When some of us say we have to dismantle the foundations upon which we Africans operate because the foundation was never meant to advance us as Africans, people sometimes ask what exactly we mean and what other alternatives are available. I can understand the initial query but the second question kinda strikes me as lethargic thinking because it presumes that we didn’t have any systems prior to the arrival of the Colonialists. I mean I thought we were told a long time ago that if you don’t know where you are going, then go back to where you came from (hopefully to plan your route again). I don’t know one country in Africa that is where it is supposed to be today!! Yet we continue on the same path.
Not sure why Africans continue to think that everything we had was backwards or primitive and everything the Colonialists brought is manna from heaven and the way to go! The sad part is seeing so-called educated Africans clinging to nonsensical traditions and systems and debating the utility of foundations that have not led to the advancement of a single country in Africa. Yet, we hold firm to these foundations that have continued to divide us and cause internal upheavals all over Africa. The land issue is just one of them!
Before the arrival of the colonialists, before they instituted the fragile nation state system to which we remain loyally married, and before they took our lands and claimed that all lands belonged to the Crown, Africans had communal land systems where land was allocated by communities. Then the Colonialists came and said all land belonged to them. While some Africans resisted, others simply acquiesced because they stood to gain in some way, shape or form.
So when the Colonialists tricked us into believing that we are independent, those that took their place left the colonial land arrangement in place. Instead of the land belonging to the Crown, now it belongs to the States (Governments). However, communities continued to regard certain lands as theirs and because the values of these lands was not apparent at the time, no one raised hell about those claiming to own the land. However, once we morphed into an individualistic society as opposed to our natural communal tendencies, individual land ownership became contentious because prime locations became hot commodities. But some communities maintained that their lands are their lands and will not let anyone touch them. Look around you today and you will see that our land system is still based on this colonial arrangement. When they say the land is “leased”, who do you think you are “leasing” it from? The government!!!
While it may be too late to reallocate certain lands back to the communities (especially where some have already been compensated), it is critical that the land issues in The Gambia are given the urgency they deserve. The incomplete bridge between ill-fitting colonial systems and our traditional way of life is built on lazy columns and will continue to sink us as a people. Some are still stuck on the Colonial side of the bridge thinking they are “awoke” and those who remain on the African side are seen as primitive and backward. remember sitting with whole communities to take statements about human rights violations but most of the people were complaining about land issues. If you ask me, I would say it is a powder keg we are sitting on and one that will most likely not ignite on its own but will explode at the slightest spark of an unrelated unrest. But what do I know? God save us!
By Alagie Saidy-Barrow