Muhamed Y Darboe

By: Muhamed Y Darboe 

When I first heard Jammeh’s slogan, “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow,” I thought it was as good a motivation as it was philosophical. Imagine if that mentality had been part of us since primary school; then the importation of basic food commodities would be history. We would not have to import any sort of food in The Gambia. The philosophy did not work for us, and I think we later realised that Jammeh himself was growing seeds but reaping taxpayers’ money. That’s the paradox of the crown.

I have heard many of these adages and slogans as far back as senior school when our home science teacher told us, “You are what you eat.” She said if you eat healthily and nutritiously, it would impact your health, well-being, and general physical and mental state. I attended a boarding school where food was a major problem for the students. Our diets never met the bare minimum for any class of food. You either managed with what was provided on the plate or starved yourself. The more I looked at my lanky friends, the more I realised that we are truly what we were eating.

One day, during our foods and nutrition class, the teacher announced that we were going to have a practical lesson. She recommended that we buy yams or cassava, and we did. I was delighted that I would finally be what I eat. The day before the practical, she came to the class to announce that all the cassava cubes had been eaten up by rats in her house. We were still waiting for the day of judgement to settle that matter with her.

Nowadays, I have started having trouble with these slogans and paradoxes. I don’t know if it’s my experiences in the past or because I see that people don’t live by any moral principles, or it is a combination of the two.

Two years ago, I read a commentary by J. Hillis Miller on Charles Dickens, a nineteenth-century novelist known for his realistic yet sentimental style. In my mind, Miller also suggested that we are what we write. He believes that “the pervasive stylistic traits of a writer, his recurrent words and images, his special cadence and tone, are as personal to him as his face or his way of walking. His style is his own way of living in the world given verbal form.” It was the first time I found myself agreeing with someone so completely.

One may deny this for some good reasons, but in recent years, a lot of people have explained who they are through what they write or say, especially in political commentary. I have listened to someone who wrote an entire book against a dictator, but as soon as he was frog-marched into the cabal, he changed his words. He sat before the screen and told the world it was an evolution of thoughts.

Evolution happens everywhere, all the time. There is also an evolution of character, which I call the duality of personality. If you ask me today, I don’t agree with any of those slogans or statements about “we are what we eat” or other similar nonsensical phrases. In 2016, Gambians ousted a dictator after 22 years and hoped for change under a coalition-led government.

That coalition showed us the true meaning of politics and its vicious cycles. We saw and heard everything. But if you once served as a tool for a dictator and publicly denied a President the right to be enthroned in his own country, then later claimed that the same President is your relative, defying the principles of all moral bearings and reinventing the prototypical sage of old wines in new bottles with a compensation of unrestrained authority through the so-called newfound kingship, then you exemplify the rounded character of a tragicomedy. That’s just one scene of a whole play.

Then I realised that we are a gullible population of people who forgive and forget easily. We hope that things will always change for the better. And when one hope fades, another hope emerges. Yahya Jammeh utilised our fears and hopes to rule for 22 years because he knew that as long as the circumstances that sparked hope continued to shine, our hope would never truly die.

However, hope is foolish when it’s overly reliant on the unforeseen and defies the physics of possibilities. And when hope is based on the avoidance of reality, a reluctance to try something new, that’s waning hope in the face of despair.


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