I know once again some of you would be asking the obvious question: ‘What on earth has
any toubab to do with our social problems?’ My answer is: A lot. What happens in Gambia
affects me, not only because globalization has compressed the world, but because I have
been a keen observer of Gambia’s socio-political development.
Tribalism was once an issue in Europe, leading to brutal wars among nations. But as soon
as Europeans realized that the issue of tribalism is eating away the very foundation of our
peace and democracy, we tried to bury it deep. So tribalism is not an African problem; but
Africa has chosen to make it a weapon to destruct one another.
Gambia has always been relatively peaceful, but undemocratic. However, with the
transition to a full democracy, a lot of Gambians have armed themselves with tribal
trademarks. What this does is to slow down the development process of the country, and
blind the people to not be able to speak truth to politicians. This is similar to the cultural
effects that produced Yahya Jammeh.
I strongly believe that the new government is not organized to support and favor only one
tribe; it aims to represent all tribes, no matter what happens in the last twenty-two years.
A long time ago we had tribalism here, too. People from the middle of Sweden were
treated better when compared to those from the south. If a boy from one village sneaked
out in the middle of the night to court a girl from another village he could even be caught
and killed by the young men from the girl’s village.
That was the tradition. Sweden wasn’t even one country at that time, it was split in several
smaller kingdoms and each of them had their own king. All these kings and their soldiers
fought for more power, more land and they married women to get more land and by that
more power. Marriage had nothing to do with love, only families who could become useful
to each other. When Sweden or Europe in general, realized that in order to develop as a
people they had to put away their tribal differences, then everyone became open to the idea
of cosmopolitanism. People became more open to exotic cultures by intermarrying. Today
there are thousands of mixed kids in Sweden whose mothers or fathers are Gambians. The
father of Sweden’s Minister of Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, is a Gambian.
What does all this tell us: Gambians have to move on to decommission their mindsets. For
more than twenty years I have been observing Gambian politics, but never in the past
decades have we seen such a huge tribal commotion as we have seen in the past months
since Mr. Adama Barrow came to power. This is not the fault of the government. Gambians
have to choose what type of political culture they want to cultivate: a tribal one where
people are castigated for speaking truth to politicians or a rich political culture where
everyone’s opinion is equally respected? The earlier you decide, the better, because it is
2017, and the effects of globalization are rendering tribalism obsolete.
The purpose of this letter is not to tell Gambians to forget about their culture and tribes.
No! But people need to understand that time has changed and so has traditions. By that, I
mean keep what is good and forget the rest. Keep the myths, keep the pride, and keep your
language. Teach your children a sense of self respect but also respect for others. The rants
on Facebook and Whatssap are bad omens for a country of about two million.
To the young generation of Gambians (I called them the Facebook generation), I am
heading to my sixth decades on earth; so I am speaking from experience: tribalism doesn’t
get you anywhere. There is no Mandinka Gambia; no Fula Gambia; no Wollof Gambia; no
Serahuleh Gambia; no Jola Gambia; no Manjago Gambia; no Aku Gambia; and there is no
Serer Gambia. There is only one Gambia – a small oyster where all of you have to
accommodate each other.
Eid Mubarak! And my Salibo