Guest Editorial – To Rise As A People, We Must Dismantle The Foundations We Subsist On
People have been on me to define what I mean by saying that “unless we dismantle the foundations we subsist on, we shall never rise as a nation or people.” For me, dismantling does not mean abolishing or destroying these foundations. Rather, it means to take apart the sociopolitical governance and administrative systems we have in place here in The Gambia, and throughout Africa with the aim of finding a solution that works for Africans.
Dismantling means going back and evaluating every governance system we have in place and conducting a thorough examination of it to determine if it’s fit for purpose, and if it aligns with our interest as a nation and as a people.
To be clear, “dismantling” these systems is not limited to the nation-state of The Gambia as it is. I’m very aware of the curse and limitations of the nation-state system that colonialists saddled Africans with and that, if I may add, we continue to embrace at our detriment. I think of dismantling the colonial systems in such a way that Africans liquefy these colonial limitations as much as possible so that we speak and act in the interest of Africans first and always. But that’s a Pan-African discussion that’s beyond my scope on this post. For now, let’s limit the scope to The Gambia.
What are the systems we need to dismantle and evaluate? First and foremost, it will be the mindsets that, for instance, continue to think that we can rise as a people on colonial foundations that define who belongs to what nation and limiting our notion of nationalism to these colonial boundaries. Or, the mindset that knows so little of its own history that it’s unable to appreciate and love its own. Or the mindset that thinks that anything African is secondary to all else. The mindset that thinks embracing the culture and traditions of others signifies how sophisticated and well one is doing. The mindset that won’t allow lawyers to get rid of these ridiculous-looking blond wings because it makes them feel above ordinary men and women. The mindset that celebrates aid and pledges of aid from other nations. The mindset that thinks going to elections every five years means democracy is alive and well. The mindset that will not dare question if this democracy is what we need. The mindset that seeks education to better oneself even to the detriment of the people. The mindset where university students celebrate with the president because he “donated” buses with them. The mindset that thinks all laws, no matter how egregious or injurious to the people, must be obeyed. The mindset that tells you to not be proud of your ethnicity but to be proud that you are confined within arbitrary colonial lines they call nations. The mindset that is working in government is a way to riches. The mindset that sees nothing wrong with civil servants living far better than the people they’re supposedly serving. The mindset that thinks that politics is mutually exclusive with values or principles. The mindset that thinks any African nation will go far by walking alone; against the wisdom of our African elders who advised that to go far, we must go together. We must realize the power of unity to harness our potential as Africans.
But let’s bring it close to home. For instance, is having a president and parliament the best system for us? Does having one-man control so much centralized power over diverse people the best for us? How has it worked so far? I think we can all agree that our country has never truly reached its potential under the current system. Why do we think that is the case? If the presidential system has limitations that contribute to our backwardness, how can we make the presidency serve its purpose of being the chief servant of the people and not the chief master of the people?
Is the parliamentary system the best for us? How has it advanced our country? Does the parliament serve its purpose? Do the parliamentarians make laws that advance our people? Do they represent the voice of the people they purport to represent? How can power be devolved such that the people control their servants as opposed to what obtains now? We’ve seen how any destitute can be catapulted to the summit of power and wealth by simply becoming a parliamentarian. How did we accept that our parliamentarians should all get land, be given a car, and give themselves loans to build on the lands we already gave them? How does representing the people come to mean power over the people and a way out of poverty? Why do we not only settle for mediocrity but go out of our way to celebrate it? How did we end up being collectively afflicted with low expectations syndrome such that we go over the top and celebrate people for doing what they’re supposed to do?
Is our education system fit for purpose? If not, what type of education system do we need in order to advance as a nation? How patriotic are we as a people? What are our national values? How much of our history do we know? Does our education system encourage innovation or creativity? What have we invented as a nation that the rest of the world use today? Certainly, we have the brains, so how come we haven’t been able to?
Is alkaloship still relevant? Should they be given more powers since they’re closest to the people or remain almost ceremonial in terms of actual power? What’s the purpose of these governors and Chiefs? How has their existence bettered the lives of ordinary Gambians? Do we even need them? What do they do that the Area Councils or Alkalos cannot do? Why do we see government work to be a vehicle to riches?
Is our security fit for our security challenges? What are those security challenges today and what do we anticipate them to be 10 years from today? What threats do we face that our Army is adequately addressing or that our police address adequately? Are they primed for future security challenges? Do we need these outfits as they’re currently constituted?
How about our judiciary? Is it functioning as it’s supposed to? What’s the purpose of our criminal justice system? Is it for retribution or rehabilitation? Do we need the prisons as they are currently constituted? How does it add up that corruption is one of our fiercest enemies yet our prisons have very few people in it for corruption? Does our intelligence service serve Gambians or is it more at the service of the president?
What about these political parties? Is politics a way to enrich oneself or position oneself for future opportunities, or a vehicle to better one’s society? If the latter, how comes political prostitution is masked in freedom to jump from one party to another and celebrated? How come political parties insist on term limits for others but allow their leaders to maintain their chokehold over their parties? Internal democracy they say! Don’t we know democracy is not a perfect system and hiding behind the internal democratic process does not excuse the fact that the same faces somehow always emerge winners? That it only shows that incumbency at any level means the playing field is uneven?
Is agriculture the backbone of our country? If it is, why must it be a field of last resort for those who have no other way out? Should we continue to farm as we do today? If not given the importance of agriculture, what programs can we implement so we become self-sufficient and not have to rely on others to feed us?
And how come some people who claim to champion the cause of the people as an activist for this or that focus more on the hustle than the cause they supposedly stand for? Why is it that some people put tribal interest above everything else such that they’re able to defend and support one man even if his agents killed their own family member? How did we become so uncaring of others and adopted apathy as our calling in the face of abuse? When did it become alright for one to defend state murder and blame the victim? How come a lot of what we do is undergirded by “what’s in it for me” and the more an opportunist, the more successful one is likely to become?
So many questions and I certainly don’t have half the answers. But I do know that we have claimed to be independent for over 50 years now and yet we rely on others for our very survival as a nation. I do know that there’s nothing we can nationally point to and say we initiated, funded, executed, and maintained all by ourselves as Gambians. I do know that there’s not a single African country that has been able to reach its full potential as a nation.
It’s long overdue for us to reevaluate our systems and see why Africans remain divided and destitute; and not continue to maintain unyielding fidelity to systems that have hardly worked for us. I’m no expert with answers but you don’t have to be one to know that you can’t keep doing the same thing for 50+ years while banking on prayer, hope, and loans to make it work! There’s a better way out and I know that there are smarter Africans to figure out those better ways! Certainly, even Omar Touray’s friend Dummy knows we have the brains to do better but he also knows we must start with the mindsets. He may be named Dummy but he’s certainly not as dumb as those of us who continue to bank on systems that have not worked in over fifty years!