About 2,500 years ago, Democritus, a Greek philosopher many consider to be the father of modern science, wrote: “Life without festivity is a long road without an inn.” It seems in The Gambia, we have not learnt, or rather, we have lost our ability to celebrate the things that should be celebrated.
In November and December, we had the most exciting election campaign in a generation. Despite the forebodings of doom and gloom, we went to the polls and elected a president. On January 19th he was sworn in. We had the opportunity to celebrate. It was an occasion to celebrate the triumph of democracy, rule of law and freedom. An unprecedented eight heads of state flew in for the national event. Curiously, the government decided not to declare the day a public holiday and the organisation of the event was left in the hands of uninformed mandarins at State House. The crowds failed to turn up and whole sections of the Independence Stadium were conspicuously empty. It was a bad show. An adviser to the president even had to render a public apology.
Soon after, our much-unfancied national football team, The Scorpions, made their debut in the continent’s football showpiece. The lowest ranking team did the unthinkable. They beat or drew some of the best teams in the continent and made it to the quarterfinals – the last eight. And then they met their waterloo when they played against the host nation and five time continental champions, Cameroon.
But a grateful nation wanted to celebrate what they achieved and wanted to welcome them in grand style, garland them and fete them in a deserving manner. But for several days, they were stuck in Cameroon and there was no flight to bring them home. In desperation, many of the players purchased air tickets and returned to Banjul or to their clubs in Europe and elsewhere. Finally, a plane was secured and brought the rest of the squad and others at night.
There were no garlands, no open top bus parades, no cheering fans lining the highways. Instead the trading of acrimonious barbs between the exasperated players and the national organising committee members. The minister of sports apologised for how things panned out. Another missed opportunity to celebrate what should have been celebrated.
The tribalism, regionalism and incendiary remarks that gained currency in the 2021 presidential election campaign left a very bad aftertaste in the mouths of many Gambians. The nation needed reconciliation and healing and the success of the national football team was just the tonic everyone needed. But in the end, the expected roars of pride in The Gambia were reduced to discordant angry mutterings. It’s in times like these you missed that man. Showman imperious