Ask the ordinary Gambian along the streets the question “What are you?” and the answer you are likely to get is one that speaks of tribe or ethnicity: “I am Mandinka”, or “I am Wolof” or “I am Fula”. Such a response is what you will get from Gambians who are not patriotic or do not understand what it means to put country before tribal or ethnic affiliation. Were you to go to Senegal and ask the same question to its citizens, the response you will get from all of them, or the overwhelming majority, will be “Man Senegale la” [I am Senegalese]. Why should that be so? Simply because the Senegalese citizen is more patriotic than The Gambian. Patriotism is an attribute of good citizenship which we should all demonstrate if our nation is to progress to the level we want it to.
The ordinary Senegalese, compared to The Gambian, is imbued with national pride, which is the feeling of love, devotion and profound sense of attachment to one’s homeland, and forging strong alliances with fellow citizens with similar sentiments. Their support and respect for their nation is natural and unconditional. They always make reference to themselves and their country as ‘sunu’ [our] and not ‘suma’ [mine], because ‘oneness’ is the foundation on which a nation stands. Country should be put above self, and not self before country. This is what patriotism is all about.
One of the core values of the Senegalese is ‘johm’ or pride which makes them exhibit the level of patriotism that they do. Whatever the Senegalese citizen embarks on, he or she will do it with utmost pride; pride in being a Senegalese. Their educational system inculcates such a value in them. We all see how Senegalese citizens support their national football team when they play in international and regional tournaments. It is because of national pride.
It is widely accepted that patriotism is defined by our values which change with generations, and should be seen in this context. Patriotism during the pre-independence period meant an entirely different thing from a few generations ago and today. Our founding fathers made sacrifices in their professions, ambitions, pleasures, family responsibilities and relationships, time, energy and resources to emancipate us from colonial rule. This is because they were patriotic; they did not put self before country. Most Gambians today put personal interest before national interest which is antithetical to patriotism.
In the days of Jammeh, anyone who did not show loyalty or allegiance to him as President, or did not belong to his political party was considered “unpatriotic” and an enemy of the nation. Patriotism is not about owing allegiance to an elected leader, but about being devoted to the land of your birth, making the necessary sacrifices for its progress and prosperity, which include living by the laws of the land, promoting peace and unity and not sowing seeds of division along ethnic and religious lines, among other things.
Demonstrating patriotism consistently is a big challenge to all citizens, as patriotism means different things to different people. It is not a simple and easy task to carry out. Our national anthem, arguably the most beautiful words that have been put together as the ethos of a people, enjoins us to strive, work and pray that all of us may live daily in unity and peace, in spite of our diverse backgrounds and circumstances, to demonstrate the brotherhood of man, and as a people, to pledge firm allegiance and reaffirm our promise to remain true to our homeland.
I wonder how many of us Gambians have internalized and live by the words of our national anthem, the official song that all citizens should know and sing with pride on occasions that require it to be sung. How many of us Gambians even know the complete words and tune of ‘For The Gambia Our Homeland’, and the meaning of those words? Most school children, especially in their early years of schooling, just parrot the anthem and some say words that are incomprehensible. Our schools should endeavor to teach our young ones the meaning of the words of our national anthem so that they understand and live by them.
Not only should the words be explained to them, but they should be taught to show reverence for the national anthem, in the manner in which they sing it and how to behave when singing it. This is one way of showing patriotism for one’s country. When the national anthem is being sung, most Gambians will not sing along or stand at attention, but will be preoccupied with their mobile phones, either talking or texting, or chewing gum, or chatting with the person next to them. People do these things due to ignorance. If they understood the significance of a national anthem and a national flag, they would accord them the respect they deserve.
Gambians need to be fully educated about why we have a national anthem, and a national flag, and how the citizen can be more patriotic, as patriotism is important for the protection of our culture and historical heritage. The vast majority of Gambians do not know that when the national colors, the flag, is being hoisted or lowered, one has to stand still and face the flag until the process ends. And if one is wearing a hat or cap, it should be removed as a sign of respect. Our National Commission for Civic Education, NCCE, has a lot of work to do in educating the ordinary citizen on what patriotism is and demands.
In the recent past, people like Solo Sandeng paid the ultimate price with their lives for love of country. True patriots! We should at this time, as a nation acknowledge, recognize and honor those whose patriotism have been amply demonstrated. By naming places of significance after great patriots of this country, present and future generations will be inspired to build their love, devotion and respect for our nation. It is time to rewrite our curriculum and our history books to reflect the contributions of patriots to our nation and buttress the need for citizens to be more patriotic.
There are certain overarching values that we should instill in our children so that they can contribute towards its development when they grow up: love, respect, responsibility and community. Since children learn by example, if they are taught how to be a loving person and how to love country, they will surely grow up showing love to others, to love and stand up for their country. If children are taught to take responsibility for their actions, they will grow up to hold themselves and others to high standards of responsibility. Should they be taught why and how to be contributing members of their communities, they will become active and caring citizens as adults.
As Gambians, we must take pride in our nation’s achievements, both past and present in order for our dear nation to maintain lasting peace, achieve fast and sustained progress, and realize greater future prosperity. As we had patriots in the past, such as our founding fathers who liberated us from British rule fifty-four years ago so do we need patriots in the country today, to maintain what has been achieved and push national progress further. Being active and involved citizens is the best way to support our country, as our collective involvement is crucial to our success as a nation in these trying times. We must love our country enough to stay and work to change it for the better. If our nation is to survive its current challenges, the definition of a true patriot must be clear. Let us try to be true patriots. That is what our homeland demands of us.