As I savour my glistening plate of cheese omelette while relishing the sweet melodies of Manding Morry’s hit track Gambia la Diyaa, I glance a headline from the Standard Newspaper quoting the Tourism Minister Benjamin Roberts as saying that marketing Destination Gambia is everyone’s business. I cannot agree with the Honourable Minister more. The thought brings to mind my poem published on page 13 of To The Gambia: The Smiling Coast:
Rise and hover, go discover
Like a loving mother, Gambia is shelter
Sun and sand without cover
Virgin islands, historic sites
Great for every nature lover
Birds singing plumed to order…
From the above verses you can understand when I say that I do not think there is a better country than the home of Kunta and Fatou Bom Bensouda. And that is why I turn a deaf ear to the numerous calls for me the leave the shores of the Smiling Coast for some western nation as a refugee due to my recent brush with the law. To those who want me to take that path, I say:
The Gambia is my country
I shall not sell it for dollars, paltry
With faith in Allah the Almighty
Loyalty to President and country
I shall remain to The Gambia ever true…
Now back to the subject of this essay, some 15 years ago when I started flexing my intellectual muscles as a rookie essayist for the Daily Observer, I wrote a piece that I later published in my collection of essays “The Way to Happiness”. Following is an excerpt from that essay I did a decade and half ago. Please read on:
Selling The Gambia
Weird as the idea may seem, the importance of selling our country cannot be overstated. Actually this idea is not mine. I first heard it from a maverick student attending Saint Augustine’s High School in the early 1990s. Filled with the nerves syndrome and disillusioned by the then Singaporean dream of a septuagenarian President, the young man quipped, “We have to sell this country, share the cash and we’ll all leave for Babylon!”
Not every Gambian will subscribe to such an outrageous idea but certainly many young Gambians would buy it, for our youths believe that they must stroll in the “gold-paved-streets” of the West by all possible means.
I am no nerves-infected youth but I also believe that The Gambia must be sold because if we cannot stop the tides of globalization then we must swim with the tides so that the smiling coast would rank higher amongst the world’s nations.
Marketing the Sun and the Sand
Current efforts to sell the sun and sand of the country have been given a boost (through the mining of zircon, for instance) but the setting up of the Gambia Tourism Authority is a landmark development that must further enhance the course of tourism in the country. In an award-winning poem called Pilgrims, the author of Futa Toro opines thus, “Every nation its heritage must gospel out.” This verse should be put into sharper focus in The Gambia by intensifying efforts towards disseminating information about the country’s rich cultural heritage.
The recent anointment of our historic sites like James Island (now Kunta Kinteh Island) into the UNESCO World Heritage list is an achievement worthy of applause; hence we must say CONGRATULATIONS to the National Centre for Arts and Culture for working hard to earn us this laurel. Baba A Ceesay (his name means father in our local languages) deserves kudos for fathering this new baby, which I believe deserves a fitting christening. Perhaps it would be in place then, as a naming ceremony, to celebrate the inclusion of our historic sites into the prestigious world heritage list and such a ceremony must be well publicized so that the envisaged economic benefits could start accruing to our coffers.
Perhaps I do not need to remind the National Centre for Arts and Culture to use the UNESCO and World Heritage Site logos to promote and market James Island. The only phrase I remember of this island, from our primary school radio programmes, is “Poor, Poor James Island”. Now that it is standing shoulder to shoulder with the Pyramids of Egypt and the Gorée Island, this phrase could be modified to read “Rich, Enriching James Island.” Moreover with the UNESCO logo we could easily sell this island to pay for our young men to go to Babylon rather than selling the whole country…
So Honourable Roberts is right about our collective responsibility in marketing destination Gambia; not only for tourism but for investment and business. Indeed given initial conditions at independence, the odds were way higher in our favour than Singapore; they are a force to reckon with in the whole world today whilst our own Singaporean dream faded with the dreamer’s reign. There is renewed vigour now and we shall arrive at that destination Gambia that I recently touted in my essay published by What’s on Gambia on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee. While bidding you bonne weekend, let me share with you a few thoughts from that piece:
Behold, I believe that The Gambia can become one of the world’s leading nations in terms of prosperity and economic activity. We surely can become that thriving “financial centre, a tourist paradise, a trading, export-oriented agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on free market policies and a vibrant private sector, sustained by a well-educated, trained, skilled, healthy, self-reliant and enterprising population and guaranteeing a well-balanced eco- system” as propounded in our vision 2020. Only that we must understand as Gambians that no one is going to come and do this for us, it is the responsibility of every single Gambian. We all have a part to play and we must not sit back and watch believing that it is the responsibility of Government alone. The private individual and the private company are as relevant to our collective goal as Government. Together we shall make a formidable and unstoppable force but divided we shall never prosper. “To the Gambia ever true” should be our mantra; not only to be sung but also to be lived.
We shall have disagreements and personal and group conflicts and some of us will feel hurt and offended; yet we must realize that this is the nature of all relationships. We have disagreements within our families but scarcely do we disown our families or change our surnames. Just like the tongue and the teeth do clash sometimes and then make peace and progress in their common duty so must we as Gambians learn to forgive in our inevitable trespasses against one another just as we expect the Good Lord, Allah, to forgive us our own trespasses against His Law. This kind of attitude is what entails true faith and true maturity; qualities none of us would dare condemn, yet hesitate to embrace. May Allah the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful imbue us with the qualities of patience, persistence and forbearance. We should learn to cooperate as a team: “When you work with others in a spirit of friendly cooperation, you are conducting yourself according to the founding principles of most religions and all successful societies.”
This is my believe, this is my hope, and this is my conviction: that we can make it bigger and better as a nation and that there is hope for an even brighter future as portrayed by HE The President during his independence speech. I must reiterate the need for each one of us to take his/her fair share of responsibility as citizens and residents of this our Allah-endowed gem of a smiling coast. Even the Kiangkas (I dare say) can play a role. Look, even the Sarahulleh’s are now aware of the need to do more than grab some money, they are sending their children to school in droves and we the Badibunkas are impressed with what the yugo’s are doing—Lol!
The Gambia’s Pen
Author, For The Gambia Living the National Anthem; and To The Gambia: The Smiling Coast
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