H.E. Dr. Mamadou Tangara.


Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Gambia to the UN

Until his latest appointment, Mr. Tangara held various positions within the Government of the Gambia from 2010 to 2013, serving as Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, as well as Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad.  He also briefly served as Minister for Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters.

Previously, he served as Coordinator of the National Authorizing Office Support Unit for European Union-funded programmes and projects in the Gambia, a position he held from 2008 to 2010.

Mr. Tangara holds a Doctor of Philosophy in social sciences from the Université de Limoges in France and two master’s degrees from the same university and the UniversitéCatholique de Louvain in Belgium.

 Event Title Date
 Africa Solutions to African Problems: Education, Health, Culture, Economy, Culture,  Peace &Security 02/ 12/ 2014

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Coming from the academia, I sometimes tend to be very iconoclastic, and not speak from a perspective of a diplomat. Our moderator mentioned the initiatives undertaken so far at the continental level to move Africa forward.

When you examine all the programs and projects being implemented in Africa, you notice huge misconceptions about Africa. And that is not only particular to people outside of Africa. Even we Africans do not know ourselves, and this is unfortunately very sad. Few years ago I had the opportunity to visit South Korea and we saw a video highlighting that in the 1960s South Korea was at the same level with Ghana. Kenya at that time was also ahead of South Korea. But look at the gulf that separates South Korea with these two countries today. And with all the resources that these African countries are endowed with, you ask yourself this question: What is the problem with Africa and Africans?

Some participants asked me: “what are your feelings about the disparity between South Korea and these two countries?” I responded: a feeling of admiration, anger and frustration. I admired South Korea, but I was angry about Africa, and frustrated because with all the resources that we have, the continent still lags far behind South Korea.

My President, the Head of State of The Gambia always says that ‘the worst type of virus we are suffering from in Africa is:  Ignorance”. Africans still continue to live in abject poverty despite the abundant natural wealth on the continent. This is indeed unacceptable!

And when you look at the conflicts in Africa, the things that are fueling this conflict are natural resources. Those who are coming to help us solve problems cannot love African more than Africans themselves. They have vested interests at stake. We have to be aware of their main motivations. Remember the conflict in Liberia and Sierra Leone. When they were killing each other, there was a group called “Executive Outcomes”, protecting the diamond fields, looting and taking the precious stones elsewhere. The ‘blood diamonds’ scandal is an open secret today. While others were plundering their resources, Africans were left killing each other in the name of some irrational ideological beliefs. All these problems stem from a very long history where Africans fail to see themselves with their own eyes. Koreans are able to make giant strides in their development and achieve these great things because they believed in themselves. Although they placed a lot of emphasis on Science and Technology, Culture did indeed play a pivotal role in moving their country forward.

Unfortunately in Africa, we tend to see ourselves through the distorting prism of others. Others who are only interested in what Joseph Conrad would term as the tearing of treasures out of the bowels of our motherland land.

For example, when you look at the Education System in most African countries objectively, it always proves challenging for us to even come up with a proper curriculum devoid of foreign influence. We have to get the support of others to fund this vital sector. Of course, if anyone gives you his/her money, he/she will want you to put in your curriculum what he/she wishes. There is a saying in one of our local languages, “if you borrow someone’s eyes, you’ll look in the direction he/she directs your eyes.” One symptomatic manifestation of our alienation is when we hasten to define ourselves as Anglophones, Francophones, Lusophones and the like, forgetting that the fundamental thing is that we are Africans. We need to look inward and come up with our own solutions to problems and crises plaguing Africa. But first and foremost we have to put emphasis on things that will bring us together than superfluous problems that are keeping us apart.

We can, therefore, notice that part of the problem stems from the education system itself. We have universities and schools. But are they really dealing with our development needs? Not really.

Three years ago, I attended a summit in my capacity as Foreign Minister in Addis Ababa, and we were working on our shared values. But which values are we sharing, if we don’t know our own values? I take my own case. It was during my days as a PhD student that I re-discovered myself and I learned a great deal about Africa as well.

You know they will tell you that Africans don’t have a written history, and as such, we have forgotten many things. That’s not true. When they say “Verba volant, scripta manent!” “Spoken words fly away, written words remain!” This is a hypothesis that does not hold water in an African context. We devise ways and means where knowledge is hidden. In Africa to get knowledge, you have to deserve it. And we have what we call the “griots”. Even when they are playing their instruments, the kora for example, there are a lot of messages hidden in the instruments and tunes. Léopold Sédar Senghor, the former president of Senegal and a great poet, used to say that “these are high oral monuments surrounded by a wall of silence. Silence that will not allow you to talk of things that fuel conflicts.”

We used to have our own mechanisms of solving problems.

Finding African solutions to African problems is where elders play a key role in appeasing a situation and here you have the griots playing a vital role as a medium of communication. In traditional Africa, leaders will not just come and speak directly to the public. They will have a griot, who will play the role of a spin doctor. We know about a spin doctor well before Mr. Alastair Campbell. Authorities will speak in a low voice, and the griot will transmit the message in his own way to preserve the modus vivendi in society. We were talking about shared values, but which values are we going to share? We even fail to know that some of the first texts dealing with human rights emanated from Africa. The Fetha Nagast of Ethiopia, which was the foundation of the Ethiopian constitution and the Charter of Kurukan Fuga during the reign of Soundjata in Mali. The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia undertook to get this important document translated into English for the benefit of Africa’s children.

The Charter of Kurukan Fuga in its 43rd article has made the griot the custodian of the spoken word. He has the responsibility to safeguard the word against improper use that can generate conflict.

When one writes the history of a people or institution, like if we are to write the history of Peace Islands, there is no way you can alter it or add negative or positive things once it is imbedded in a book. It might affect the reputation of the Peace Islands, but when you say the history of Peace Islands, you have the opportunity to correct some of the misconceptions and some of your subjective judgments along the way depending on the audience you have in front of you. Therefore, you can easily have a dynamic discourse about the Peace Islands Institute. And that’s why in Africa it is preferable to use “orality/orature” to transmit knowledge.

UNESCO Constitution declares: “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”

There is an old adage in The Gambia which stresses that, “even one bites his or her own tongue”. In a sense, this is to say that conflict must occur between people who live together. It is a fact of life and therefore becomes inevitable. One of the ways to deal with this crude fact of life is to devise strategies enabling people to resolve conflicts and maintain peaceful coexistence. As an example we will cite one strategy: the “joking relationship”.

When you have a conflict, intra-ethnic or inter-ethnic, you have people with different surnames, where for example if Ms. Louise (Bailey) happens to be a Krubally, she can say whatever she wants to a Tangara and gets away scot free. She can also successfully mediate any conflict affecting a Tangara and vice versa.

 This “joking kinship/relationship is an unwritten agreement that does not only promote peaceful coexistence but it also creates a strong bond of solidarity and mutual respect among the people who have agreed to comply with the terms of this “informal” agreement. It’s widely accepted that: “honoring one’s word is noble”.

Unfortunately, we fail to use those kinds of traditional ways of dealing with issues. I was discussing with the Ambassador from Nigeria. She was telling me that if there is a conflict in our part, just ask the women to solve the conflicts and they will solve it. Because in Africa we fear the fact that our mothers will stand naked in front of us. People will drop their guns and run. And that will be the end of the conflict. So these are the kind of things we need to explore and endeavor to know more about ourselves.

I was mediating in a conflict and all the parties involved were emphasizing their readiness to die for their country, thinking that they are fighting the right cause. I reminded them of the words of the late Archbishop of Warsaw, Józef Glemp, who said “it’s more patriotic to live for your country, than die for your country.” So let’s try to work and live for Africa, rather than to die for the Motherland.

It is worthy to recognize that the evolution of the African continent has shown that African leadership on African issues is the key to finding lasting solutions to the problems that continue to plague the continent. Therefore, satisfaction must be registered at the peace dividends that are being reaped across Africa, thanks to the commitment of African leaders at finding solutions to African conflicts and disputes.

However, Africa’s readiness to chart its own destiny with dignity must be manifested by proactive decisions and actions.  Africa’s commitment to peace and stability across the continent has been manifested in not only peacekeeping troop contributions, but also her readiness at all times to find peaceful solutions to conflicts plaguing the African continent within the framework of the principles of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, under the aegis of the African Union.

It is also important to note that there are no readymade solutions to crises in Africa. If we fail to take into consideration and develop a better understanding of deep rooted cultures, more fuel will be added to the fire to benefit those who are only interested in reaping the gloomy spoilt of wars on the continent.

Africans have to occupy the driver’s seat in finding lasting solutions to problems plaguing Africa.

.Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiwUZOPkW0