The moral imperative of quitting the Commonwealth – Gambia leads the way


– by Shenali D. Waduge –

A moral imperative is a principle originating inside a person’s mind that compels that person to act. It is similar to categorical imperative as expounded by German Philosopher Immanuel Kant who took the imperative to be a dictate of pure reason, in its practical aspect. Not following the moral, Kant postulated is self-defeating and thus contrary to reason.

It is in this context that we take the announcement by the President of Gambia at the UN General Assembly a few days ago as someone acting on the basis of moral imperatives.

“The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism.”.. going on to say that  “Present day Africans cannot be hoodwinked anymore and we are determined to defend our independence and dignity, and take control of our natural resources at any cost and by any means necessary”

Gambia – victim of transatlantic slave trade

Gambia has every right to feel wronged by western colonial countries.  Since the mid-fifteenth century, the Portuguese, French, and British empires competed for colonial supremacy in Gambia. It is estimated that well over three million people from the Gambia area were sold into slavery during the transatlantic slave trade. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; others were prisoners of inter-tribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and others were simply victims of kidnapping.

River Gambia is the most navigable river in West Africa. The British bought River Gambia from the French to transport slaves along the river during colonization.

Gambia is located in Western Africa, enveloped on all sides by Senegal. Present Gambian boundaries were formed in 1889 as the area became a British Crown Colony known as British Gambia. Gambia formed its own executive and legislative councils in 1901, and on February 18, 1965, Gambia gained independence as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of Nations.

The book titled Roots: The Saga of An American Family (Doubleday: 1976) written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alex Haley is roughly based on his family’s oral history starting with the capture of his slave ancestor, Kunta Kinte,  in the village of Juffureh ( Juffure) located in Gambia, in the 1767.

In 1977 the book was adapted into a television mini-series ‘Roots: The Next Generation’.

The film exposed the brutality of the slave trade that millions were yet unaware of or would even imagine the horrific aspect of their’s country’s and the British governments close involvement in the transatlantic slave trade – human smuggling today is just a newer version of the old! The majority of slaves were sold through African middlemen such as the Juffure example shows of the ordeals, humiliation, dehumanizing injustices suffered by hundreds of thousands of black Africans under European Christian colonial domination.

Under international law Anglo-American conduct in the black African slave trade was tantamount to genocide and crimes against humanity. These White colonial crimes are yet to be heard or punished.

Admirable stand of Gambia

Given this historical context the news of Gambia walking out of the Commonwealth becomes important. Gambia is in no economic condition to be taking the stand it has. On every UN and world index it is right at the bottom of the scale but the principled stand Gambia’s President has taken speaks volumes of what other world leaders of the Third World should also be doing.

Gambia has been quite outspoken about its status quo. It has not coiled for any of the West’s accusations on human rights, media freedom, corruption etc. In 2012 the Gambian President warned foreign diplomats that his country would not be ‘bribed’ with aid to accept homosexuality. “If you are to give us aid for men and men or for women and women to marry, leave it. We don’t need your aid because as far as I am the President of the Gambia, you will never see that happen in this country”.  

We the people of Sri Lanka must applaud the courage of the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and his stand on behalf of his people. In fact the western accusations of abuse of “human rights, media rights, and corruption” can well apply to the British government or any other government for that matter, depending on the reporting media’s perspective. It is time for not only Africa but all other former European colonies to stand on their own feet and oppose Western economic oppression and free themselves from the yoke of colonialism (and neo – colonialism) that continues to this day.

It is also time for all African, Asian and Latin heads of government to stop being sycophants chained to their former white supremacist colonial oppressors. We must stop licking the boots of the western bully nations. Our national conscience, national self – respect and moral imperatives tell us to refuse to integrate with our colonial masters at least until they are prepared to apologise for their repressive conduct and pay reparations.

It is western colonialism that has created much of the mess found to this day in third world countries and it can easily be ascertained by example after example. A close look at Canada, United States of America and Australia show how the indigenous people i.e. Native Americans and Australian Aborigines have suffered and now become alcoholics and drug addicts. The British and other Colonial Empires stripped and robbed every country they forcibly invaded no different to the R2P military humanitarian interventions taking place now.

There should be restitution of all wealth plundered by France, Britain, Holland, Portugal Spain to the third world countries. It is time for us i.e. the decolonized countries to dictate the terms of agreement and restore the plundered wealth to the vaults of our treasuries.

For these engagements Sri Lanka must have as our chief representatives in the international arena people who can fight the good fight, people with backbone and track record of unflinching loyalty to the preservation and indivisibility of the nation state. The lack of such individuals at the helm of our external affairs with no real pride in the achievements of our pre-colonial rulers, our historical links to Buddhist Asian countries and the need to persevere and develop such relations to new heights, and sense that our country’s manifest destiny lies in looking towards the East and becoming part of Asia’s political and economic resurgence, is indeed demoralizing to say the least.   

The term ‘Commonwealth’ is a misnomer. The ‘wealth’ was never shared for it to be ‘common’- the concept was a ruse or concoction to loot other people’s natural resources.

Time line of Commonwealth of Nations History

Burma upon independence in January 1948 never joined the Commonwealth displaying how much it valued its sovereignty and total freedom without links to its former colonial master.

Éire left the Commonwealth on April 18, 1948 upon becoming a Republic, after the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 came into effect.

India became a Republic on January 26, 1950 nearly 2 ½ years after grant of independence thus becoming the first non-Commonwealth Realm member of the Commonwealth.

It took Sri Lanka well over 24 years after independence to decide to become a Republic in 1972 and this translates to mean the reluctance on the part of our immediate post – independence rulers to shed the colonial legacy.

The Third World today is what it is because a handful of nations plundered lands, destroyed native vegetation, murdered and slaughtered millions, enslaved them and transported them to all corners of the world, destroyed their ancient cultures and humiliated their lifestyles, created divisions and demarcated lands and territories so that people would remain forever in turmoil and this lasted 500 years and the legacies of these treacherous rule exists still because the education system the conversion of natives and the manner that the colonials brainwashed the mindsets of the natives that chose to betray their native culture and nation still lingers on. It is these cloned natives that continue to administer on behalf of the former colonial masters their formula for continued dissent and divide and it is not difficult for us to pinpoint who these locals are. The manner they dress, their actions, their behaviors speak volumes of who they are, their agendas   and what they have been outsourced to do.

In such a scenario what calls to mind is how the Asian mentality had succumbed far more than the African for still the warrior in the African remains to challenge the status quo. Sadly, a few like Aung San (Burma), Subash Chandra Bose(India), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and General Vo Nguyen Giap (Vietnam) are no more and the rest of the present day ‘card board heroes’ are simply copy cat versions of the colonial masters attempting to think and behave like the white man and not carving out their own niche.

It is such imitative, unreflective and unimaginative conduct on the part of Asian leaders that have led to the publication of books like for example, Can Asians Think? by Kishore Mahbubani.

The thesis of this book is that the world’s largest continent stretches from Japan and Indonesia across central Asia to the Arab world.  It is the spiritual focus of such great religions as Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism and home to nearly 60 percent of the earth’s population.  Asia’s economies are poised to surpass those of Europe and North America within the next fifty years, and yet Westerners have done little to adjust their attitudes in light of present-day realities.

Can Asians think? Is Western civilisation universal? Does the West promote human rights for altruistic reasons? These are some questions that Kishore Mahbubani has addressed in this book. 

The moral imperative is to be on the right side of history

We owe to posterity and our future generations to engage in principled conduct internationally and to be on the right side of history. Posterity will remember Gambia for the stand it has taken and place Gambia’s President in the pantheon of African heroes which include heroes like Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of Independent Congo, who was killed by a well planned US, UK and Belgian combined operation. It is at this juncture that we need to remind ourselves that independence to Asia came primarily because Britain and other western countries e.g. France, Netherlands could not afford to maintain forces in the light of the military defeats sustained at the hands of the Japanese in the second world war and thereafter the wars of liberation launched by Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and Sukarno (Indonesia).   

Our fellow Asians i.e. Japanese, Vietnamese, Indians (Subash Chandra Bose), Burmese and Indonesians fought the aggressor from the west and won a hard fought victory. We were the beneficiaries of that Pan –Asian struggle for freedom. We must be alert to efforts of neo – liberals who have found their way into key strategic areas like education to dilute the history of Sri Lanka, white wash colonial repression and undermine even the contributions of Anagarika Dharmapala towards the cultural emancipation of our people from shameful imitative conduct.   

It is these very same people who are now trying to introduce new concepts to demilitarize and denationalize the heroic armed forces who defended the nation by sacrificing their lives and patriotic national – minded people who are always trying to show the country’s leadership that they are being led up the garden path simply to be made a laughing stock. It is leaders who are caught between and standing without knowing where their allegiance lies that find themselves becoming fooled by the advisors they are keeping simply because of an ill – conceived notion that delivering eloquent speeches and ability to write well in English equates to mean the person loves the nation, indigenous culture and the leaders. That is far from so.

Gambia has become the child who pointed at the Emperor walking naked – showcasing the hypocrisies of Britain accusing nations of human rights violations when it has yet to apologize for its heinous crimes or compensate for hundreds of years of mass criminal offences and these crimes are far graver than what the UK is accusing other countries of.

Britain loses no opportunity today wherever possible in targeting and denigrating Sri Lanka in international fora. When Britain points the accusing finger at Sri Lanka our response has always been weak and timid. We tend to give an account of our conduct more like a sub – ordinate rather than as a co- equal. The notion of counter – attack does not exist in the minds or vocabulary of our foreign ministry or diplomats, despite overwhelming evidence to take Britain to the cleaners in respect of its indefensible conduct and double standards in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and even Syria.   It is time that we move away from such submissive posture largely stemming from innate apathy towards standing up to others and severe inferiority complex.  

Gambia has created history when rest of the member countries in the Commonwealth have simply chosen the docile way of celebrating being enslaved or behaving like the proverbial ostrich of having the head buried in the sand and not wanting to look around to see the true reality.  

Gambia is to be admired and cheered for doing what no other nation in the last 60 years has had the pluck to do and Gambia deserves the applause of all former colonies and their people for giving utterance to our common cry for justice, apology and reparations.