by Alagi Yorro Jallow
A good anthropology is critical for good policy. Politics is where “what is good” is argued. Politics is a life and death struggle. I believe some of you mistakenly believe that politics is a moral and decent arena. It never has been and never will be. Politics, at its core, is ruthless and can be bloody.
The reality is staring us in the face. Yet, it cannot be spoken, cannot be entertained and cannot be discussed because there is no greater heresy and no more offensive ¬notion than that the loss of exemplary leadership and moral values might have a downside. It would be absurd to pretend this epic change does not have profound consequences for society since it constitutes the eclipse of a conception of human nature.
At the same time, recent decades have witnessed a shattering of trust across Africa ¬including the Gambia between the people on the one hand and politicians and elites on the other. This dysfunction in the Gambia has multiple causes within politics itself: the identity crisis of dictatorship, the major political parties, the rise of negative politics, self-interested political activists, leadership failures and internal disunity.
The idea that our democracy is founded on core moral truths about human nature has collapsed — or is collapsing. President Adama Barrow’s election as president was driven by the fear of entrusting the nation to dictator Yahya Jammeh for a fifth term in office. A dream had been cancelled, ending the fact that elites had led a separate life and used power for their self-¬interest. But the deeper source was a feeling that the moral foundations of the country were eroding.
It is obvious, however, that there is a deeper problem, that something more profound has gone wrong. The sense of a community of shared values is disintegrating. The most fundamental norms, ¬accepted for centuries, are now falling apart as disputes erupt about tribalism, politics, family, education, gender, tradition, patriotism, life and death.
And the decline in our civic virtue is undisguised, respect for institutional authority has eroded and the idea of a common community purpose is undermined. Trust is in retreat; however, the most important singular development is the transformed notion of the individual — the obsession about individual autonomy in every aspect of life: power, money, sex, popularity and death. Put harshly but not inaccurately, it is narcissism presented as self-realization and human rights.
Our love of money, self-centeredness and individualism are fast becoming a threat to the common values of our society that compose national values.
Our politics seems to take advantage of every enemy of the Gambia to be the parasite from within. In the litany of words about the census, the core issue has been avoided — the almost certain link between the generational decline in moral values or ethics as a guide to the common good and the collapsing relationship between the people and political system.
As our national anthem highlights, “For the Gambia, our homeland; We strive and work and pray, that all may live in unity, Freedom and peace each day. Let justice guide our actions, Towards the common good, and Join our diverse peoples to prove man’s brotherhood.” It is pathetic and incredibly worrisome to note that we are a nation generously comfortable with entertaining and taming menace.
We are a people that are their own serial killers. Through hunger, we kill each other and slaughter the nation’s resources –– all because of self-gratification. Through disease, we murder each other, massacring national resources under the pretext of procuring drugs. In envy, we tear apart every step of progress made by others, thereby butchering our much-needed national esteem, inspiration and pride from within.
Now, how do we put down each enemy when we are our own enemies? We are a sad people, a citizenry whose sanity is highly questionable considering that we can see, experience and applaud enemies for growing fertile on us and treat that as normal.
For the younger generation, is it because we are a people lacking (a hungry people)? Are we being taken advantage of by the political elites and powerful? Or perhaps are most of our national problems man-made in a bid to uphold the interests of the powerful enemies we are taming from within?
Time and again, it has been suggested that the Gambia needs a system overhaul. However, all the Gambia needs is a mass mental overhaul for sanity to tick, to grow and to mature.
Nasty things and deals keep defiling the already bruised pockets of mother Gambia; poverty tolls at a terrific speed. Large firms and institutions are at the forefront of practicing modern-day slavery through the exploitation of workers despite making ridiculous millions of dalasi of profits year in, year out. The hope for a better life for our youth keeps grasping for breath; what we earn generally scoffs at our qualifications, competence, skills and commitment.
How do young people earn a good living when reality bites hard? When their innovative and creative ideas are swept under the carpet because of a lack of startup capital or availability of that which commands insane interest rates? For how long are we going to weep, wail and mourn the same ‘slavery’ trends repeatedly? How do we make ends meet? How do we survive? Lord have mercy!
Cities and villages are jungles where one eats another for survival. Pub owners need your money for survival, while you need beer to temporarily survive the harsh realities of this world owned by the powerful and wealthy. Poor people kill each other for the limited resources at their disposal. They fight over women who are systematically brainwashed to choose a man based on the size of his pockets. Pauperized man is rejected, thus cast as unfit to survive in the jungle.
Those who refuse to accept the economic realities of the jungle, armed with knives and guns, resort to taking by force from their fellow brothers fortunate enough to possess a fair share of the scraps left on the table after the master has dined and drunk from the expensive wine. Women prostitute themselves without noticing that they are in the business of prostitution. Terms like “girlfriend allowance” are used to conceal the prostitution. Boys and girls who want to follow the “correct” methods of survival enroll for qualifications deliberately made to be expensive as a method to keep the historically disadvantaged girl child unskilled and keep them as cheap maids. Witchcraft is rife. It is encouraged by thoughts of envy. It originates from thoughts that whoever tries to escape the jungle must be bewitched so that we all suffer.
Our developing prescriptions are hidden in books not in rosary beads and beer drinking. If books are hard to access in libraries and educational institutions, then our underdevelopment must perish. Pubs make it easier to take beer on credit, as all they need is your word and your undying thirst for beer. By contrast, it is harder to borrow books from libraries because of a lack of proof of address or identity.
Our society is marred with emotional stress and physical violence. Cities and villages are expensive to live in and rural areas ill-equipped. Our cities and villages are like a jungle surrounded by ocean waters infested by bloodthirsty sharks. In this society, a library makes it hard for students or scholars to borrow books or have access to educational resources. This is deplorable and unacceptable after 50 years of independence.
Is it any surprise therefore that the domestic economic landscape is a fertile ground for ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes?
There’s a need for a mass overhaul if hope is to be reinstated for the citizenry. Both the public and the private sector need intense formatting. We cannot keep taming that which causes more harm to the masses and makes a few sweet melodies.