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Beyond Tribalism in the Gambia

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The Republic of The Gambia is a nation with about 2 million inhabitants and diversification is very present in this society. According to accessgambia.com, “There are 8 main ethnic groups in Gambia living side by side with a minimum of inter-tribal friction, each preserving its own language, music, cultural traditions and even caste systems though there is an increasing amount of cultural interaction and fusion. Indeed, the average Gambian will tell you he feels he has more in common with his countrymen than he has with a Senegalese from the same tribe! This by no means suggests that there is a lack of individual identity. While there is growth in multi-ethnic expressions, the search by groups to reaffirm their identities remains.

Each of these communities speaks their own languages, all of which is classified as part of the Niger-Congo language group and as a whole represent a snap-shot of Senegambia society. However, classifying people by blood or ethnic traits is increasingly difficult as there have been extensive migrations and inter-marriages over the centuries. There were migrations of people into The Gambia before the 19th century, but such movement of people greatly increased after the establishment of Bathurst (Banjul) in 1816. They came from Casamance, Futa Toro, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea Bissau and other West African countries.

The single largest ethnic group in Gambia is the Mandinka, (Mandingos) an agricultural people with a hereditary nobility. Before they migrated to The Gambia valley they lived in the northern slopes of Futa Jallon Plateau. The country of the Manding is in the Niger Valley.

The Wolofs are very prominent in the capital city of Banjul and are prominent in the Senegambia region. Their language is the lingua franca for Gambia and can be heard being spoken in trading centers and family compounds. In the up-river area of Gambia they are called the Fanafa.

The people called the Creoles or Akus are Christians who are descendants of freed slaves who first came to The Gambia in 1787 from Sierra Leone and who rank among the bureaucratic elite as well as being prominent in the private professional classes.

The Jola or Kujamat people are predominantly organized around the cultivation of rice and are mainly based in the Foni district of the Western Division. Theirs is a uniquely segmentary society with no tradition of having a paramount chief. Their traditional location in swamps and deep forests meant that they were among the last people to be converted to Islam.

The Fulanis or Pol Futa as they are sometimes known are mainly engaged in herding cattle and running their ubiquitous small corner shops. They are generally of lighter skin than most of the population and several theories, some of which have proved controversial have been put forward as to where they originally came from.

The Serahule people are involved mainly in farming, trade and property development. They can be found in their largest numbers in the Basse region and speak in a number of dialects including Azer and Kinbakka. They created the Ghana Empire which encompassed Mauritania to present-day Ghana.

The other ethnic groups are the Serer who are predominantly involved in fisheries, have customs and a language which bear considerable similarities to the Wolof. Then there are the Tukulor who share strong ties with the Fulani’s culture, history and traditions and are mainly engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.

There also exists a small community of other groups such as the Lebanese, Europeans, Mansoanka, Bayot, Bambara, Badibunka, Balanta, Hausa, Mankanya and the Mandjak Christians”.

In this day and age, Civil Rights Movement freed the “people of color” in various parts of the globe. In America during the 1960s with activists like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, in South Africa in the 1980s with the abolishing of Apartheid and the election of Nelson MANDELA as President after he was released for serving a long term prison sentence. In The Gambia, however, we have yet to understand why some leaders in the communities choose to opt for the promotion of tribal superiority or tribalism to gain power by influencing the minds of the constituents that are constantly targeted. A great example to demonstrate this is the following from newint.org: “Ethnicity had become linked to political persuasion – Jolas with the APRC and Mandinkas with the UDP – despite the fact that both parties were multi-ethnic in leadership and supporters. ‘Because there was a lot of uncertainty about the future of The Gambia, people leaned on identities and collectivities within grasp,’ says Niklas Hultin, a Gambia scholar who teaches at George Mason University. ‘And ethnicity, because it is a fact in The Gambia, was a readily made one.’ The impasse ended and the tension eased when Jammeh fled in late January, but the cornerstone of communal tension had been laid. ‘During the national assembly election campaign in March people started peeling the old wounds,’ says Samba Kieta, director of the Ding Ding Bantaba Federation, a community development and conflict resolution civil society organization in Foni. In the town of Sibanor, he sensed conflict between the people based on the remarks made. People started realigning themselves to tribal lines. The day after the election he was proved tragically correct when clashes broke out on the main road between UDP and APRC supporters in Sibanor. Stones were thrown and multiple houses were damaged before the police arrived”.

Today, democracy in the 3rd Republic has made the expression of views and opinions possible and numerous Political parties have emerged. According to Wikipedia.org,  the following are the parties present in the Gambian political arena:

Present Parties

  • Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC)
  • National Reconciliation Party (NRP)
  • People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS)
  • People’s Progressive Party (PPP)
  • United Democratic Party (UDP)
  • Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP)
  • National Convention Party (NCP)
  • Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC)
  • Gambia Moral Congress (GMC)
  • Citizens’ Alliance (CA)
  • Gambia Action Party (GAP)

Possible Defunct Parties

  • National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD)
  • National Democratic Action Movement (NDAM)
  • Gambia Socialist Revolutionary Party (GSRP)
  • Gambian People’s Party (GPP)

The Leaders and members of these parties have platforms that should be scrutinized by every single constituent prior to adherence. The civic duty should be conducted objectively and without prejudice of any kind. Mobilisers in these political parties should also hold workshops in the local languages and encourage inter-tribal association and communication thanks to various activities that can be organized at a grassroots’ level.

The National Assembly Members of the Gambia, who are also affiliated with these political parties, should set the pace with relevant legislation. Unity, as opposed to division, should be promoted since we all stand for the same Republics’ interest. Socio-economic progress cannot be achieved when the minds that should catalyse it are diverted into futile ethnic conflicts that could, if not properly managed, lead to civil wars. What was once avoided in The Gambia can and shall be casted away. The devious spell that it is cannot set us back or rob us of our hard earned and well deserved democratic state of being that we currently enjoy in the “Smiling Coast”. Each and every citizen has their respective role to play for the potion to be as potent as ever as we are the Government: “For the People By the People.

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