Since the end of 22 years of dictatorship in the Gambia in December 2016, so many political and social issues which were tabooed then had now been widely debated both on and offline, in and outside the Gambia. Although some of the debates are conducted in a very civilised manner some not so civilised. This includes the recent Land dispute between the people specifically the Manjago community of Taneneh village, Kombo South, and a businessman Mr Seedy Barrow. The dispute stemmed from a plot of land which both parties claimed ownership. This is not the first time for a land dispute to occur between people and or communities in the Gambia. However, what made this one a unique case is mainly two factors, one of which is because it involved a minority tribe called Manjagoes who are mainly Christians secondly the Manjagoes claimed to have been using the disputed land as a cemetery for years and on the other hand, Seedy is claiming to be the rightful owner with right documentation to prove his claim.
However, the discussions amongst Gambians both on and offline regarding this dispute had digressed from the main topic to question the tolerance of Gambians. I have no doubt whatsoever that Gambians are indeed very tolerant and to prove this, let’s first start from the state. Nonetheless, before that, as Bo Bennett said, “for every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason, to tell the truth”, and saying the truth sometimes might be inconvenient. But in this case, it’s worth saying the inconvenient truth for the good of the many than silence for the benefit of the few so for those that are doubting the tolerance of Gambians to realise that indeed we are tolerant.
The Gambia is about 90% Muslim majority, yet 98% of our laws are English laws and justice systems which are based on eighteen century Christian English values, all our major public holidays especially the school holidays are based on Christian calendar yet as far as I know, no Imam or Muslim had ever demanded to change this to suit the majority, this to me is tolerance.
Also, the working week in most of the majority Muslim countries is from Saturday to Wednesday in other to preserve Friday for Muslims as a holy day. However, Gambia’s working week begins from Monday to Friday, again this is based on the Christian calendar to preserve Sunday as a holy day for Christians, and no Imam or Muslim had ever complained about this, to me this is tolerance. Equally, when the then Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh unilaterally declared the Gambia as the Islamic Republic and shortened the working week to four days, Monday to Thursday, including myself and many other Gambians publicly and privately decried that change and this had since been reversed by the Barrow administration, to me this is tolerance.
On the other hand, to question what the majority are tolerating from the minority Christians particularly Manjagoes, I will say a lot. First of all, I went to a Catholic Primary school commonly known as Father school in Faji Kunda and I vividly remembered that it was a must for everyone to do the trinity sign during public assemblies and the majority of pupils were Muslims which in fact led to some either converting to Christianity or the least be baptised, contrarily, I also attended Nusrat High school which is a Muslim school and no student was forced to recite Islamic prayers, this to me is tolerance. Talking about Faji Kunda, Manjia Kunda, Jeshwang to name but a few of the areas in Greater Banjul that are environmentally and health-wise hazardous to human dwelling due to the stench from the pig farms is overwhelming, yet Imams or Muslims had not demanded the removal or destruction of those pig farms, this to me is tolerance.
Moving little into the rural Gambia, anyone who knows Niamina Kudang will tell you the village is blessed with arable lands for farming especially rice cultivation and of course education/talent and due to these, the village attracts a lot of people that are not native particularly from Foni, Casamance and Guinea Bissau and the majority of them are non-Muslims. Now you may ask, why is this is important, it is because the villagers had always welcome and lodged these people with open arms and without any prejudice or pressure for them to change religion. It is also important to state that some of those people never return back home, instead, the villagers gave them lands to settle into the community as well as allowing them to have their distillery and bars without any malice. These to me is tolerance to the core, especially when you compare this to other subregional nations like Nigeria and the Central African Republic where there are constant Muslims-Christians and majority-minority tribes skirmishes or even some majority Muslim countries like Pakistan where minorities are always persecuted.
Meanwhile, all these are without mentioning the intermarriages, interfaith activities the Muslim majority and the Christian minority are used to and still do celebrate together i.e ”Fanal & Agugu” competitions in Greater Banjul areas during Christmas, the ”Nan-Mbourrs” during Easter celebrations. Likewise, when Muslims are celebrating the two Eids Tobaski and Koriteh the same tolerance is reciprocated by the Christians. Again not forgetting the fact be it Christian or Muslim you can’t go to your friend’s house and they offer you food and you turn that down, the family will ban you from coming back, such is the level of care and tolerance amongst Gambians.
The unique inter-tribe and regional “Sanawya” or “Kal” where a tribe or region will have a joking relationship with another and under no circumstances, one or the other will frown upon the jokes they received from each other. Example, the joking relationships between Jolas, Serrer and Fulas or Badibukans and Kiangkas, Jarra and Nuimi are all unique to our Gambia which made us live side by side for decades without anyone ever thinking of burning down a mosque or a church, that to me is tolerance.
However, these are by no means a suggestion that some individuals and religious leaders are intolerant towards the minorities, a typical example, the suggestion that Ahmadis in the country should not be allowed a TV license because of their beliefs is an intolerance. Also, People who may look at an individual believing that they are superior because of their tribe and or religious beliefs are nothing other than bigots. As some opinion makers pointed out, the country has its challenges just as any other country especially regarding religious tolerance that we all need to openly discuss and find solutions to them more so amongst the millennials.
Finally, to sway back to the incident in Taneneh which was a legal problem rather than a religious or tribal one was judged with emotions among Gambians. What tends to happen most of the times is when issues like this occur we judge with emotions rather than rationale and whenever that happens the truth gets blurry.