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Sunday, October 24, 2021

20 years on: Where we stand in the age of Jammeh

The country was badly in need of change and this change started with what some would say a flagrant display of military disposition that bordered on bravado. But it was in fact, this coup d’état by a group of young soldiers led by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh in 1994 that was to redefine and reshape our country. It would also disintegrate the philosophy of pessimist Gambians who specialised in the knowledge, at the time that the country was heading in the wrong direction. The two-year transition that was quickly put in place after the coup witnessed some rough moments, though, but by the time of going to election in September 1996, things had finally begun to take shape and what followed is that, many people’s fear was overcome and many became big-time supporters of the revolution. They began to chip in with all sorts of ever more constructive ideas and started recounting the massive transformation that the country was undergoing. It is important to state that President Jammeh took over from a government that had lost touch with its people. This was a 32-year old civilian government that had little to show for in terms of development and which ran into deep trouble trying to fix an economy that ailed and teetered on the brink of insolvency. Sectors like education and healthcare were badly damaged and needed repair. The infrastructure was graded dull, if not actually deficient with agriculture dying a slow and painful death simply because of bad policies. It must be said that all of these, made it prudent for a revolution bailout to save our country from suffocation. This bailout had to redefine the country in a certain positive way by not just simply righting the wrongs but also putting it back on the development table.  The revolution ended up becoming ruthless in turning the country around in development benefit terms. I feel compelled to mention and explain all the major developments that have taken place in the last two decades but for lack of space. Nonetheless, here are four that top the list which I found striking under President Jammeh’s leadership. 

First, it is often said that education is one of the best guarantors of both a civilised and developed society and President Jammeh’s incredible dash at it came with a new narrative. This narrative far exceeded the true expectations of many Gambians including the subsistent farmer who lived in a village called Jakoi Bintang and told his children that they would not make it in school because he could not afford to pay for one out of the few situated in Banjul and some parts of the Kombos. The revolution took its time to take a neat shot at the education sector because the country needed the brains as well as the brawn to drive home what’s left of our development. President Jammeh was quite right to indulge in the knowledge that all other areas of development had to depend on education. This was why the revolution developed a mechanism for dealing with a largely uneducated society which was the making of a brutal colonial past and an ineffective first ever self-rule. It started with the building of schools in all parts of the country and at all levels of education. Hundreds of primary, junior and senior secondary schools have been built and this made student enrolment a soaring business. This was not only targeted at boys but girls too and this helped to break the cycle of relegation the girl child suffered in pre-July 22nd Revolution period. It also marked the total empowerment of Gambian women. Tertiary education also received attention of its own and the founding of the University of The Gambia and other major higher institutions of learning became major turning points in our education development. For the sake of convenience, just ask the hundreds of Gambians who got degrees in various fields of study at UTG and are now contributing immensely to the advancement of our country. Put quite simply, the University of The Gambia is the microcosm of both our short and long term development and in the middle of that development is found you and I. 

Second, the revolution delivered in successive regards, tasty boosts to our health care service system. It did a good runner by concentrating on a sector which was in great mess because of few ill-equipped and stretched hospitals which could not take good care of the health care needs of Gambians. In overhauling this undesirable state-of-affairs, a major hospital named the AFPRC Hospital was built in Farafenni in the North Bank Region of the country. Before this development, that part of the country never had a hospital because there were only two, both of which were on the southern part. The first one is the now renamed Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul and the second one is the Bansang Hospital. Similarly, other hospitals have been built including the Serekunda General Hospital, Sulayman Junkung Jammeh Hospital and the Jammeh Foundation for Peace Hospital. Numerous other health care service facilities and posts have been evenly distributed across the country in order to match the ever-burgeoning health care service needs of the people. Gambian women who continue to revel in the success story of the health care service system of the country would agree with me on this. Let me just give you the free maternal health care service for Gambian women as an example.

Third, agriculture is the backbone of our economy because it means almost 35% of our GDP with nearly 70% of the people engaged in the sector for their livelihoods. This was a sector that was in urgent need of life-support because of the lack of oxygen which had made it suffocate for nearly 30 years. To the sure knowledge of President Jammeh, investment and good policy implementation were two steps to do this. Multiple interventions have enabled the rural farmer to produce on a higher scale and have access to markets. Other policies which include a deliberate attempt to move away from subsistence agriculture to commercial farming were also harmonised to address the challenges of local production for food self-sufficiency. This also sounded the bell for the food self-sufficiency call. You and I would agree that if that is anything to go by, there is only one ultimatum, food security. Yes, food security! For us to achieve total freedom, then pronouncements made by President Jammeh to go about attaining food security need to be embraced by all. After all, it is about you and me. 

Fourth, another area that has been closely held out is infrastructure. It was initially one of the worst sectors under Jawara that needed proper fixing. Swiftly and perfectly planned, good roads and bridges were constructed and this followed each other in heady and uninterrupted speed.  For the first time ever, rural Gambia lived its infrastructure development dream by getting its rightful connection with the urban area. This also had a bearing of a kind on agriculture because markets were made accessible to the rural farmer. It became a step from adaptation to attachment in agriculture development. Other sectors including health care were also impacted positively. 

To end, it is safe to say that the development abyss has been widened under the revolution and Gambians, including you and I, who stand sharply at its core, have been able to have a fair shot at its hot pursuits. These pursuits include education, access to proper health care service delivery system and safe drinking water. One thing is certain, many people almost had no idea before 1994 that there was going to be a revolution that would bring about such great feat in these basic human needs. Critics may find this to be deeply patronising but in the face of it, is found hard facts. Facts that are not in the slightest hidden from view and there for everybody to see. It would therefore be a tremendous understatement to say that Gambians are better off than we were two decades ago. This is not simply because poverty and unemployment levels have dropped sharply, but also because the economy has steadily picked up – creating room for jobs. As we celebrate a symbolic 20 years of President Jammeh’s leadership, expectations for greater development are running high and as we look deep into the unknown future, Gambians want the revolution – their revolution to build on whatever success it has achieved. This is our dream – The Gambian dream.      

Lamin Njie is a senior reporter for The Standard newspaper. However, the views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Standard newspaper.

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