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The Gambia @ 57. What went wrong?

The Gambia @ 57. What went wrong?

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Two weeks ago, the Republic of The Gambia celebrated 57 years of nationhood. This joy of celebrating nationhood every 18th February often does not incite or trigger sober reflection of the many implications or meanings of being independent as a People, a feat that our forefathers toiled and labored so hard to achieve from the colonial masters, if indeed that name befits them as our masters.

Recently, during this year’s (2022) independence celebrations I suddenly realised that The Gambia is indeed 57 years old!! I jokingly told a few friends and all those who cared to listen that in three years The Gambia would effectively retire from the civil service of The Gambia as per our current compulsory retirement age.

 What a pity! She (The Gambia) would go into retirement poor, rejected, and sad. These thoughts provoked me to ask how she would live out her retirement with an impending and taunting poverty awaiting her, bearing in mind that she still struggles with every aspect of her life and such that the most basic aspects of development remain a distant dream or even an impossible wish.

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At 57, the very basic tenets of advancing and alleviating the lives of the People remain a constant challenge. I need not mention the very basics lacking in the Gambia from electricity to water, road network, and poor infrastructure, among other unexhausted lists of challenges, that we, as a People collectively; seemingly lack the ability to proffer solutions to.

I would without hesitation say, the reasons for these sad realities of The Gambia are numerous, but for this write-up, I intend to focus on a very few that are within my ambit and understanding, ranging from our individual and collective responsibilities as children retiring a mother uncared for, at the age of 57.

I would like to examine how families have a role to play in shaping the country’s development and how it has failed this nation for the past 57 years of nationhood. The family is the first teacher of every child, and parents and guardians must understand their roles and responsibilities in training their children and wards to become God-fearing and patriotic enough when they assume responsibilities in the social and political spheres of life.

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 It is the families that must make sure they produce worthy ambassadors of their respective homes by instilling in them in the earliest days, good morals, trustworthiness, honesty, and above all sympathy for the people they serve.

 I don’t know how old I am to say that during our days of childhood, children would always be asked how they got things they had brought back from play. This beautiful upbringing was to make sure you bring home what belongs to you and not somebody’s. Unfortunately, now, we, the younger parents tend to help our children hide these things from the owners, teaching them in the process that it is okay to bring home what does not belong to you.

If I may contend, this is in our society, the schools of corruption; here is where it starts and gets nurtured. It starts from there!!

Children should be taught what it means to be a citizen, and the great embodiments of rendering true, and sincere service to the People first before self, a sense of patriotism! Yet, it seems un-regrettable to all of us, that greed and selfishness have replaced every noble fiber of our being.

To such an extent that the average Gambian family today, celebrates sons and daughters who unpatriotically defraud the nation and its people as “DOM BU TEKKI” loosely translated as ‘the successful child’ instead of disassociating ourselves from their actions.

But if only we are indeed serious about our collective progress, to ending this cycle of producing mercenaries to cause us havoc in various spheres of responsibilities to society, our families would endeavor to produce the best ambassadors that reflect the true culture of dignity which was the biggest trait of families in our former old family setting.

The family is the basic unit of any society. The sum of corruption in our families produces corrupt societies. Today, corruption and other negative vices seemed to gain a certain degree of legitimacy but the public space. We have seemingly learned to comfortably live with this monster, as a normal evil. Everyone, say even imams and priests, would accept the corruption of every soul in this country.

“What a sad situation?” said the common man, who is crying foul, not because he genuinely detests what is being commissioned, but simply wished he were in the same position to commit the same evil or even worse. Many of us are probably guilty of this allegation in many facets.

We are either the corruptor, the corrupted or even witnesses to it. But who cares? We just simply comfortably look away convincing ourselves, it is no one’s business, since it is everyone’s business, corruption.

Who would claim of having never had the famous adage “BEY FO KO TAAKA FOFU LAY DUNDEY’ loosely meaning in Wolof that one has to benefit from your workplace in either way possible? This insolence adage is undoubted, a reflection of the society that we have come to collectively construct, a corrupt society.

It is evident in sociology that the more the society accepts depraved practices as normal, the more corrosive its people’s attitudes. So, as we continue to normalize and consider corrupt people in today’s Gambia as “successful” and accord them with the highest respect and privileges, even in the face of ill-gotten wealth, our moral compass and to a large extent, every possible facet of our progress would be stalled. It is these men and women who grace our ceremonies and are continuously been praised and celebrated that we should be wary about lest we dine and wine with the devil.

Of course, nothing would be said in a bad light against those hard-working citizens who have to continue toiling hard to make a change in an environment that is highly infectious with corruption, and egocentrism.

We indeed want successful sons and daughters but certainly not the ones that steal from the poor to attain success.

Now, permit me to sermon the religious leaders for a reflection.  This country is blessed with a population, majority of whom are believers. Most citizens ascribe to one religion or the other. Ironically, why then do we continue to be confronted with problems of not doing the right thing at most times? We spend so much time praying, yet we easily violate God’s commandments unashamedly.

Evidently, being religious or not does not make one an angel nonetheless, at least, and as is expected of those who judiciously and uprightly serve a God, good conduct should manifest in our daily dealings with each other. I dare say, with all my lack of theological knowledge, that one can only worship God through fellow humans. On a special note, religious leaders are expected to constantly remind us about those little things we consider normal but are offending God, of which corruption is listed.

While one may claim that the religious leaders are preaching to us every other day about corruption, no one is listening…. What happened to once the honored men and women of God?  Or do I speculate that the people themselves saw the religious leaders who were supposed to serve as references involved in the decaying system?

Isn’t it common sense that one must apply and live by the principles that he or she preaches? If the one that is supposed to condemn the ill actions of the sinners is constantly seen wining and dining with the sinner; how then, would one listen to their preaching? Oh, lest I forget the mantra “do as I say but not as I do”.

Our religious leaders must ensure that they are seen as upright men and always in solidarity with the oppressed and impoverished masses.

On the contrary, many religious leaders have turned their positions into a venture of profit. In our various churches and mosques, the faithful have different treatments when they need the services of their religious leaders. The rich faithful are treated with special urgency and respect and the other poor ones are left with no choice but to wait patiently for the arrival of the leaders if they would in fact come.

Who then would not want to be treated with these courtesies? This may perhaps explain the reckless attitudes of citizens. Everyone wants to be rich at all costs even if it means defrauding your country in the process.

The basic, yet fundamental above challenges have in my view created big obstacles in achieving our inherited dream of becoming a free, peaceful, prosperous, and progressive people as enshrined in our country’s motto. The above mentioned are largely responsible for our current predicaments because they form the core elements that dictate how we relate in our society.

Nevertheless, it is my firm belief that if some of these problems are mitigated, the prospects of growth will surely be realized. This is because the politicians and social actors that we constantly blame are affected by these three points raised above. If the families trained their children to be patriotic, law-abiding, God-fearing, and sympathetic to their fellow citizens, perhaps they would fear to oppress one another. Instead, we would serve each diligently and patriotically work toward our collective progress. And if society helps shape its prodigies, to be honest and kind to people and condemn what is wrong then we would be even able to vote for the right people instead of supporting someone if he/she is not the right person because of selfish gains. If religious leaders practice what they preach, then maybe the lay faithful would look up to them as references and not accomplishes.

Let us, therefore, help to save The Gambia from her disgrace once she clocks 60 and is due for retirement. Let us individually and collectively take a reflection on what it means to be independent for 57 years.

Thank you!

The author is a Development Studies Major at the University of The Gambia   

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