Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Tears do not impair vision. We are still able to see when we cry. Decorum demands that behavior be linked to society’s deeply rooted values and social interactions. Politics demands the paragons of moral virtues and displays the gravitas of self-discipline, restraint, unity of integrity, and thoughtfulness, despite Gambian politics’ bad optics in an age of vulnerability. Some actions are so bad that how the public sees them should not be subject to spin.
In the name of politics and tribalism. Should we toss our ‘Gambianess’ and human values away? Is everything fair game in today’s Gambia political and social landscape? Why do some of our leaders do not have a sense of shame, a lack of political decorum, no minimum, lack of political decency in our body politics but the rise of shamelessness, arrogance, and the lack of contrition and breeding of a new surge of bigotry by some older adult politicians from the Gambia’s best tribal lords of all time?
The same grifters who corrupted our values are at it again, all in a race to the bottom. No! We will not take it. We will fight. Never again! Do you know how tribalism overrules reason and makes difficult times dangerous in the Gambia? Let us leave politics and tribalism and cheap political scores aside. Using our somber and joyful moments for politics of ethnic chauvinism is tasteless. Why is this macho male masculinity of ethnic leaders eating our young people?
Fatoumatta: December 4, 2021, Presidential election is a marathon for “Ajindi.” The masquerade who danced too early in the morning will most likely become a spectator in the evening when everyone is ready for the show. It is not just religion, of course. We identify ourselves as members of all sorts of tribes; our families, political parties, race, gender, social organizations. We even identify tribally just based on where we live. Go Brikama United, Go Wallidan FC, Go Scorpion national team! One study asked people whether they would prefer a life-saving diagnosis from a computer 1,000 miles away or the same diagnosis in their town if they had a fatal disease. A large majority chose the same information if the source machine was local.
Fatoumatta: Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Would you please think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity? Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe taken to madness. The racism lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change, or other fundamental scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism!
However, another example is the polarized way we argue about so many issues. The incredible irony is that as we make these arguments, we claim to be intelligent (brilliant, therefore suitable), yet we ignorantly close our minds to views that conflict with ours. Dan Kahan, a principal researcher into the phenomenon of Cultural Cognition, has found that our thoughts are powerfully shaped, so they agree with the groups’ beliefs with which we most strongly identify. His research, along with others’ work, has also found that the more challenged our views are, the more we defend them…, the more dogmatic and closed-minded we become…an intellectual form of ‘circle-the-wagons, we are under attack’ tribal unity. Fatoumatta: Talk about tribalism overruling reason. As irrational as genocide and science denial and immorality may be, it makes absolute sense that tribalism can produce such behaviors. We are social animals. We have evolved to depend on our tribes, literally, for our safety and survival. As Jane Howard, biographer of anthropologist Margaret Mead, put it, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” We may not be aware at the conscious level of the influence tribalism has on us. However, then, most human cognition happens below the radar of consciousness and is driven not so much by the goal of getting good grades or winning Nobel Prizes as it is, first, to survive. Small wonder that this ultimate imperative dominates so much of how we behave, how we think and act, and how we treat each other. Moreover, it is hardly surprising that the more unsettled and uncertain we feel and the less we feel we have control over how things are going – feelings that make us feel threatened – the more we circle the wagons and fiercely fight for tribal success, looking to the tribe to keep us safe. It is a sobering reflection on this inherent but potentially destructive aspect of human nature in these unsettled and threateningly uncertain times.
Fatoumatta: Yes, many Gambians are dissatisfied with politics and governance’s status quo and have been for a long while. Nearly two-thirds of the country believes we are off on the wrong track and not headed in the right direction. The President, National Assembly, Judiciary, and significant ‘Sosalasso and taf yengal political parties’ have dismal ratings. Many Gambians believe politicians and tribal lords are a sea of dysfunction and not looking out for their interests or willing to solve the country’s big problems. The status quo in party politics is not working, and Gambians have become fed up. For many, “blowing up” politics and tribalism, as usual, was the goal.
However, our democracy and humanity depend on not throwing out norms of integrity and behavior in the quest to jettison the status quo. Keep in mind that President Adama Barrow was elected despite himself, not because of himself. Many Gambians did not like and did not like how he conducts himself concerning politics ad governance. However, we voted for him anyway out of a desperate desire for change.
We cannot function as a community of people and as a nation without specific standards of how we treat each other and respect some fundamental virtues imperative to being citizens of this great country and the world. If truth no longer matters and we are unwilling to admit what is accurate, we cannot have a standard set of facts. Without a common set of facts, we cannot get to the common good. At that point, our democracy is broken.
Even if we are upset with the status quo and are angry about many things, we must have a common language and actions of treating others with dignity and respect and, yes, love, regardless of standing, religion (or no religion at all), sex, race or any other aspect of being human. When we jettison some basic human decency levels and look at everything as a win-at-all-costs mentality, we begin to lose our souls and the soul of a nation.
The name-calling and “jokes” we make while making ourselves feel good as we fight with others or the press may score us points in the short term, but we lose this game of life which is such a precious gift. It is easy to default into the rage against the status quo, leaving so many behind. However, once we throw out some critical human standards and are unwilling to accept the truth, even while difficult, we become more of a “Lord of the Flies” society instead of a civilized nation seeing all others as equally deserving of compassion and dignity.
Fatoumatta: It is imperative political leaders send the right signals through words and behavior that certain norms of human interaction are crucial to a functioning community and democracy. Leaders who convey that everyone does dishonest or corrupt behavior demean everyone who tries to stand for integrity. Winning by any means and playing “dirty” in any fight teaches citizens the exact wrong way to live and relate to one another. This applies not only to our political leaders but traditional leaders as well.
We must end the “ends justify the means” politics that has taken us to this place of losing our shared humanity. The means of politics and governance are broken, and we must fix that before having an honest debate about the ends of politics. If the means of administration are tainted or corrupt, most countries will never accept the outcome. In contrast, if the standards are from a place of integrity, we can all accept whatever policy is agreed to in consensus and on behalf of the common good.
Fatoumatta: Yes, we desperately need innovation in our politics and government structures — they are the last two areas of our society that have not had real, fundamental change. We are as frustrated as anyone with the status quo, but as we toss away the broken “old,” let us not throw out necessary norms and standards of morality and humanity that ensure we care for each other and our souls. Because without a moral compass based on mutual love, we are lost at sea or bashed against the rocks of an icy and uncaring world.