Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – In the Gambia, it used to be fashionable for politicians to campaign on the concept of a “divided nation.” Then, a leader appeared on the scene and suddenly, we are “Kang-killing”, which translates to a unity coalition, something the country had been lacking.

This alliance of political alliance resulted in the election of President Adama Barrow, a surprising and welcome fresh start for this small West African nation bordering Senegal. The coalition gave voice to a rising chorus of rage that ended the brutal rule of Yahya Jammeh.

The people overcame the forces of dictatorship and ushered in a new era of democracy. But, there is much more work to be done.

The victorious election is just the start. Others include the supremacy of Gambia’s constitution. This is the blueprint where all our rights and responsibilities are enshrined. We all have an obligation to that Constitution, more than any president, to defend and embody its ideals in the face of a new leader who has no record of governance

The overall well-being of citizens requires good governance and that implies accountability, transparency, participation, openness and the rule of law. These are the prerequisite for political legitimacy. These are the political changes that we had long yearned for.

Had Yahya Jammeh won, many of Gambians would have moved on as if all was right with the world, but the world is very wrong, and the impact of that wrongness is on display for all to see.

After 22 years of dictatorship, Gambians should remember that out of suffering, healing is possible. Out of darkness, light shines brighter, and without sounding too much about it, Gambian people cannot have one without the other. Gambians can reconcile and rebuild our great country with this ethos.

This is an opportunity to dig deeper into our imaginations and collective intelligence for solutions, to make great art, to forge stronger human connections, to plant deeper community roots, to try to listen to each other and reconcile our differences.

We need a new story that starts with who and where we are now and defines where we want to go. A story that includes the farmers, the religious leaders, the journalists, the engineers and civil society at large and members of the public.

A story that redefines what success means for a nation founded imperfectly on near-perfect ideals. A story that encourages us to see sacrifice for each other as gain for us all.

President Barrow will do some good, perhaps even great things in office. But we cannot forget the abhorrent system inherited in that office, and we have obligation to make his job easier when that job involves representing the values that have the potential to make us great.

If we need any guidance on that, let’s look at the actions of Obama during his presidency. He gave Americans an affordable health care system which seven of his predecessors failed to achieve. Despite the bottlenecks by his political foes, he was triumphant. He achieved a great feat and gave the Americans what they had longed for.

In a similar vein, we are asking for President Barrow to give us what none of his predecessors have ever given us – empathy. We want empathy to heal the injuries and traumas of Jammeh’s 22  years of tyranny.

After Jammeh, we know we have a steep and icy road ahead of us. There is palpable fear in the air. We have distrust, tribalism and political hypocrisy. We need to find a way to raise our voices and listen to one another with open minds. We need to win hearts and minds. Healing, unity, hope are our bywords as we forge ahead with empathy.

The definition of empathy is the ability to understand others – to share their feelings. This is different from compassion, which is when one has pity or sorrow. Empathy is a case of commonality. Sympathy is one of separation. Empathy is the key to finding common ground, on working together in communities, caring for our neighbors and helping the marginalized, the powerless and the suffering amongst us.

It is practicing what many consider “the Golden Rule”. But for President Barrow, our collective empathy may be more like kryptonite. It may turn out to be a form of resistance – for not succumbing to suspicion or even hate. Strong indications suggest our President is very slow in uniting our country. His actions demonstrate that he seeks success by tearing the coalition and other allies down and keeping us all apart.

The river may be long but it can be crossed provided President Barrow did not measure victory by creating opposition. Silence, on constant state of fear mongering and finger pointing, leaves our electorate on edge, shaken by the bad legacy of Jammeh. Thinking of Jammeh’s legacy deprives us of the worthy empathy for our fellow Gambians, regardless of how they voted. This is a fight for the soul of our nation.

The collective problem The Gambia is currently facing is all about empathy. There is an African proverb that says: “when you grab the head of a snake, the rest is mere rope”. And this “one-three headed snake” are corruption, tribalism and hypocrisy”. It’s a tall order to overcome this Achilles heels of our society.

Nevertheless, we should persist. And persist we must. By persist, I mean, we as Gambians must continue to go about our daily lives. We need to be responsible for ourselves, our families, and our broader communities as well as our country.

To advance in our development, the youth should stand against corruption with aggressiveness in defense of our future; and our mothers should address the issue of hypocrisy – to bring truth, peace, reconciliation and love, because they have empathy at that; and our fathers should campaign against tribalism and preach tolerance. This is how to progress if we want to kill this “three-headed snake”.

There are the way forward folks. No public relation campaign, no prayers, no inspirational talks without “killing the snake” can hold us together in the spirit of “Kangkilling” and unite us as one family that eats from the same plate.

Having said that, we must allow ourselves to feel the agony, the exhaustion and the despondency of this transition. To paraphrase a past president from another low point in our history, we need to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard. Like that high road, it’s the difficulty that makes them worth taking

We study history for a reason. Those of who glamorize the great old days without acknowledging on whose backs that greatness was achieved do a disservice to the present and the future. And for those fighting for justice, there are several play books and source code repositories left behind by Yahya Jammeh.

We need empathy to heal the legacy of dictatorship. History is not a circle, but more probably a spiral, in which we revisit similar but not exact coordinates from the past. We should revisit that past and prepare for the troubling times ahead.