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Tribal competencies

The erudite Gambian writer Suntou Touray recently wrote on the Gambia-L that he is embarking on a project to outline the tribal competencies of Gambians. I am one of the respondents pooh poohing this idea as silly and counterintuitive.Mr. Touray tried to allay our reservations with the trust me meme and recently took to his blog and the Bantaba forum to push this idea. He didn’t make mention of my name, so it is fair to say that I am outing myself by writing this post in response to what I think is a mish mash of a very convoluted thought process.Take this sentence from Suntou’s post for instance:

The vital point to note here for all is that, The key word is 'TRIBAL COMPETENCES'. This doesn't mean, what one tribe is competent at another is
incompetent with.

Which begs the question what pray tell is the purpose of allocating competencies if it doesn’t empirically settle the incompetence of other tribes at doing the exact same thing? Isn’t assigning a certain competency to a certain tribe in essence saying that tribe X is superior in performing a certain task than the rest? Mr. Touray went out of his way to disprove his own proposition in the same sentence in an effort to allay fears and thus have it both ways.

My objection to Mr. Touray from the jump centers on my libertarian disposition that nothing is impossible for the cognitively developed individual. Erickson’s theory of nature versus nurture comes to mind. To this point, Steinberg argued that through a process of assimilation we try to "restore cognitive equilibrium by incorporating new information into existing schemes". Personality development continues throughout the life span as a result of every new experience within that environment. He has the belief that life is composed of changes in which everyone must go through. Therefore it is safe to say that unless a tribe lives as a hermit unto itself, ideas developed in their environment will be shared with other tribes and members of the later may become equally or more competent in task than the originator tribe. Thus assigning competencies becomes arbitrary and caricaturist.

Further reading of Suntou’s posting does reveal a serious flaw in his argument: he is confusing culture and cultural affinity with competence. Why else would he write something as absurd as the following if he is not confusing the two:

I am well aware of prejudice and bigotry and seriously as a Muslim, that is the last thing that comes to my mind. The 'social construct'of each individual is different. Even two Mandingos from different region in one country will have different social construct. A Baddibunka mandingo for instance may culturally value money differently to a Kobomka mandingo. Similarly a Senegalise Wolof may see marriage differently to a Gambian Wolof. Is writing or talking about this peculiarities sensitive? Yes, because our society is very rigid and sensitive.

If you notice that he didn’t mention anything regarding the competencies of the groups of people he is using as an example, you are not alone. It will be helpful, for example if he can enumerate how competent Senegalese Wolofs are at a given task than say a Mandinka from Badibu. Instead we are treated to this caricature of Badibunkas as money grubbing species that has been going around albeit subtly. I happened to be culturally Mandinka and hailed from Badibu. Does this mean I like money than Suntou? Is this the kind of caricature Suntou will be trying to pass off as serious research into our tribal competencies?

Maybe just maybe, my understanding of the word Competency is different from Suntou’s. When I think competent, I visualize skill. Case in point, it is safe to assume that Suntou having spent years in the financial management corridor is more competent to handle issues related to finance than a person of another tribe without that prerequisite training and experience. However, it will be a fallacy to assume that people of different tribes are more competent at doing certain things all things considered.

The question of whether the competencies of humans are the result of predisposed genetics or if their lives and personalities are shaped by the surrounding environment are critical to this discourse. This is why Erickson’s view of development supports nurture. Nurture holds a substantial sway over how we become who we are, rather than whose we are.


  1. Anonymous said...
    Thanks Ousman for you good critque of Suntu's paper. I happen to be a Mandingo also, but from Niumi instead of Badibu. I have a lot of badibunka friends both in the Gambia and here in the U.S., and I do not see any difference between them and I.
    However, while i may not totally agree with Suntu's discourse, I can understand that in an inter-tribal (or intra-tribal) discourse like this we may not find monolithic or homogenous attributes. I think all tribes, like all cultures are special in a sense. Therefore, I can understand Suntu's use of "tribal competencies" in this broad sense of tribal and cultural specialties.
    Of course as regional and national barriers fall down, there is more cultural interaction and assimilation across regions and nations. However, tribal and cultural diversity still persists.
    Whatever attributes are associated with certain tribes or cultures perhaps remain their "competencies".
    ousman ceesay said...
    @ Anonymous,

    Thanks for your input. I am not disputing that cultural diversity exist along tribal and regional lines. That is a given. My point of contention is that this cultural and regional affiliation in and of themselves those not endow any kind of exclusionary competency on any given tribe.

    Is there diversity in our betcha. But is there a task that a certain tribe is more competent at than the other all things considered? I doubt it...But I digress and eagerly awaits Suntou's take on it.

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