This article by Voice of Hope is a stunning admission that active discrimination, by the Jammeh junta, against certain segments of the Gambian population, has been a policy since 1994! The title itself is an oxymoron, a contradiction; positive and discrimination cannot produce a positive outcome! The purpose of any government policy is to correct a problem without producing a new one, in other words a government policy should not aim to raise one group of people at the expense of another. Another point is that, comparing America’s Affirmation Action to Jammeh’s personal vendetta against groups of people is not meant to raise the standards of all. This comparison is tantamount to intellectual fraud and dishonesty. Affirmative Action in the United States was an actual policy, (albeit unpopular today) meant to increase opportunities and level the playing field so that qualified African Americans can have access to public colleges, government jobs and contracting. Affirmative action was never meant to guarantee outcome, and is not being micro-managed by an individual, but rather guided by policy that everyone can read and understand. Yaya Jammeh came to power with a chip on his shoulders, consumed with anger to settle perceived wrongs against the Jola people.
Social engineering and demographic manipulation by decree
The author presented the Jolas as helpless people who cannot succeed on their own in The Gambia, and therefore deserved to be favoured by the Jammeh regime at the expense of other tribes. My question is who are the tribes that actually deserved to be discriminated against for the Jolas to succeed? Are the unnamed tribes materially or substantially better off than the Jolas in The Gambia? The Jammeh regimes lack of understanding of the demographic make-up and social group dynamics is criminal. The characterization of the Jolas as people who only engage in menial work and less ambitious than the other tribes is insulting and ignorant at best. The Jawara administration, for 30 years, had no implicit or explicit policy against any tribe in terms of opportunity in education, employment or social mobility. There was no barrier to entry to any social class; it was all largely based on income and merit, to a large extent, not government social engineering. The Jolas that I grew up with went to high school with, and many more, were some of the most industrious hard working and motivated people. Some Jola communities in The Gambia, were not the only ones who were late starters in primary education, and thus affected their entry and numbers in the civil service and policy making positions, it was not a government policy to hold them back to benefit others. The same is true of the Sarahule, the Fula and Mandinkas and Fanafana Wolofs (in some parts of the country), in terms of their conservative view and suspicion of Western education. Education is the greatest equalizer, not government policy. You cannot create a new social class overnight through nepotism. Jammeh despised the established social, business and professional class, and he has been dismantling it for 20 years through confiscation, favouritism and nepotism.
Discrimination breeds resentment and undermines development
The Jolas were not the only people engaged in menial and maid service jobs, so were the Serer and the Mandinka and rural Wolofs (to a lesser extent). They chose these lines of work freely; they were not forced or coerced like we have today in Kanilai. Civil servants and other citizens are herded into Kanilai to toil freely for Jammeh, or else there were will be retribution. What Jammeh ignores, or does not understand is that a sizable percentage of the menial workers were actually migrant workers from the Cassamance region of Senegal. Many of them were seasonal workers who repatriated their earnings to improve the condition of their families. Over time some of the Jola migrant workers from Cassamance assimilated and became citizens. In fact many young Jola men joined the then Field Force, police and current army. The point here is that the Jolas are not helpless people, as the author submitted. They are hardworking and industrious people, and the last time I checked, there is honour in work. The Jolas are not known for begging.
Yaya Jammeh took it upon himself to correct a perceived wrong by instituting policies aimed at deliberate discrimination and persecution of certain tribes, especially the Mandinkas, Wolof urbanites and the Fulas, to benefit the Jolas. The evidence speaks for itself. Today, just look at the tribal make up of decision makers in the civil service, ministers, agency heads, the police, ambassadors, and even scholarship recipients for higher education. Unfortunately, for the beneficiaries, Jammeh is an equal opportunity molester! Today, many of the beneficiaries are also occupying space at his Five Star Hotel at Mile Prisons. The point here is that no tribe is much better than the next, and all are suffering today, equally.
The government’s job is to create opportunity for all, level the playing field through education, but it is not the government’s job to guarantee outcomes or pick winners and losers. Blatant discrimination and nepotism only breeds resentment and animosity. Jammeh’s discriminatory policies are not creating harmony among the tribes: the same policies of exclusion are what started the secessionist (Jammeh supports rebels’ irredentist aspirations too)) movement in Senegal in 1982. Government policy should be like rising water, all boats have a fair chance of rising. Government policy should not create harm by trying to rectifying one wrong, as the saying goes, two wrongs do not make right. No government can develop a nation by holding one group down, because one half cannot row the ship while others are held down. A government should be a meritocracy, a reflection of the population in diversity, but based on qualification. The consequence of Jammeh’s blatant and criminal discrimination in the civil service and higher education is high turn-over, high cost of replacement, lack of loyalty, deviant organizational behaviour and poor results. Finally, because of the lack of tenure in the civil service, there is no transfer of knowledge from one generation to another, and skill levels remain low. Finally, there is no such thing as Positive Discrimination, but the result is Reversed Discrimination, and both are wrong and criminal.