The State of Gambia

The new states of Africa were not ‘nations’. They possessed no ethnic, class or ideological cement to hold them together, no strong historical and social identities upon which to build. For a relatively brief period, the anti-colonial cause had provided a unity of purpose. Nationalist leaders had successfully exploited a variety of grievances among the urban and rural populations to galvanize support for the cause. But once the momentum that they had achieved in their drive for independence began to subside, so other loyalties and ambitions came thrusting to the fore. “We have all inherited from our former masters not nations but states” remarked Felix Houphouet-Boigny (ex-President of Cote d’Ivoire), “states that have within them extremely fragile links between ethnic groups”.

Martin Meredith ‘The Fate of Africa’

 In order to succeed and flourish, states and nations need an attractive idea of what they are.

Linda Colley ‘Acts of Union and Disunion’

 Nationhood is an imagined community.

Benedict Anderson

The Gambia doesn’t feel like a nation. It feels like a tract of land that three tribes live on that just happens to have an anachronistic state governing them. I sometime think that people here identify primarily by tribe – the Mandinka, Wolof, and Fular tribes make up the vast majority of the population. A Wolof in The Gambia feels more affinity with a Wolof in Senegal than he does with a fellow Gambian who happens to be a Mandinka. The Wolof village I live in has much stronger ties with the next closest Wolof village, which is across the border in Senegal, than with any of the neighboring Fular or Mandinka villages , even though they are much closer and are in The Gambia.

The allegiance to tribe rather than country makes the job of government that much harder; you can’t please all the people all of the time but when all of the people are strongly tribally divided you can’t even get close to pleasing them all.

The President here has recently tried to reignite anti-colonial sentiment to provide a national glue, with little success. He rants at Western Imperialism at the UN and has removed The Gambia for the Commonwealth. This sort of rhetoric can’t stoke nationalist fires like it used to, it is too transparent to be able to shield the motives behind it.

The Gambia will no longer be using English as it’s official language. The President stated “We no longer believe that for you to be a government, you should speak a foreign language; we are going to speak our own language.” Which language “our own language” is was not elaborated on.

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