Friday, 23 November 2012

The Slow death of Gambia's Marxist-Socialism

“History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy.” Marx, Letter to His Father in (1837)

By Suntou Touray
Momodou Dumo Sarho
Sidia Jatta

The initial tilt of post-colonial African nations toward Socialism and Marxism did not spare the Gambia. Though the Gambia’s successive national governments have all steered clear of the two sister ideologies, a relatively small segment of the literate urban youth population did openly flirt with Socialism and Marxism for a long time. Whether this was purely out of youthful rebellion against authority is open to debate. This is especially true of the 70s and 80s when Socialist and Marxist ideas seemed to have gained traction in the Gambia. One could say that Socialism especially penetrated the Gambia in the 70s and 80s in that local Marxists (who like to call each other “Comrades”) traversed Gambian soil, quietly preaching their peculiar gospel of politics, subversion, equality, and social justice to impressionable youth. At this junction, the Gambia began to feel their presence in different forms.
But the proponents of the ideologies didn’t sit down on their laurels; they started to widen their constituency by conducting lectures in tiny enclaves in colleges, high schools and vocational campuses, formal workplaces, and at vous all around the Gambia’s urban areas. The universal ideologies of political economic management of Socialism and Marxism soon became the sound bites of self-described Freedom Fighters across Africa as they did further afield in South America, and Asia. The symbolism of sacrificing oneself for a higher secular cause as epitomized by the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba, and Chairman Mao in his cultural revolution in China, were models Gambian Marxists looked up to.
Naturally, the existing political class in the Gambia at the time (the PPP) became the target of these sometimes overzealous young men, who are of mixed orientation and social origin. While many are semi-literate with scant understanding of the political ideologies they purportedly espouse, some of the youths had University or college education. Again, while some are genuinely unconnected to the ruling class, some are close relatives of important members of the establishment they loudly rant against. The one thing Socialist-Marxists had in common was their resentment against what they perceived as “elitism and patronage of the political class.”
While they lacked the numbers to pose a serious political threat to the PPP government, nonetheless they were worried enough about their corrupting influence on the generality of Gambian youths to initiate a close surveillance of their activities. This became particularly imperative after like-minded youth took over power in Liberia in April 1980 through a bloody coup d’état. The Liberia experience was a wake-up call for the PPP government that a small number of “Leftist” could pose dangers to the Gambia’s peace and stability.
Consequently, the most visible of the Marxist-Socialist band of brothers of the Movement for Justice in Africa Gambia (MOJA-G) was quickly proscribed. However, as often happens in such cases, the banning of their organization only served to give the Marxist-Socialists a higher profile than they hitherto had. Until their banning, most Gambians had never even heard of the group. But the effect of the group’s banning turned several of its members into high profile status. These people included Abdoulie Jobe, Koro Sallah, Momodou Dumo Sarho, Sedia Jatta, Halifa Sallah, Sam Sarr, Sarjo Jallow, Ousman Manjang, among others.
My brief comment here is not in any way or form a scholarly discourse of the dying breed of ex-Marxist activists, but merely a short commentary on the slow death of the Socialist-Marxist ideas in the Gambia. Some of the individuals cited here may reject the claim that they are communist or socialist in orientation, thereby wholly rejecting my comments about them. However, it is undisputable that the currency of alternative political activism in contrast to free market capitalist democracy is socialism (championed by PDOIS) or Marxism (espoused by MOJA-G) in our case.
The most prominent members of Gambia’s Marxist MOJA group have all largely settled in Europe for decades now. The result of which is the departure of their Marxist ideals. The remaining underground members (Halifa, Sam Sarr, and Sedia) changed course by entering mainstream politics. As the Marxist forerunners to enter politics, they trekked villages and towns, leafleting and pamphleteering. They sold and distributed preacher-like political sermons on magnetic cassette tapes. The messages on the cassette tapes – themed to portray the Socialists as the “caring lot” organized to champion the courses of “ordinary people” – were similar and consistent. Always implicit in their message is the notion that they’re different from other educated Gambians. Yet, the two ideologies have not fared well in Gambia despite their laudable claims. So one may ask: what triggered the demise of Marxism in the Gambia? While there are undoubtedly many factors, it is reasonable to state that decades of the Socialist-Marxists’ unsuccessful bid for power has proven to be a dis-incentivizing agent for both the leaders and the masses they seek to enlighten. The failure of the resident Marxists in the Gambia especially to expand their following even after a quarter century of openly canvassing the populace, is particularly glaring.
Many keen observers are perplexed and confused by the unending downturn of the resident Marxist-Socialists’ political fortunes. Even the areas one might expect Gambians to follow them in – the simple dress code, personal modesty, etc, has not worked out for them. Some believe that is because the Socialists’ humility-façade masks an intense anger and disappointment at the refusal of Gambians to entrust them with our country. Many believe it’s that anger that is behind the Socialists’ reticence to work with others to end our Nation’s trauma expeditiously.
For the one thing that has now become commonplace during every Opposition negotiation cycle is the news of the Marxist-Socialist “Old boys” holding onto inflexible positions that scuttle any chances of achieving opposition unity. Further, they seem to imply that they’re the only genuine alternative to the monster that regime in the Gambia – thus the contemptuous and dismissive attitude towards other Gambians in pursuit of other solutions to our common problem. It seems they would rather stick to hardened uncompromising stances than working towards malleable positions that could realistically help end the tyranny in the Gambia. Why they continue to regard such behavior as a wise and viable option is something many Gambians cannot figure out.
Allow me to end this short note with a few words from Karl Max: “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.” Marx, Letter to His Father (1837)

the attachments to this post: 
Momodou Dumo Sarho 
Momodou Dumo Sarho

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