For whom the cowrie shells speaks… New Gambia has reached a landmark but is untainted by the tyranny of time

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With Rohey Samba

The year 2017 is at its tail end. It is a year shaped by the generational protest to bring change to The Gambia marked by the catchphrase ‘Gambia Has Decided’. The reverberations have not stopped yet. The ever-shifting demands of the youth have become the new establishment. The shifting dramas from voices raised in anger over corruption, tribalism and cronyism are yet to be tempered. Overall, the moral ballast of our ship, MV New Gambia, is yet to be righted on an even keel.

Everything ‘new’ seems to come in at once in this New Gambia: QTV which I keep watching over and over again out of sheer pride; excessive freedoms, obsessions with nudity and body shaming, callous parade of wealth by thieves offering bland excuses, and condemnation by previous government officials of the government they served and benefited from with only mean self-interest in mind.

The other day I was at Gamtel Westfield to visit my mum who works there, when a young man was explaining the Janneh Commission to the guards. In halting but very good English, he said to the effect, ‘”Well, I don’t trust any one of the guys who came to testify against Jammeh. They were all part and parcel of the problem. If they had wanted, they could have resigned. Many conscientious employees of the dictator did so without consequences. These guys were motivated, not by fear but by their own pockets.”

Who can fault this man’s argument? After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. If one is unaccustomed to being contradicted as was Babili Mansa, one is made to believe that his word is gospel and his actions, surefire. Thus Babili operated from the angle of omnipotence, leaving his followers to do his own biddings. They were his self-righteous enablers to the very end, stripping common Gambians of wealth, dignity and self-respect. That’s my take on the Janneh Commission.

We are a people that have been so brutalised and therefore atrophied by the falsehoods and bogus years of the past 22 years that our collective nonchalance over the years has made us deaf and dumb to injustice. The Wolof would claim, ku seettane deh nga sot. It is similar to the English proverb, silence is consent. We, Gambians, are by analogy, all to blame for Jammeh’s ruthlessness and impunity. We aided and abetted his gimmicks by our collective silence.

The loud minority among us today, at the risk of stigmatisation, has decided to close our ears indefinitely to the deafening cries and protests against the new government for the mere fact that the miserable wretches doing the condemnation today, were well alive and mute for the past 22 years, when worse things happened and were ignored.

To date, we protest against everything and anything, especially on social media. From quid pro quo politics, perpetration of mediocrity in our public institutions, the unnecessary official visits of statesmen, excessive travels and per diems paid especially to institution heads at the peril of the tax payers, to the gawky clothes worn by His Excellency on his state visits.

We talk about constant electricity outages, prolonged water shortages and failing institutions wrought by poor management and recycled leadership. We talk about tribalism, nepotism, rising crime, sycophancy and so forth as if these are all newly discovered trends.

Apparently, the level of condemnation from all angles is increasingly rubbing off the shine of the Barrow-led coalition government. In effect, this was a government that came together to overthrow a dictatorship. Point finale. We the people of The Gambia wanted and really needed change. Following a year of upheavals, two decades of foiled revolutions, I’d rather not call them coup d’etats, The Gambia painfully needed change.
I hope nobody is going to shoot me up in flames, but really, change was up till the coalition victory undefined. ‘Jammeh must go!’ was more like it. Nowhere was it decided what change would bring to Gambians as a whole, for indeed change means different things to different people. At the very least, we the average Gambians expected that change would drive away our collective anger garnered over the years, heal our ills, soothe our wounds and influence our ability to move on from the decades of oppression and ruthlessness of the Jammeh era. There was no ambitious reform programme to that effect, only a streak of hope hanging beyond the edge of our vision.

Today however, as we approach the beginning of the new year 2018, thereby ushering in a second year for the new Gambia we voted for collectively against all odds, I have decided to revisit older works with an analysis of what has transpired since I wrote in the Daily Observer newspaper on that fateful day of 9 December 2016, “Change has come to The Gambia: for some, it is a celebration and for others, it is a funeral…”

Yes, the postscript I wrote after the Barrow-led coalition government was formed on the same defunct newspaper was, “Too many old men: What happened to change?” Now that I still persist to ask the same question, I will endeavour to make a few concessions…

New Gambia has reached a landmark but is untainted by the tyranny of time. A change of government was badly needed and change is what we got. Naysayers and detractors may complain to their hearts’ content, but we common Gambians are glad a ruthless dictator is removed. Good riddance!
We have a few hiccups here and there since the new government was formed, and rightly so after Jammeh and his cohorts depleted our foreign reserves, and left the country’s institutions in a who-you-know-matters-more-than-what-you-know state of mess. But this is nothing to despair about because there isn’t anyone here to despair about. We can change leaders as much as we want, but if we don’t change the institutional framework and modus operandi from business as usual, nothing will change.

In an era where human capital matters, there is no higher priority than engaging and incorporating this generation of young and highly educated Gambians to develop the New Gambia’s character for change. We can draw from the Senegalese experience by invoking their objective of attracting their best brains around the world, renew our commitment to infrastructural development and yearn to become the breadbasket of agricultural development in Africa. Banjul, our beloved capital is definitely an eyesore. We can have all the good intentions to do so, but without the institutional ability to translate vision into reality, and the youthful vigour for success, it will remain a Utopian dream.

The hallmark of every successful endeavour lies in intelligence and aggressive pursuits by its leadership. This is one thing I admire about Muhammed Jah, CEO of the Q-Group of companies. Luck may take us thus far, but luck will not get us where we need to be. Good leadership, ample vision and an institutionalised system of management are more like it.

To interpret our quest for change and achieve greatness, the courage to back tough educational outcomes and technological progress is a must. There are too many retired and old men in the system. It is quite clear that these oldies can barely bring anything new to infuse the trajectory of change. Most of them BBCs (Born Before Computer).

While I am enamoured with Senegalo-Gambia unity and partnerships as inevitable clauses for our peaceful coexistence, the reason being that we are eternal neighbours brought together by destiny, I strongly believe that The Gambia does not really matter to Senegal, and that we must avoid being sucked into the ruins of the failed Senegambia Confederation by making too many concessions to be acceptable to Senegal. The Senegalo-Gambia Fisheries Agreement is a case in point.

As far as Senegal goes, it deems The Gambia as a very important ally. Nonetheless, The Gambia must find other allies and forge other alliances as far as the world goes. We need to augment our defence, we need friends in the sub-region, we need Nigeria, we need Ghana, we need every friendly ally we can have in the sub-region and abroad for our own good.

Even as our dreams for change has transformed into the official aspirations of the new government, the heavy load of inferiority that burdened Babili Mansa – an inferiority nurtured in poverty and perpetuated by discrimination, what I really mean to say is, haebaateh – must be done away with for the heavens to smile down at us again. Thus in order to see our lives’ work vindicated, and the hopes and dreams for a new Gambia realised, we Gambians must unlearn the discriminating practices of superiority complexes against people of other tribes, castes and gender.

Furthermore, we must drop the cowardly role of silence on things that matter to us communally, and the callous parade of sycophancy, cronyism and hypocrisy that spell the ruin of all fallen nations. Our government must be vigilant and be seen to curb the dog-eat-dog personal ambitions of its leaders in order to thrive.
Finally, in order to keep the legacy of this country alive, the youth must be given the opportunities to get involved in national and or youth service schemes, to create apprenticeships and opportunities in a range of national, social, political and cultural activities.
Our political parties for the most part, are formed by semi-literates and illiterates. This needs to change for good.

Apprenticeships should be available to all youths and not serve as a commodity to be acquired by a few.
Remember, he who pays the piper calls the tune. The cowries have spoken.
Happy New Year in advance!