Gambia: We Must Re-Shape Our Political Discourses

The power of speech empowers citizens, gives them voice, gives them courage, and the capacity to make abstract judgments on what is right or wrong. Likewise, it also renders a golden opportunity for politicians wishing to market their policies. Since the activity of politics results in decisions that establish constraints and possibilities for how people live, it behooves citizens to be proactive, discipline, and civil in leveraging on this power. This demands that civic space does not have to be toxic, or repugnant, rather democratic, free, fair, and impartial.

Historically, power has been concentrated and unitary. However, the dynamism of power, especially political power has shifted shape in the twenty-first century. This is evident by active citizen participation in politics. For instance, in The Gambia, the number of citizens frequently engage in political convos across the length and breadth of this nation – in the streets, in the markets, in workplaces, in “bantabas”, and even in schools are an embodiment of active citizen participation. Added to that is the growing interest of young people in political office.

The power of speech empowers citizens, gives them voice, gives them courage, and the capacity to make abstract judgments on what is right or wrong. Likewise, it also renders a golden opportunity for politicians wishing to market their policies. Since the activity of politics results in decisions that establish constraints and possibilities for how people live, it behooves citizens to be proactive, discipline, and civil in leveraging on this power. This demands that civic space does not have to be toxic, or repugnant, rather democratic, free, fair, and impartial.

Often, when we engage in political debates, we owe it to our audiences to discuss issues of significance and relevance to national development. Freedom of expression offers an opportunity to change, and influence behaviors of the polite towards a political belief or ideology – as political discourses like debates make room for the generation of ideas. Thus, we must not, and cannot allow cynicism, tribal sentiments, and demagoguery to continue to shape our political narratives.

Civics

It is an election year, and the voter registration exercise has ended, notwithstanding campaigns are just at the corner. Thus, it is fulfilling to engage in diverse forms of political conversations, however, these platforms must be spirited by decorum. We have to shift it from character defamation, and sentimental rhetoric to a conversation on policies, programs, and ideas politicians and their parties have for the electorates. For instance, debates on poverty rate, infant mortality rate, food insecurity, malnutrition, unemployment, the high surge in crimes, and skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, etc. which are the burning issues of our people, Gambian masses.

Maybe, and just maybe if our discourses focus more on such subjects, we will install a government committed to eradicating poverty, end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, improve health care delivery, provide quality education, and create job opportunities. Thus, the Gambian electorates would not have to face the conundrum and dilemma of voting choices in each election. As voters would be informed by sound policies, ideas, and achievable promises of each politician prior to any election.

In addition, our choice of leaders would cease to be informed by ethnicity, nepotism, or some sort. This requires our public and media conversations to shift shape from spewing hate speech, derogatory remarks, and enticing acrimony amongst ourselves to bringing peoples’ attention to issues that affect us all. By this, politicians and duty bearers would be challenged to provide concrete rather than abstract initiatives that are attainable. Consequently, our political discourses would advance ideas that interest us all.

Similar Process, Different Objective: South Africa’s TRC and Gambia’s TRRC

As South Africans were divided and ruled on racial lines by minority whites South Africans with the aid of other South Africans, The Gambia’s dark days began after a few disgruntled armed men took it up themselves to overthrow a legitimate government, and later ruled the country with laws they deemed fitting to themselves with the help of lawyers, technocrats, security apparatus, and religious leaders. This later became a one-man show – who manipulated, monopolized, and perpetuated dictatorship to serve his ultimate individual interests at the expense of the masses.

Early 1900 witnessed horrific violent conflicts in Africa; from civil wars, genocide, apartheid to dictatorships. The underlying causes for these conflicts varied as the conflict occurs when forces behind people’s interest are pulling in different or opposing directions, these interests are divergent, ranging from over recourses, overpower, over identity, over status, or overvalues. The aforementioned are all recipes for conflicts. While South Africa’s case presented a stark racial injustice between minority White South Africans and Black in South Africa. The former was the ruling party that subjugated the latter in collaboration with few South African Blacks. Blacks in South Africans lived in hell on earth in their own country; they were marginalized, terrorized, and terrified by minority white South Africans who happened to be the ruling party at the time. This marked the era of apartheid in South Africa. It started between 1948 and 1990 when the ruling government institutionalized racial injustice, land segregation, deprived black South Africans of their civil liberties, political rights, and freedoms.

In defiance to this, there was resistance from the South African blacks, some South Afrikaans, and other non-Afrikaans. This was confronted with police brutality, massive arrests, detention, torture, abductions, and muzzling of freedom of expression with intimidations. (US Institute for Peace 1995). As this continued, several international sanctions were made to the ruling party, hence negotiations ensued between the government and African National Congress (ANC). With the increasing internal dissent, international pressure, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the apartheid government was forced to enter into negotiations with the ANC. This saw the collapse of apartheid and the ushering in of democratic rule in 1994 (South Africa History Online). The democratic elections were held in 1994, and an interim constitution was passed, the Truth and Reconciliation were set up by the newly elected parliament, The Promotion of National Unity Act.

Comparatively The Gambian citizens were basically ruled by presidential decrees after the seizures of power through a so-called bloodless coup. Henceforth, Human rights, dignity, and fundamental freedoms became a privilege only a few enjoyed in the country. The right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, political pluralism all were stifled. The media was censored and opposition leaders were attacked, persecuted, detained, and enforcedly disappeared unjustifiably. As South Africans were divided and ruled on racial lines by minority whites, with the aid of other South African Blacks, The Gambia’s dark days began after a few disgruntled armed men took it up themselves to overthrow a legitimate government, and ruled the country with laws they deemed fitting to themselves with the help of lawyers, technocrats, security apparatus, and religious leaders. This later became a one-man show – who manipulated, monopolized, and perpetuated dictatorship to serve his ultimate self perpetuated leadership interests at the expense of the masses. This persisted all through the 22 years of his reign, (which most only came to light to Gambians during testimonies of witnesses during the commission’s public hearing). Until December 2016 Presidential Elections, which consequently gave birth to newfound freedom in the Gambia – democracy.

The following year, 2017, The Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission Act was passed into law by the newly elected National Assembly of the Gambia. Mandated to provide historical, comprehensive, and impartial records of human rights violations and abuses from July 1994 to January 2017. The creation of the Gambia’s TRRC is not only to bring Gambian people in harmony with their horrific past but also recommend institutional reforms which include but not limited to ending impunity. Herein lies the sharp difference as far as the goal of South Africa’s Truth and Reparation Commission and that Gambia’s TRRC is concerned. The former was solely and wholly created to promote national unity as stated in the act. A year after Nelson Mandela’s election as South African president, this debate shaped and reshaped the legislation – The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act – that authorized the TRC’s creation and charged it to administer a public amnesty process, attend to the interests and needs of victims, and create as “complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature, and extent of the gross violations of human rights” that occurred between 1960 and 1994 (Wikipedia).

While South Africa’s TRC was aimed at restorative justice rather than retributive justice – The Gambia’s model aims to achieve total reform anchored on transitional justice which includes deterring the repetition of such dark days in the country’s history. It is the worst history Gambians had ever lived since they gained independence. Thus, December 2016 Presidential election became the death kennel when the dictator regime got defeated in the most credible election throughout twenty-two years of dictatorship in The Gambia. The TRRC is expected to provide closure to enable the Gambia and Gambian people to move past the horrors of dictatorship. Similarly, South Africa emerged from the shadow of apartheid and confronted the question of how to deal with a bitter legacy of violence, social-political division, and material inequality. However, the goals of the two may differ, but there process are the same and one.

The South Africa TRC was divided into three commissions; Human Rights Violations Committee, Amnesty Committee, Reparation and Reconciliation Committee; Likewise The Gambia, the commission was divided into four special committees; Human Rights Committee, Gender & Child Sensitive Committee, The Reconciliation Committee, and Amnesty Recommendation Committee. Also, both Commission’s made public hearings to hear testimonies of witnesses which are televised and broadcasted worldwide. Although, South Africa’s TRC revelations were more terrifying, horrific, and heart-tearing compared to Gambia’s, the magnitude of pain, distress, and trauma of truth commissions’ revelations are pretty much very insidious. How power and authority had been misused and abused by our compatriots with indignity and impunity is a bitter pill to swallow.

However, It is important to note that, one must fundamental concern of truth commissions worldwide is that, their recommendations are often partially implemented. A bright example is South Africa’s TRC, in which over three hundred apartheid-era-related crimes such as deaths, abductions, sexual assaults, and enforced disappearances remain unsolved decades after its recommendations were submitted to the government. Gambians must be wary of such, and make sure that does not become our fate. This ultimately rests on the shoulders of the government to implement the recommendations to the letter, most importantly the Gambian citizens, especially members of the civil society must hold the government accountable in ensuring the full implementation of the TRRC recommendations for a meaningful transition to take effect.

A Sunday Read: Life Evolves around Change

Change often sounds trivial and easy-to-do but it can be precarious; as in becoming a better version of anything, it is a must to be fiercely zealous, unapologetically determine and brazenly ambitious. More so, to extricate a system for a better version is a necessity that requires will power. After all, the world is a combination of good and evil, new and old, peculiar and common, strong and weak. And in much as these realities are unsolicited, they are the building blocks of our societies and our lives evolves around them daily

Change they said it is the only certainty in life. Notwithstanding, it is one of the most difficult and rather complex a choice man and the world by large is often confronted with. Either a change of personal life; change of government, a change of job, a change of environment, norm or culture. Change occurs in different perspectives and in all walks of life. Often, rather than not, we cling too formidably to our past or existing conditions that we seldom consider change. This has disproportionately disadvantaged some and left many a people and country indecisive of their fate as these phobias for change persist. Little did we know, we cannot be what we need to be by remaining what we are. This is evident of the fact that, life is a changing cycle – nothing on the face of the earth remain ever the same. If we can remember who we were and where we were ten years ago, compare that to present day, then we ought to know better. Because, everyone grows – as the true nature of life. Governments, institutions, people and even school syllabuses undergo changes – in hindsight, change is the only certainty. So it heartens to witness a generation of leaders and systems downplay change as per their greed and thirst for power.

If there is anything important in change, it is the opportunity to break away from the norm, dismantle shackles of oppression and barriers to seek freedom and embrace the courage to be challenged. It is the zeal to pursuit relentlessly goals and settle for nothing less. Although change can be either good or bad, in all dynamism, man must seek good and positive change. As positive change brings out the best in everything; It exterminate existing limiting forces to growth and progress, while negative change will bring out the worst in everything. It is the kind of change no men of good conscience desire; it is unfulfilling and ruins before it mends. Beside, life is made up of series of experiences that continuously shape our realities as we grow. These are neither obstacles nor threats but hurdles to be crossed. They’re are necessary part of the journey of life, just as how the dictators, the tyrants and despots are important expendables for eradicating poverty, injustice and bad governance.

Change often sounds trivial and easy-to-do but it can be precarious; as in becoming a better version of anything, it is a must to be fiercely zealous, unapologetically determine and brazenly ambitious. Likewise, to extricate a system for a better version is a necessity that requires will power. After all, the world is a combination of good and evil, new and old, peculiar and common, strong and weak. And in much as these realities are unsolicited, they are the building blocks of our societies and our lives evolves around them daily. Because seekers do not rest on the laurels of imagination and procrastination but persevere consistently in their quest. Meaningful change requires us to be consistently bold, brave and willing. As when we seek solutions to our problems such as; who become our president? Who become our parliamentarian? what kind of government can do the needful? or What kind of education do i want for my children? What kind of impact do we seek to make in the world? they remain an imagination, a thought and a dream until will, effort and perseverance is disburse into it. That’s until we’re willing and committed to change, then we will realize how life evolves around change.

Covid-19: The Prevailing Bias in MoBSE’s Distance Learning Initiative

To define equity in its broadest terms; it is having the opportunity and resources that everyone needs to succeed at whatever level, thus, where is equity in this initiative? When one section of the students benefit from all the opportunities that this initiative brings along, while other students are left unattended to. This is the growing unchanging opportunity gaps which keep widening the achievement gaps in our education system, yet.

Opinion

As Covid-19 continues to affect all walks of life, equitable access to education remain a grave challenge in Gambia, despite the distance learning initiative by Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MOBSE). It is little over two months when this initiative was first introduced by MOBSE. Though, great strides are made to make this initiative as effective and efficient as possible, yet some students are left behind, particularly few subjects are been sidelined systemically, one among them is Literature-in-English.

Recently, we learned about Gambia Teachers Union’s (GTU) donation of some radio sets to vulnerable communities for their children to benefit from the distance learning initiative. This is a laudable effort and deserves recognition. However, the fact remain, people living in the rural setups in the Gambia are not benefitting from this initiative in as much as they should, compare to those in the urban setups. Equivocally, Internet is more reliable and affordable in urban settlements than the rural settlements. Besides, some rural settlements struggle to get radio coverages ,only few radio stations are viable, such as (GRTS) Gambia Radio and Television Services, which is the least reliable among the lot. It is important to note that, students in the Upper Basic doing Literature-in-English are left behind, marginalized. This subject is an examinable subject at both Upper and Senior Secondary level (GABECE & WASSCE), moreso, Literature-in-English augment english grammar, improve students’ critical thinking ability, while honing their writing as well as literal skills.

The subject is intrinsic to the life of a social science student; in journalism, communications, public administration, law, public relations and international relations. Yes, these are few among the prospects social science students could pursue open completion of a course in literature-in-English domain areas. Moreover,  it deepens student’s worldview, as literature students are often exposed to texts and books about different cultures, different worlds and diverse walks of life; ranging from humanity, work, academia and governance. Through these texts, poems and books, students of literature become informed and aware of other civilizations, and cultures that altogether make up this world. The diversities they’re exposed to, groom them to be tolerant, respectful, compassionate and critical in thought as well as in action.

It is quite disheartening to say the least, that students doing this subject are left behind during this pandemic, thanks to MOBSE’s distance learning initiative. For over two months they have witness daily, from Monday to Thursday, lessons offered in almost all other subjects except literature-in-English, which is bias. They are blatantly disregarded, disengaged and pretty much neglected. To define equity in its broadest terms; it is having the opportunity and resources that everyone needs to succeed at whatever level, thus, where is equity in this initiative? When one section of the students benefit from all the opportunities that this initiative brings along, whilst other students are left behind indiscriminately.  This are the unchanging growing opportunity gaps which keep widening the achievement gaps in our education system.

While education policies of the country may provide for equity, the educational response to covid-19 crisis remain inequitable and bias.

Literature-in-English is optional\elective at Upper Basic level, as a result, many students do not choose it due to how the subject is treated. Consequently, reading habit has become pretty much a hard-earn-currency for many that find reading and writing sophisticated. In hindsight, Literature-in-English could have been the medium in which reading hobbies are inculcated in Upper Basic pupils’, as this will further develop their passion for the subject, simultaneously diminishing phobia for voluntary reading habit, as such that, when they arrive at high school, reading and text analysis become a skillset for all of them. This terrain of unjust treatment of literature-in-English in our schools continue to have an overarching ramification on the growth of our creative industries in Gambia.

Meanwhile, one may argue that, there are numerous emerging poets, authors and passionate writers, especially from the country’s highest institution of learning,(University of the Gambia), yet one can count how many are really reading Gambian literature out of their course work, or reading for the love of books. As that habit have not been nurtured at the foundation level, Upper Basic and certainly Senior Secondary, a by-product of the irrelevance often mildly attached to the subject, as evident in MoBSE’s distance learning initiative. While education policies of the country may provisioned equity, the educational response to covid-19 crisis, lacks equity. The ministry and the team behind this initiative must be wary of a futile adventure, because Literature-in-English, likewise Physics and Financial Accounting are all very relevant to students, and ought to be treated with the same degree of importance. To sum this up, how would they examine them when that is due? Which they’ll, inevitably.