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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Gambia at 50: reminiscing the good old days of Independence Day celebrations

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The moment February sets in, if you’re in The Gambia, you would feel the euphoria and notice the grand preparations for the day. It was huge  Independence celebration, at least, that’s what we were made to be believe. And indeed it was. 

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In The Gambia, Independence Day celebrations take many forms, but everyone would impatiently anticipate the Grand National celebration which would often take place at the Independence Stadium in Bakau on February 18th. Institutions of national pride such as schools and security service apparatuses and others would parade demonstrating how far we have come as a nation. On this day, small Gambia too would display military might and grandeur. I could recall chanting in excitement seeing a “Get fighter” (deep Mandinka accent), referring to a jet O, fly. In those days, it was widely held that only Peter Singhateh could fly a military jet in the country. Thus, anytime one was up on such days, we would remember and celebrate this great soldier. Independence would also provide us the opportunity to see people of international repute such as presidents of other countries. 

The run up to the day would witness great preparations in anticipation of the event. At least few weeks before, schools of all categories would have selected the students that would march on their behalf. Rehearsals of drills and songs by schools would follow. When the exact number and names of schools reps were confirmed, great investment in new uniforms from top to bottom would follow: underwear vest, shirts, shorts, socks, shoes and hats (in some schools). It was a great pride among pupils to be the selected marchers on that day. Once in the early late nineties, I was chosen to be part of the marchers that would represent my alma mater – Sir Dembo Nursery. All was confirmed set the day before, including the uniforms and transportation. 

On Independence Day at five o’clock in the morning would found us up trekking towards the convergence point to board the bus. So en route to the grand place, songs we had rehearsed and crammed in the previous days would ginger us up! Same songs: Gambia Sunu reew”, “Mama Tamba”, the national and AU anthems would be sung when the march proper started. After the parades, the president would mount the podium for a marathon speech outlining how far we have come as a nation, promises of better Gambia ahead, blaming colonialism for our failures and a lot more. That’s where some of us would start developing nationalist ideas and colonial hate, thinking that the latter is to be entirely blamed for our backwardness. That’s the ‘número uno’ point of indoctrination against colonial British “(mis)rule”. 

Before the president would speak, the elite police and army musical bands would take charge blowing trumpets and rolling drums amid uniform perfect drills by security services personnel, to the excitement of the audience. The Gambia would laugh and smile in pride! We’d boast of having the best army in terms of drills in the whole of Africa. Yes, we were that proud of them! Some of us would toil and burn in the sun while events unfolded, but always relish that part. It was not uncommon to see Red Cross volunteers carry fainted students on stretchers to their bases to administer first aid. Those who’re not opportune to witness the Day’s celebration firsthand would stay glued to the TV watching live broadcast via the state broadcaster. The Gambia would be at standstill, and gripped by the feeling of pride and excitement. 

Unfortunately, this was in the good old days of 18 February, when the day was what it is.

As I grew up as a child, I had a sense of what it meant to be independent as a nation. At least, I realised that heat on Independence Day is worth the hurt; that as Gambians we have big collective agenda (national development) ahead, bigger than all our differences combined. 

I will never forget Independence Day, for it’s one day that all Gambians irrespective of tribes, religion or political affiliation unite in purpose and objectively and collectively look at our problems as a nation. 

It’s quite emotional and indeed very sad to realise the huge difference in February 18 then and now. That brought us to the question why are people losing so much interest in Independence Day Celebration we used to cherish so much with pride as a nation?”

 

Nfally Fadera, BSc Political Science (Hon)

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