Let's Talk About It

My Man Jammeh of Gambia

The best African news of the century came from The Gambia last week.

It said; “Gambia moves to dump English as national language”.

This is the first evidence that Africans are becoming aware of their bondage and how to untie their chains.

The wonderful news goes further to explain that “Gambia’s president has said he wants to implement a policy change that would shift the country’s language from English to a local language.

“We no longer subscribe to the belief that, for you to be a government, you should speak English language. We should speak our language,” President Yahya Jammeh said during the swearing in ceremony of Gambia’s new Chief Justice that was aired on state-run Gambia Television Service.

The announcement comes months after Gambia announced it was withdrawing from the Commonwealth, a collection of 54 nations made up largely of former British colonies, saying it would “never be a member of any neo-colonial institution”. Precisely, I am clapping for Gambia. My joy knows no bounds that a small African country is leading the way in challenging the colonial bandits on their most virulent legacy in the continent that creates the formidable barrier between us and our destiny. Against this background, Nigeria is ideologically insensitive and poor.

The United Kingdom is fighting back! It recently warned its citizens of what it called “ rising anti-British rhetoric from the Gambian President” who last year accused Gambia’s former colonizers (UK) and the United States of organizing coup attempts in Gambia. The allegation was denied. But at least it repelled them.

In retaliation and to over-awe Gambia, the UK has mounted vicious attack on The Gambia for alleged human right abuses. It cited the execution in Gambia of nine death-row convicts by firing squad in August 2012.

Amnesty International, toeing the same British line, resisting the removal of the English language also condemned Jammeh’s government on allegations of cracking down on dissent and targeting political opponents and sexual minorities for arrest and detention, among other alleged abuses. And you wonder: why the Europeans think we must speak their language and let our own die as a condition for associating with us?

The European Union is at loggerhead with The Gambia and has threatened to suspend its aid if the country’s alleged human rights situation is not improved. Jammeh, who came to power in a military coup in 1944, said the UK has no “moral platform” to talk about human rights.

“What brought the British to the Gambia in the first place when Gambia was bigger than it is now was trading (plundering) in ivory because the Gambia had a lot of elephants”, he said.“They wiped out all the elephants and ended up selling Africans”. Gambia is a small West African country with a population of 1.8million people.

Over the years, the Gambia passed from hand to hand between Portugal, France and England, who claimed ownership of the people and their country. Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to reach the River Gambia in 1455. In 1588 the Portuguese sold to the English merchants, exclusive trading rights along the river. In 1618, King James I of England granted a charter to a company formed for exploiting The Gambia and the Gold Coast (Ghana). This company, in the name of trading, ravaged and plundered the area and took their loot home to England. In about 1660, James of Courland acquired from a local chief an island, later known as Fort James Island, about 27 km. up the river, where he erected a fort. Then and for long afterwards that area of the low Gambia was important for the slave trade. Kunta Kinte, who was taken from there as a slave to America, started a family whose history is described by the descendant, Alex Haley in Roots, and Jaffure, Kinte’s town has become a tourist attraction for Afro-Americans.

In about 1681, the French from their base at Goree, established an enclave at Albreda, on the north bank of the River Gambia, opposite Fort James Island.

The French later captured the fort on four occasions. But at the treaty of Utrecht (1713), they recognized the English claim to Fort James Island and were themselves allowed to retain Albreda. In 1779, the French captured and destroyed the fort but the Treaty of Versailles (1783) gave the River Gambia to Britain while recognizing the French enclave of Albreda.

It is a lengthy history of tossing a people up and down as captives and possessions of human beings from another race and continent. To this, the Gambia president has said no. He is not setting up a huge party to celebrate this interference in the affairs of the Gambia.

The argument of President Jammeh for dumping the English lingua franca for his country is a resounding one: “We won’t be a member of a neo-colonial institution. We should speak our language”. This is the ultimate truth about Africa’s development, cutting off colonial legacies, especially languages, and adopting our own.

Something is basically wrong with our society and with individuals here. Our own president, considered well-educated, is insensitive to colonial devastation and bastardization. Rather he celebrates them. In that, we have two options: to throw up our hands in disgust or despair and let things sort themselves out. So long as we manage to find our personal comfort and daily food, we join in the exploitation of others, and take away the collective wealth of the entire people for our own personal use. The next option is to work for the common good based on a system which ensures that everyone, without exception, is good, motivated, productive, circumspect, happy and positive.

I believe that only our language can efficiently run our institutions in Africa and make them long-lasting to gather, educate and reshape men’s mind and souls to make a nobility of them. All we need is the all-important shift in our way of thinking and departure from colonial language stereotypes that have estranged us from ourselves.

The only treason I know is to sacrifice love of truth, intellectual honesty, loyalty to nature’s laws, and methods of the mind, for any other interest, including those of one’s own country that detract from truth. This is what our current centenary celebration represents.

The scholar who knowingly speaks, writes or teaches falsehood, who knowingly supports lies and deception, no matter how things may seem of the given moment, does his people a grave disservice.

He corrupts the air, the food and the drinks. He poisons thinking and the laws and gives aid and comfort to all the hostile, evil forces that threaten the people with annihilation. The mind of man is only noble when it obeys truth. As soon as it betrays truth, as soon as it ceases to revere truth, as soon as it sells out, it becomes intensely diabolical. This centenary celebration in Nigeria is a complete sell out. It is unbelievable.

On the philosophical level, this is the comparison between large Nigeria and small Gambia on the critical issue of rejecting colonial conquest and its legacies. To me the British departed and left behind an ominous presence. It was deliberate. That presence was their language. And that has been our problem ever since. It is the cause of all the wars. The Gambian President has found the way. Now watch and see what will happen there – how fast they will grow.

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Christian Voice