Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Gambians love to criticize their country perhaps far more than any nation we know of in the world. Yes, we have all earned the right to be cynical and even contemptible about the way we have been governed and about how the resources of our nation have been frittered away mindlessly. President Adama Barrow and his administration have become the objects of attacks and vilification, and yet, there is very little that is being done to point at the way forward. We know that as day follows night, we shall pull out of this tragedy that we face as a nation.
However, the least we can do is stand in the comforts of highways and homes that someone else constructed and thrown stones at ourselves and our people simply because we live off someone else’s sweat.
We hear comments such as: “do not bring religion into politics; let us separate state from religion.”
Standard Newspapers front-page lead story headlined dated February 16, 2021, “PASTOR FORBES SAYS NAMS WHO VOTED AGAINST DRAFT CONSTITUTION SHOULD NOT BE CALLED ‘HONOURABLE’:
Pastor Francis Forbes of the Abiding Word Ministries has expressed his disappointment over the government’s lack of political will in having a new constitution. He said the National Assembly Members who voted against the draft constitution do not deserve the title of “Honourable.”
In his ‘A Play of Giants’, Wole Soyinka suggests that to unmask the gods is to destroy their “ambiance of power.” That is the task Pastor Francis Forbes of the Abiding Word Ministries has set for himself. Enoch in Chinua Achebe’sThings Fall Apart’ did the same. He pulled off the mask of Umuofia’s egwugwu. The next day, he lost his entire compound – and the village church – to the fire and machetes of ancestral spirits. So, in the battle of life, everyone is a vulnerable masquerade, sort of.
Maybe I should add that there are several masquerades in the pantheon of proverbs in the world. One recognizes the fact that behind the guttural mask is a human being. Another warns every masquerader to use the traditional costume wisely and with modest wickedness. The masked one who whips the crowd beyond the borders of entertainment will soon become human once again. No Kankurang festival is perennial like Janjanbureh; none is celebrated till eternity. That is why leaders are counseled to rule well and with milk of human kindness.
However, who is that Father Francis Forbes masquerader who thinks himself God? New Gambia about to witness a masquerade’s unmasking, removing all “fragments of humanity” and humanness in the mythical? Or is the unmasking rite already unfolding before our very eyes? It is often a sacrilege to breach sacred groves, but sometimes it is expedient (and exciting) to smash the gourd of sacredness, violate the inviolable, and make the wise very unwise. However, in all situations, there is a price to pay – for all sides.
Fatoumatta: Yesterday, Gambians witnessed Father Edu Gomez and Reverend Hannah Caroline Faal Heim criticized President Yahya Jammeh publicly against low governance issues and human rights violations. Many pastors and religious zealots descended on them for leaving their ecclesiastical calling and delving into politics. They were called derogatory names. I wrote a piece in their defense wherein I argued that Reverend Hannah Faal and Father Edu Gomez were not alone pursuing social justice and seeking to shape their country’s destiny. I cited the exploits of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther, Pope John Paul, Sir Desmond Tutu, and so many other clergymen who played critical roles in shaping their countries. I urged religious leaders to join, but Pastor Francis Forbes never raised his voice against the bad governance and injustices against Gambians crying for justice and peace. Many cyberwarriors descended on me with expletives. One of them, who is on social media encouraging war today, said,” pastors are not called to participate in politics. He said, “It was when John the Baptist left his primary call and delved into politics that Herod took of his head.” The same person and his crowds are now calling on Pastor Forbes to join and participate in politics criticizing the government. They are the same people praising a pastor for making inciting and incendiary comments.
What did Pastor Francis Forbes and the Words Abiding Ministries do during twenty -two years of Yahya Jammeh’s malevolent dictatorship? Did he ever spoke against killings; did he spoke against kidnappings and general banditry. Did he spoke against the lethargic leadership of twenty -two years of the Yahya Jammeh administration of nocturnal arson attack on media houses.
Democracy allows Pastor Forbes to pillorize President Adama Barrow’s government and called National Assembly members “Dishonorable” for voting to rejecting the Draft Constitution. Why did Pastor Forbes condemn in most strong terms rampant Corruption and bribery four years ago when the National Assembly members received 56 vehicles from the executive? Why he never condemned police bestiality and police brutality in his pulpit?
Fatoumatta: Pastor Forbes calling as a priest to preach the Gospel and being a motivational speaker to his congregation and on national Television is okay. However, the culture of the religious leaders also demands calling out bumbling leaders. The leader can have his way, but he cannot shut up the led from saying their mind. Society is safe only where the critic and the criticized fly, collide and fly again. Here, we remember Chinua Achebe’s “Let the hawk perch and let the Eagle perch.”
Pastor Forbes and the state must exist but must not sleep in the same bed. If he does, the people, their liberty, their souls will be ruined. Kings never like ‘fiery’ priests. There is a short incursion into history here. Exactly 850 years earlier, on Christmas Day in the year 1770, King Henry II of England, in his castle at Bures, Normandy, issued his infamous outburst against Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are several versions of that outburst. One quoted the king as desperately asking: “who shall deliver me from this turbulent priest?” In Jean Anouilh’s 1959 play Becket, Henry is quoted bellowing: “Will no one rid me of him? A priest! A priest who jeers at me and does me injury.” T.S. Eliot’sMurder in the Cathedral’ is a celebrated dramatic representation of that history.
Why are Gambians disappointed with Pastor Francis Forbes? The 1997Constitution was amended almost 57 by Yahya Jammeh times under the watch of Pastor Forbes. Did Pastor Forbes raise his voice to condemn the government of Yahya Jammeh’s bastardization of the Constitution? Why was Pastor Forbes not angry with Yahya Jammeh and his government? We thought pastor Francis Forbes should be Thomas Jefferson’s priest: hostile to dictatorship, not always in allegiance to the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own. During the dictatorship, this Reverend Pastor has shown that he and his other priest’s colleagues and other Muslim clerics bow before power and crowns on the heads of injustice. The man never condemned the previous administration’s human rights and financial atrocities:
Fatoumatta: Why would some people think that Pastor Forbes never speaks truth to power? Yesterday, the Pastor was a coward, and today he is a brave man? Bishop Michael J. Cleary, an Irish prelate of the Roman Catholic, started used his large congregation to preach political messages in the early 1990s. In 1992, he criticized and condemned the PPP government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara for rampant Corruption and mismanagement in government during the annual Catholic pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace shrine of Kunkujang Mariama, and they were in the front row clapping for him.
In 2014 Father Edu Gomez, when he took Yahya Jammeh’s administration to the cleaners, Gambians hailed him. He was their main guy and truth-teller who is not afraid to call it as it is. People who make this argument are ignorant of elementary politics. They are ignorant of the role of a priest. However, I understand that many people do not see priests say the things I have said, which is okay. Many people have never seen a priest play the guitar or a piano, and when they see one, it surprises them…So, it is a pity that ours is a place where there is a culture of praise-singing, and if you criticize, they say you do not like the person…” The irony is, this government is a child of nasty criticism and hysteria. However, as a Bantu proverb says, a thief never likes to be robbed.
Fatoumatta: Where was Pastor Francis Forbes when Gambians were being massacred, treasury looted, media houses suffered nocturnal arson attacks, and journalists fleeing persecution and other religious leaders? Pastor Forbes turned against his perfidy, and there is no more incentive compatibility in him; he is now abusing the ministry. These catatonic guys think we are victims of amnesia. Pastor Forbes is not a perfect man, never claimed to be one. Like all of us, he has a past that may not reflect brightly on him today. He should not bow to threat from blackmailers.
Pastor Forbes said to the Standard, “When you are engaged in things that are dishonorable to the detriment of your nation, you do not earn the term honorable. So you do not make noise about it. You represent your people like all of us do. It is not a badge of impunity. If this country sinks, the title ‘Honourable’ will not help us,” he stressed. The Pastor made these remarks at a multi-stakeholder dialogue on the 2020 draft constitution and the future of democracy in The Gambia. The Centre for Research Policy Development organized the forum held at the International Conference Centre.
He added, “If we could remove our former president in 2016 … we can remove another, and another and another. The process we used is still available, and rather than waiting for the top-bottom approach, maybe we should start with galvanizing now, and when we vote, our votes will speak. There will be an answer, and we can move forward. If we did it in 2016, we could do it in 2021,” Pastor Forbes said. He said “the reminiscences of joy” after the 2016 presidential election still linger in his mind.
Fatoumatta: Someone should tell Pastor Francis Forbes that not all Gambians are his congregants. Proclamations do not obtain political power. It is not given based on self-righteous postulations and circuitous kinetics of the pulpit. If he wants to win, he should get in the trenches. Those who must clothe others must have decent clothes on their back.
Oratorical prowess is not politics and being religious. We know the man fancies himself as a motivational speaker, and he has already announced himself as the next Desmond Tutu. If he is serious about telling the truth to power, he should have done it when Gambians were looking for a Messiah. Pastor Francis Forbes needs strategic handlers to help him. I know he understands that some of his Christian and Muslim Clerics have damaged themselves, and they are positioning themselves to reinvent their image and guilt, but this is not how to do it. They have succeeded in damaging the man more in an attempt to decorate him. We do not want to dig deep into their relationship with the dictator.
Today many religious leaders( saved these religious leaders like Imam Baba Leigh, Imam Karamo Touray, Imam Ismaila Manjang Reverend Hannah Faal, Father Edu Gomez Ba Kawsu Fofana are in the history books as those who sacrifice for the voiceless for speaking truth to power struggling to end despotism using their congregation and pulpits in restoring democracy Gambians are enjoying ), including Pastor Forbes of the Aiding Words Ministries, published sermons all over the place, and preaching hot and divisive messages enabling kleptocratic rule, were in bed with President Yahya Jammeh. They did not see anything wrong with his government. They had Yahya Jammeh’s ears and time. They could get anything done for the Gambia and Gambians with Yahya Jammeh, but what did they do? They just enjoyed the moment! They took Yahya to Israel to pray for the Gambia. Yahya cozied with their churches and Mosques with unlimited access to the national broadcaster, the Gambia Radio and Television Services ( GRTS). Other than Pastor Francis Forbes and other clerics were parsimonious to truth-telling that things were all well with the country. They all queued behind Yahya. They attended his events in large numbers, and he had their backs. Many of them openly canvassed for votes for him from their pulpits. They turned blind eyes to the shortcomings of the Yahya Jammeh government because he is one of their own!
Fatoumatta: These men, who never saw anything wrong with Yahya Jammeh’s government, are now extremely vocal in their condemnation of the Adama Barrow government. They have statements trending online attacking the government, and wildly, Christians in the government. They are attacking the National Assembly members for rejecting the draft constitution.
Pastor Forbes asks these questions: what is happening under Adama Barrow in the Gambia today that did not happen under the previous governments? Why was he quiet and somewhat ambivalent then but active and vocal now? Tell us. I make no excuse for this government, neither will I pretend that all things are well. The government has done well in some areas, and in some others, it has failed or failed poorly. The most outstanding failure of this government is in its inability to stop Corruption and institutional reforms. Corruption is despicable and unacceptable. Gambians, other than the victims of the previous regime are all agreed on this. What is even more despicable is the politicization of the governance structures by some. The previous government played the same card before the 2016 elections, and Pastor Forbes never condemned it.
The Corruption and killings, and poor governance are beyond politics and religion. We concede that religious leaders’ responsibility is to tell the government to stop the perpetrators’ killings and justice. However, other religious clerics like Pastor Forbes or the so-called civil society activist never speak out from their positions against the government and not the finding solution to speak for despondency. We need to uphold those clerics and activists in prayers to be healthy and bold, imbued with wisdom and strength of character to do justice.
Fatoumatta: Leaders pull together to seek solutions in crisis times, and they do not pour accelerant on already explosive situations! The Gambia survived a brutal dictatorship, but it did not survive a religious war. We are heading with the divisive rhetoric coming from religious leaders like Pastor Francis Forbes.
Alagi Yorro Jallow