By all standards, 56 years is a reasonably long time for a man, in this case, a nation, to come of age. As we celebrate 56 years of independence today, we must reflect as a country on how our journey has been since the British left with their Union Jack, leaving us in control of our little resources and our destiny. On that fateful day on February 18th, 1965, we assigned ourselves the task of striving, working and praying so that all of us may live in unity, freedom and peace each day and that justice will guide our actions towards the common good.
Fifty-six years on, The Gambia has had three presidents, grew from a few hundreds of thousands to two million people, and from a probable nation to a modern nation state. We have come a long way and achieved a lot, but a lot more needed to be done. In fact, for a majority of our people, nothing much has changed. A lot of Gambians still worry about where the next meal is going to come from; access to good healthcare is a dream; the roads are full of potholes or totally unmotorable; schools are underfunded with poor teachers and so on.
Agriculture which we said should provide us with sufficient food and hard currency is a dead sector while tourism, the other biggest employer remains stagnant from natural and man-made causes. As a result, the Gambian of 1965 and the Gambian of 2021, have similar challenges – the struggle for basic things.
So, what have we got wrong for the nation we dream of becoming the Singapore of Africa? The answer is simple. Poor leadership characterised by greed for money and power.
The country started well under a somewhat democratic government that was more concerned with keeping the people united and peaceful and pushing more development theories than doing more practical things like building schools and hospitals. Even Jammeh who succeeded Jawara started on lofty ideas and recorded some solid socio-economic achievements. But when the honeymoon ended and the tyrant in him emerged, Jammeh turned the Gambia into his personal fiefdom plundering state resources and killing or imprisoning anyone who dared oppose him.
His departure in 2016 was welcome with hope and ululation akin to those of 1965, but four years down the line, the same cankerworms of greed and lust for power have taken the better of the new bunch in power. Already, key policy changes promised to reform the nation have either being ignored or are being implemented at snail pace while no effort is being spared to ensure self-entrenchment in power by the new leaders.
Therefore, The Gambia has not only lost valuable time but also potentials to become a proud nation mainly because of bad leadership. Having said that though we are still hopeful. So, as we celebrate 56 years of nationhood we pray to the Great God of nations to grant us greater fortitude to achieve peace, progress and prosperity. Happy independence.