By Mathew K Jallow
It signifies critical conceptual progress, and a clear departure from a pre-colonial mindset replete with undeniable ancestral ruthlessness; the vanquishing of tribal neighbors who spoke different dialects, immersed in different cultures, and believed in different gods.
But, it also speaks to the denial of contemporary Gambian reality, where Yahya Jammeh continues to willfully arch painfully backwards into the dark depths of the past, to dust off the old, forgotten shelves of our history, in order to resurrect sad memories most Gambians would rather put to bed.
The history of the tribal subjugation of, and conquest by our ancestors, more often than not, revive the pain and agony of past ancestral victimization, or pride in our conquering ancestors; in either case, it is clear that in Gambia, visages of the past dominate the political character, which has emerged since 1994.
The narrative Yahya Jammeh is promoting, accusing the previous government of marginalizing of his tribe, the Jolas; a pattern repeated by many bigoted African leaders, has no basis in reality; but more importantly, it is responsible for Africa’s never-ending tribal conflicts. Even more puzzling, is Yahya Jammeh’s constant drumbeat of accusations of UDP opposition leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe, of tribalism, which apart from being untrue and completely dishonest, point to Yahya Jammeh’s attempt to hoodwink Gambians into believing his legendary lies of political convenience.
Currently, in Gambia, the ongoing re-population of the country with Jolas from the east Casamance region of Senegal, as replacement of blue-blood Gambians who fled to the safety of far and near lands, is a recipe for conflict as citizens come home, some day, as they must, to reassert their citizenship birthrights and demand accountability.
But perhaps even more disturbing, in the immediate, is Yahya Jammeh’s iron-grip on every facet of Gambian life, which has resulted in the blatant tribalism he has introduced in the country. Practically, every department and agency of government is run by Yahya Jammeh’s tribesmen, the Jolas, who, despite being only less than seven percent of the population, hold nearly 90% of the senior state jobs.
Africa is no stranger to civil strifes caused by political and economic alienation brought on by its leaders tribal bigotry, but in no other country has this level of tyranny by a tribal minority survived as long as it has in the Gambia. What is most puzzling, is not that Yahya Jammeh minority Jola tribe controls the destiny of the Gambian people, but that he is not smart enough to realize the potentially dangerous consequences his tribal preference policies poses to Gambia’s future stability.
To some Gambians, exposing Yahya Jammeh’s tribal bigotry, challenging its shameless excesses, and focusing public attention to it, has the potential of fomenting future tribal conflicts. To most Gambians, failure to cast light on what Yahya Jammeh is doing to destabilize the country, is what could lead to future civil unrest.
The ability of so many Gambians to unilaterally declare the end of tribalism and a need to move forward, while ignoring Yahya Jammeh’s unquestionable tribalism, is what is most surprising to those who believe in accountability and telling the story of how Yahya Jammeh’s relentless tribal bigotry, over two decades, has caused unspoken rage among many Gambians deprived of their citizenship right based purely on their tribe.
Rather than object to discussing how Yahya Jammeh’s military regime is changing the face of the Gambian, and not in a good way, Gambians should take exception to the cries of burying Yahya Jammeh’s bigotry under the rug, for fear of inflaming tribe based reactions. But, addressing the tribal bigotry Yahya Jammeh has introduced in Gambian society, rather than fuel civil strife. has the potential of preempting it and maintaining the sanity Gambians have enjoyed in the decades before military rule.
Fear of the consequences of Yahya Jammeh’s tribal preferences in Gambia, is not a good enough reason to not focus on the excesses of the tyranny of the Jola minority under Yahya Jammeh. This is a serious national issue that must be confronted with a view of mitigating the potential dangers it poses to future Gambian society.
We have seen the best of Gambia in citizens changed by what tribalism has done to different African societie and are willing to ignore the exercise of Yahya Jammeh’s tribalism, by the same token, we have seen the best of the Gambia in those citizens challenging Yahya Jammeh’s repetition of the mistakes of the past.
Not talking about the tyranny of the Jola minority in Gambia, is not a solution to Yahya Jammeh’s dangerous tribalism; it is a fermentation of a crisis that could potentially blow up on Gambians faces. The answer lies in addressing it now, and preempting it consequences. Gambians share equal citizenship rights and must, therefore, never be subjected to unequal treatment and unequal opportunities. This is the question the Gambian people must grapple with. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Gambia is so much unlike Rwanda, yet we must learn from lessons of how discrimination and preferences based on tribe could go so horribly wrong.