By Momodou Ndow
Yesterday, I went back to where it all began for me here in Banjul, Gambia on 64 Dubson Street. The idea was just to stand there and take it all in. But when I arrived there, I began to see my childhood memories show up. With my elephant memory, virtually everything came rushing back. The sights, sounds and smells. In my mind, I was recreating old scenes and scenarios. I could vividly hear my mother yelling “Modou Ndow torgal!” and “Modou Ndow gainal si birr bahh bi” and “Modou Ndow kai ange!” It felt literary like yesterday when I was running those streets kicking soccer balls up and down them with my friends, skillfully avoiding getting hit by cars.
The city was relatively clean and well maintained back then – even clean enough to float our paper boats in the gutters during the rainy season. Our paper boat races were always on and my boats knew how to float in the middle and avoid hitting the side walls, even when turning corners, so win race rek! Yes, it was all in the placement. The periodical cleaning of the gutters and garbage pickup made a difference, but it now seems that such basic services are lacking. At a minimum, Banjul (or any city) must have these services regularly in other to stabilize its health.
I then visited other parts of Banjul and vivid memories came back to me the same. Strangely though, while the fond memories effortlessly came flooding back to me, I noticed my adult feelings were different. The air in the city now thirty years later feels different; the vibe is weird. And entire neighborhoods appear even more dilapidated than the last time I visited only ten years ago. Banjul’s health clearly has been on a consistent downward spiral, and the poor situation of my hometown has gotten more severe. In reality, there are too many dejected sights here: Banjul is ailing and on life support.
Banjul is a unique city. During my childhood, it was not known for its sophistication but it did have good character, culture, and so much charm – there used to be something better in the air (an easy breeze of belonging and community). And so, Banjul will need unique solutions, some perhaps with a surgical approach. The city needs heart surgery; Banjul does not have the same pulse it used to. Its liver (the largest solid organ in the body) is failing, clogged, and putrid. Its kidneys are badly infected and in need of a complete transplant because based on what I’ve seen, Banjul looks almost dead.
The issues, hunting Banjul are chronic and complex ones that would require some robust and innovative solutions. The city’s had its share of mediocre mayors who neither had a vision nor a firm plan for the city and its residents. Instead, they were mostly interested in being mayor for show; and Banjul’s current dilapidated conditions is a solid testament to that.
Although not a resident, I have always fiercely advocated for my childhood town of Banjul, which prompted me to start writing a series dedicated to it. My goal was to highlight the plight of the city due to mismanagement, poor planning, and constant neglect. Moreover, I wanted to start a conversation about Banjul in hopes that the ‘powers that be’ would act accordingly and take better actions; but I ended up culminating the series with my own suggestions on how to REVIVE the city.
With a mayoral race looming and heating up, it is vital for the citizens of Banjul not to settle for the same mediocrity that has disturbed the city for decades now. There is too much at stake, at its fast decline, the city’s life is hanging in the balance! Political parties and mayoral candidates also need to be reminded of what’s at stake here, and if they cannot deliver on their campaign promises and subsequent civic duties, then they need to drop out or step down! This is serious business that requires a vigorous plan and laser sharp clear vision. Being a mayor is a high-level position that requires certain managerial skill sets, such as critical thinking, negotiation, active listening, active learning, systems evaluation and analysis, operation analysis, articulate speaking, and complex problem solving (especially, with Banjul’s current state).
So, to the voters of Banjul, you have a critical role to play in fighting the mediocrity and mismanagement that has dragged the city into the dirty gutters and caused it to be failing and stagnant for decades. Disregard the candidates without tangible work and management experience and focus on those with a verifiable track record of these things. Cut the fat! Don’t entertain a single candidate who lacks a robust plan for revival and innovative rehabilitation solutions for the city.
No, I am not referring to myself; I am not running for anything. However, I still took time and made the effort to come up with some solutions for Banjul in my “The Final Chapter” piece. Can you say the same for some of those aspiring to be the next mayor? Vote wisely or risk watching Banjul slip into a permanent coma and eventually die. The stakes are too high for Banjul’s life!