By Sait Matty Jaw
Two days ago, I read an article from the Guardian Newspaper describing the electoral outcomes in Gambia and what lesson the continent, especially countries under dictatorship can learn from the Gambian experience. It was a well-written article with very important points. However, I could not stop staring at a line from the article that put into perspective “The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest and least important countries”. I didn’t know if I should have been offended or that I should just accept the fact that we are indeed too tiny to matter in international or regional politics. I then tweeted the same line and the link to the article with a short response: “not to me as a Gambian”.
My response was more about boosting my ego than denying the fact that indeed Gambia is small and not really important. It is also evident that we are poor when it comes to resources and have been under a dictatorship for more than two decades. I refused to be offended and took that line for what it was — a challenge. It is not about been important in the eyes of the others but in our own ways as Gambians. And how we do this is very important. In fact, it is what counts for me.
We have decided. We have made history by democratically voting out a dictator who had sworn to rule for one billion years “if God willed it”. One, who has tortured, killed, maimed and overseen a very corrupt regime. A man who employed divide and rule tactics to grip onto power; gone against all that it takes being a Gambian — our socio-cultural diversity.
He, out of greed for power, declared Gambia an Islamic state pushing out Christian brothers as minorities in their homeland. All the evil things he did in the name of Gambians are for his own interests and not that of the ordinary Gambian.
On December 1st, we finally put an end to this brutality. But most importantly this very man conceded and respected the wishes of the people. I won’t be bothered to discuss why he conceded. I might do that in a subsequent blog.
For me, ending dictatorship and getting freedom is one thing. The other is what one does with that freedom.
I have read and even shared Umaru Fofana’s assessment of how Gambians made history. Fofana’s Facebook post was so heartwarming, it would make one think we have reached that period where we need to relax. I say to you and to every Gambian, that we are at a point where our country needs us more than ever before. We are at a point where anything we do can break us, or derail this historical moment and plunge us into an abyss we never intended to be.
We are on a transition and transitions are the most critical phase for peace, stability, socio-economic and political progress. If anything, by this election, we have shown the world how peaceful and stable Gambia is. Our stability and peaceful ways is not because we are scared of the armed military or the police that have been used to brutalize peaceful protesters, but because peace is our norm.
We have proved this to the colonialist when they came and divided us. We said: “yes, you can divide us between rural and urban, educated and not educated but you cannot divide us on the line of ethnicity or religion.”
If our ancestors could not accept that we will never allow anyone to put a knife between us. Where do we go now from here? This should be the question that every Gambian should be asking.
I have already seen many people on social media suggesting to the transitional government what should be done. Some of us want vengeance, others justice and others advise that we heal the wounds of the nation by having a truth and reconciliation commission. I am part of those that prefer a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) immediately power is transferred.
Jammeh’s divisionary attempts have a dire impact in our country. Today, our country is way more divided than ever before. People are angry and want vengeance. Some want justice.
Myself, I want some sort of justice for the fact that my right was violated. Thousands of Gambians want the same thins. But what this provides us, if at all we pursue it, at this critical juncture, would be to not only derail our progress as a nation, but possibly put it at risk. I am not in for risking anything. For 51 years we have been struggling to survive economically and politically.
Now that we have the chance we should be very careful not to abuse or make the wrong impression. We must be united indeed in word and action; we must give utmost support to the current transition government. This coming three years will be the hardest period that our country will ever go through. It is the most decisive period. I know some people are too close to US politics and other politics that they will start counting the first hundred days etc.
Our case is different and as such must be treated that way. We have a state that was virtually collapsing. It means right now this new transitional government will be starting afresh. They will not only inherit a divided nation but a poor and highly indebted nation with very limited resources. We must be patient and supportive.
The challenges that the transitional government will face is written all over the walls. But the biggest challenge that all other challenges are connected to is how to unite a divided population.
The new government need to realise that they are a government for every Gambian whether they voted for them or not. I will suggest at this point like many have said before me the need to institute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This will help address the anger, the quest for vengeance or even the witch-hunting. We must heal the wounds. We must have conversations. Some victims want justice and some people want to know what happened to their family members that have been abducted. I know this is one primary task you promised to engage in during the campaign.
It was made clear by the President-elect Barrow that this coalition transition government is not out to witch-hunt anyone. It was also very clear in the manifesto that TRC is a priority for the government to address the anger and heal the wounds that the APRC regime inflicted on many Gambians. This should be the bottom line. It should be the foundation of New Gambia. Without such, it will be practically impossible for the government to do anything moving on.
For Gambians we are blessed. No matter how tiny and less important in international politics we are, we have shown the world that our nation is important to us. We have stamped our mark in African politics like we did years after independence. Gambia is back. Yes, we are back. And what we make of this should matter to each one of us. We yearned for freedom for two decades and now we have it. Let us be careful before our people start asking “when is freedom going to end”.
This was a common thing to ask few years after independence. Let us not abuse the freedom we have. Let us respect and put the human rights of the individuals first. We have a nation to build and the work must start now. It must start from us individually. It must start with attitudinal change.
I will end by saying: “Never again shall we live under dictatorship.” The dice has been rolled and it is up to us to count our steps to a brighter and beautiful Gambia.