This article examines the upsurge in denunciations of ‘tribalism’ in public debate during The Gambia's transition from the autocracy of Yahya Jammeh to the ‘New Gambia’ under President Adama Barrow.
In these public debates, derogatory statements about particular ethnicities articulate fears of present or future alliances to monopolise political power. These fears are disproportionate to attempts of organised political mobilisation on ethnic grounds, which remain marginal. It is argued that accusatory politics are a salient, and neglected, feature of ethnic dynamics in contemporary Gambian – and African – politics. This politics of accusation involves the contestation and negotiation of moral legitimacy in the political sphere, in a manner challenging the separation of the moral and the political undergirding scholarly distinctions between ethnicity and tribalism.
It is based on research funded by the College of Humanities & Social Sciences at George Mason University (Hultin), the Falkenberg Foundation, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Sommerfelt). We are grateful to Byunghwan Son for commenting on an earlier version of this paper. We thank the many individuals who informed this paper or who helped us think through ethnicity in The Gambia. In particular, we thank Hassoum Ceesay of the National Museum, Sait Matty Jaw of the University of The Gambia, and Jarra Dabo and Omar Drammeh of the African Centre for Information & Development in Oslo. Thanks are also due to the anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments. Any errors of fact or analysis remain ours. The article has been written with equal contributions of each author.