By Sheriff Kora
To every action is a reaction, and this article is in reaction to the speech delivered in Talinding Kunjang by the president during his recent Meet The People tour. Listening to an audio recording of his ranting that lasted 22 minutes and directed against the Mandinkas is not only denigrating, dehumanizing, tribalist and incendiary, but should be very disturbing to every patriotic Gambian with a genuine interest of the peace and stability of the country at heart. African history is full of stories of leaders who fell from grace because of hubris, obliviousness to the disaffection of their people, concentration on self-aggrandizement, and the illusion of their invulnerable status. One would like to think that in this day and age, African leaders would be wiser and smarter not to repeat those blunders from the past that has plunged countries like Rwanda, Burundi and most recently Central African Republic into chaos, but sadly as manifested in president Jammeh’s speech that is evidently not the case. As my grandmother taught me, “knowledge is not guarantee of good behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behavior.” We judge leaders by the specific expectations they ask to be measured against: inspiration, competence, integrity, kindness, benevolence, empathy and unshakable resolve. One can hardly treat the intellectual capacity or behavior of a leader respectfully unless one tries to understand what events or life experiences influenced it.
Before I go further, I just want to make a point of correction here. Foday Kaba Dumbuya was born in 1818 and died in 1901. Although, there are varying accounts about his actual place of birth; some claim he was born in Niani, and later settled in Kerawan Dumbokono around Bansang in the Central River Region. What is certainly true is that he was born in the Senegambia region. What is utterly wrong and untrue about the President’s speech is that Foday Kaba was an emissary of Mansa Musa. Mansa Musa ruled Mali around 1312, which is 500 before the birth of Foday Kaba – go figure.
What Gambians expect from their leaders is not flexing muscles but political integrity, inspiration and motivation. Gambians do not deserve threats and intimidation. What Gambians need is love. A leader that shows compassion to his people is not only bound to court the love of his followers, but their loyalty as well. What will spur economic growth and sustain our national development is certainly not the castigation and mischaracterization of Mandinkas, the majority ethnic group in the country. Our national development agenda should rather be hitched on building public cohesion, trust and creating a sound political and socio-economic environment that will educate Gambian citizens, empower them with skills, improve their innovative capabilities to be competitive in the global market. The Gambia is not a private real estate property endowed to one family by birthright; every Gambian regardless of tribe, ethnicity, sex, creed, religion or sexuality should be given the constitutional right and opportunity to contribute towards national development according their capacity and to receive from the state according to their needs.
There’s an old African saying that says if you want to eat honey, you don’t kick over the hive. Condemning the tribalism and bigotry of a group and vowing to politically disenfranchising that same group a minute later on the same podium is not only contradictory but also unconstitutional and an incendiary statement that could lead to undesirable political behavior. What should be of concern at this crucial juncture in our national debate is doing the right things that will take us forward as a nation: freeing Lawyer Ousainou Darboe and other political detainees languishing in illegal detention; investigating the death of Solo Sandeng and ensuring justice is given its due; paving the path towards national dialogue and reconciliation. In the position of effective leadership, a leader should always be conscious of not letting emotions betray his or her conscience. Instead of chastising Mandinkas with all sorts of vulgarities in the books, our attention should be focused on how we can exert our collective efforts towards tackling the enormous challenges that confront us as a nation: the unsustainable domestic debt that confronts our economy, mounting youth unemployment, declining educational standards, rapid urbanization, climate change and its impact on our agrarian economy etc.
Enough is indeed enough. Anyone who thinks one tribe should be singled out and shamed out in public is certainly ignorant of the interwoven nature of the tribes that form our national tapestry. The tribes of The Gambia have lived harmoniously for centuries. The pride of our nation is hinged on the short linguistic distance, religious harmony, and cultural similarity that define us as Gambians. I implore every Gambian not to bite into the bait of tribalism and division that is in the works. We should all uphold peace and jealousy guard the sanctity of the Smiling Coast – that Gambian national identity which underpins our peace, progress and prosperity. I am because you are, you are because we are all Gambians. Gambia shall be liberated.