Popular human rights advocate Madi Jobarteh has chimed in on the tribal politics debate raging between former Minister of Information Demba Ali Jawo and renowned scholar and former Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission Dr Cernu Umar Barry.
The debate centres on D.A. Jawo’s claims that non Gambians voted in the recently concluded December 4th 2021 Presidential Election. Meanwhile, Dr Barry is of the view that D.A. Jawo’s piece is “purely an opinion based on his imaginations”. What started off as “A Piece of Advice to President-Elect Barrow” has now turned into a full-blown debate on tribal politics in the Gambia. In this piece, Madi Jobarteh expresses his “utter dismay and concern at” Dr Barry’s reaction which he believes reinforces tribalism.
From the outset, I must commend DA Jawo for his apt article, ‘A Piece of Advice to President-Elect Barrow’ in which he raised pertinent issues that require the urgent attention of the President if he truly wishes to succeed as a President hence make the Gambia succeed as well. In the same vein, I must express my utter dismay and concern at the reaction to that article by my dear brother Dr Cernu Barry in which, in raising questions about non-Gambian voters, went further to make assertions which I consider to be only reinforcing tribalism.
Indeed, I agree with Dr Barry that the issue of citizenship needs to be looked at carefully given the analysis he gave that there are individuals from the subregion who have lived for decades in this country and have offsprings yet who are non-Gambians. In my view, this is as a result of the weakness of our Constitution which needs updating. Surely, a Guinean or a Ghanaian who has lived in this country for decades and built his life and future in this country should obtain citizenship, not to mention his or her offspring obtaining Gambian citizenship. This is one of the failures of this Government in conducting the necessary constitutional and legal reforms in order to modernize our Republic in line with human rights standards.
That notwithstanding, the issue of non-Gambians obtaining voter cards is an open secret. In 2012, when the opposition constituted themselves in an alliance for electoral reforms, they spoke to the issue of what they called ‘fraudulent registration exercise’. In their 12-point demands issued in 2015, Point 5 spoke to the issue of illegal registration which is about non-Gambians, under-aged voters and instances of double registration. It was precisely because of such potential fraudulent registration that the opposition also proposed the abolition of the attestation.
Interestingly, as both Jawo and Barry noted, no political party contested the 2021 voter registration in the revising courts. Even when the civil society successfully took the issue of attestation to the courts, no party came to stand with them. Hence it can only be said that either the political parties do not believe that there were any non-Gambians registered or they were all guilty of putting through non-Gambians to register or just don’t care, or all of the above. Otherwise, I challenge each and every political party to come out to explain why they failed to utilize the revising courts to cleanse the voter registration list at the right time and place.
However, where I find Dr. Barry’s comments really concerning is when he went further to explain why some ethnic communities refused to vote for Darboe and gave their votes to Barrow. The narrative he came up with as he reported from those folks in NBR and URR is extremely weak at best and tribal at worst as far as I can analyze it. This is what Dr. Barry reported,
“I asked them why and they responded that they have observed the aggressive nature of some of their mandinka neighbours and the level of hostility against them, the fulas, made them afraid. They have had their fair share of hostilities during the Jawara era when they were constantly arrested for ‘Aliens’ cards or ‘Alliance’ and tortured indiscriminately without cause and sometimes their wealth taken. They are afraid to go through the same so they did everything to make sure their families vote for Barrow.”
I would like to know what form of ‘hostility’ exactly those Mandinka neighbours inflicted on their Fula neighbours? As far as I know, all reports from CSOs as well as from independent bodies and public institutions such as the police have only highlighted incendiary tribal messages or bigotry which have come from all sorts of individuals belonging to various religions, tribes, regions and political parties. There have been no reports so far of any physical or violent clashes between any communities in the Gambia on account of tribe and for the purposes of tribal interests.
Hence to claim that a particular Fula community received hostilities from their Mandinka neighbours smacks of incendiary language at best and tribalism at worst. I would be interested to see the exact evidence showing the incidence, form, place, and time of such hostilities.
Secondly, Dr. Barry made the wild assertion that Fula communities faced hostilities during the Jawara era which he connected to the use of ‘Aliens ID Card’. Once again, there has been no reports in the Gambia that show that there have been ethnic clashes in any part of the country from 1965 to 1994 when Jawara was in power in this country. Therefore, where were these hostilities? In fact, ‘Aliens ID Card’ did not exist during the First Republic. This obnoxious identity card emerged during the authoritarian regime of the Tinpot Dictator Yaya Jammeh. Hence how come this card was connected to Jawara?
More importantly, the immigration Department has probably as many Fula as Mandinka officers. Hence if any Gambian of Fula extraction claimed to be stopped because of being profiled as a Guinean, it must be that this malpractice is being perpetrated by immigration officers who could be Fula or Mandinka or Wolof, etc. Hence this abuse of our Fula citizens cannot be pinned solely to the Mandinka, as Hamat Bah had also spewed once at a meeting at State House in front of Pres. Barrow. Such malpractice cannot be UDP’s fault or caused by the Mandinka!
The epitome of Dr. Barry’s ludicrous claim was to state that the Fula were “tortured indiscriminately without cause and sometimes their wealth taken”! Again, Dr. Barry should give evidence to show that the Fula or any ethnic group were targeted under the Jawara Administration for discrimination and torture. I think this is a very unfair allegation against the Jawara Administration and Pres. DK Jawara in particular who was indeed one of the only two Gambian prominent politicians to be the most inclusive. It was only Jawara and Ousainou Darboe whose spouses have never come from their own ethnicity. A man who can do that in the Gambia can only be described as de-tribalized, inclusive and bereft of any form of bigotry.
In fact, Dr. Barry failed to mention the fact that during the Jammeh regime many Fula foreign exchange businesses were raided and their monies taken away. But even there, one cannot accuse Jammeh for purposely targeting these forex businesses simply because they were Fula owned. No. Jammeh did that only for his economic interests regardless of the ethnicity of the owners. Therefore, a Fula persecution in the Gambia is a very serious narrative.
Hence for the good Doctor to make this assertion requires further inquiry and evidence otherwise such assertion must be considered a tribal commentary which undermines national unity and peace. As I have expressed many times, tribalism does not exist in the Gambia in terms of our communities. I am from Fulladu Boraba which is Mandinka dominated but has Fula and Wolof families and the village is surrounded by majority Fula and Wolof communities. We have never had an occasion when the people of Boraba or those from the Fula and Wolof villages find it necessary to quarrel on the basis of tribe. Never. The same story goes for each and every community in the Gambia.
The form of tribalism we have in the Gambia as in most African countries is tribal politics. This is where individuals who seek political power and economic privileges exploit tribal and other sectarian sentiments to seek support or to eliminate opponents or to entrench and maintain their grip on power and access to resources. These individuals are usually politicians, public officials, business people, and the highly educated men and women in every institution.
Since Independence the Fula in particular have been key leaders and players in the politics and governance of this country. The idea that the Fula could be marginalized in the Gambia is utterly unthinkable. The Gambia’s second vice president was a Fula, Assan Musa Camara from 1972 to 1982, who later came to form a formidable opposition to Jawara, Mandinka, when he formed the Gambia People’s Party in 1986 and challenged Jawara in the presidential elections in 1987 and 1992. He was never persecuted nor were the Fula persecuted or marginalized for supporting GPP.
Hassan Jallow, a Fula was the Minister of Justice under Jawara from 1984 to 1994. One can list many other prominent positions manned by Fula politicians and intellectuals in the Government of Jawara just to show that the Fula, like any other ethnic group, has never faced hostilities of any kind from both the Jawara Government nor from ordinary Mandinka communities. If so, let the incontrovertible evidence come out. Even today the current Minister of Justice is a Fula, Dawda A Jallow.
I think our intellectuals, more than anyone else, should exercise utmost honesty and be faithful to history and knowledge in our analysis of national issues. The incidence of tribalism in the Gambia is the imagination and invention of our intellectuals and politicians but not by our ordinary folks in our communities. These ordinary folks may not be sophisticated enough because they lack the necessary tools of analysis hence are usually hoodwinked by politicians and intellectuals to believe that tribalism is real. Therefore, as intellectuals, we owe it to the country to clear the minds of our people and stand against tribal bigots and tribal politics. If I were Dr. Barry, I would have educated those Fula communities that their perceptions were false.
UDP is not a Mandinka party in any way just as APRC is not a Jola party nor is GDC a Fula party or PDOIS a Wolof party, etc, etc, etc. But, if UDP is a Mandinka party then all the rest are also tribal parties. As we all know, this disinformation about UDP is politically created by the Tinpot Dictator to alienate UDP and Ousainou Darboe by making all non-Mandinka voters perceive UDP in such a negative light. This was for Jammeh’s political survival given his incompetence and dishonesty. That nonsensical narrative is what we see NPP and Pres. Barrow and his surrogates also employ today to further demonize and alienate the UDP and Ousainou Darboe just to secure their political and economic hegemony.
Therefore, whoever perpetuates the narrative in any way or form that UDP is a Mandinka party or when they gain power all other ethnic groups are in trouble is himself or herself the very tribalist. Similarly, the claim that any ethnic group were or are marginalized by the Mandinka in any part of this country is false and a tribal commentary.
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