeh, he will grow increasingly desperate, leading to the employment of desperate means to entice those disposed to driving a wedge between opposition parties. Unfortunately, we have seen the accusation of tribalism taken hold in the online media sparked by one incident. But fortunately, a majority of Gambians active in politics, be they politicians or political activists, are not buying the bill of goods that a measly few is trying to sell using the microphone.
Gambia’s number one problem is Yaya Jammeh. Gambia’s other problems resulting from Jammeh’s misrule is a repressive regime that will not hesitate to kill, maim, torture and exile fellow Gambians. Gambia’s problem is incompetence of the executive. Gambia’s problem is a breakdown of institutional framework necessary to run a modern state. Gambia’s problem is rampant corruption and the mismanagement of the economy. Gambia’s problem is poverty.
We know these to be the issues confronting our country. What is needed now are solutions. How can we re-build our broken institutions without which orderly and effective governance cannot take place. How do we repair our damaged and shrinking economy in the face of a growing population. How can we re-structure the armed and security forces so that they will be responsive to the security needs of a population and protect the territorial integrity of Gambia as opposed to serving as a repressive arm of a repressive regime. How can they start protecting the entire Gambian populace as opposed to the maintenance of the current configuration of the armed forced designed to protect one man.
These are the issues that should occupy us as a people, and as members and supporters of the opposition instead of bloviating on internet radio and print over a manufactured problem designed to take focus away from substantive issues facing Gambia.