The future in the hands of the poor and powerless
In fact, in The Gambia as well as in the rest of Africa, almost all the resources of vitality, the creative genius, the real energy for genuine development, in short, the future, lie outside government and its formal government and its formal official world. It is the marginalised majorities in villages and shantytowns that will be the locomotive for any true development in The Gambia. Masons, bricklayers, fire-wood sellers, street hawkers and vendors, leather workers, market women and domestic servants, batik makers and carpenters who turn empty cases into fashionable furniture, tailors, goldsmiths and ironsmiths and metal workers who turn discarded cans and kerosine drums into cooking stoves and utensils, bed and window frames, frying pans and roofing sheets, et cetera; they, together with their economic activities, constitute the informal economy that is perhaps several times the size of the formal sector, employ many times more and has a greater deal of flexibility, inventiveness and economic sanity.
It is the government and its formal sector that constitute the motor that is propelling the country’s economy backwards, and it is the poor and the marginalised who are driving it forward. This realization is occurring to so many Gambians that they are beginning to turn their back on government. Gambians now know for any development to take place, they have no one to rely upon but themselves. The fact that people in neighbourhoods make collections to maintain their water and electricity supply lines, meet the salaries of teachers and medical workers or the wages of rubbish-collectors; that NGOs local and externally-based, account for almost all developmental efforts in the countryside and that civil servants are currently in hurry to abandon their positions in government, all show in their separate little ways that people have stopped taking the government seriously and have decided on taking serious matters into their hands. Hence the now popular wisdom that in The Gambia of today it is the people that have developed, leaving government far behind. Meanwhile, while still battling with their so-called Programme for Sustained Development, PSD, whose aims, coherence and strategic goals are yet to be clearly spelled out, the policymakers have conjured up the mad dream of “Singaporisation” that ought to be understood as nothing better than a nightmare for Gambians. The question should not be whether this mad dream can come true or not but what other measures of economic strangulation government has in store for us, what more sacrifices will be squeezed out of the Gambian people in the name of that dream.
The masses are their own liberators
Believing in this wisdom and that the “the masses, and the masses alone are their own liberators”, a number of primary kafolu, destructured groups and spontaneous grassroot initiatives have come together to build a federation called GAMBIANS FOR SELF EMPLOYMENT or GAMSEM.
What is GAMSEM?
GAMSEM is an umbrella federation of autonomous primary cooperative societies, destructured collective initiatives, grassroots and self-help groupings that are convinced of the need of building an alternative grass-roots-controlled cooperative movement different from the corrupt and discredited Gambia Cooperative Union (GCU). The new cooperative movement draws its inspiration from the country’s long tradition of village and neighbourhood cooperativism. Our country’s history is rich with such a tradition. GAMSEM is non-partisan in politics and therefore invites the affiliation of all primary societies and individual cooperativist activists independent of their political affiliations or persuasion. Though GAMSEM supports the Give-Your -Back-To- The-Government movement, GAMSEM will strive to promote non-partisan political consciousness and try to clarify that giving one’s back to the government does not necessarily mean abandoning politics; politics being too important to be left in the hands of the country’s class of self-seeking politicians.
Unlike the corrupt and discredited Gambia Cooperative Union, GCU, which is a centralised union controlled from above and acts like an arm of the PPP government, GAMSEM is a free coalition of autonomous primary societies enjoying absolute independence. The underlying idea of cooperativism is simple and clear enough. People with common problems and desire to solve their problems collectively get together as equals in democratic associations. Through such associations the poor and powerless are able to have more and direct influence over the conditions of their lives than they would as separate individuals. The key words here are unity, equality and democracy. In this way, cooperativism fosters the culture of democracy among the members and trains them to actively deepen and broaden the frontiers of democracy and thereby promote national development.
GAMSEM is a resource centre where small primary groups with little resources can turn to for all sorts of organisational and administrative help. GAMSEM will offer, among other things, education in cooperation and cooperative building, administration, bookkeeping and democratic meeting techniques, bookkeeping, product and marketing studies, et cetera. GAMSEM will be the mouthpiece of the unemployed, serve as a labour centre and will help the unemployed in their search for jobs, occupation and self-employment. GAMSEM will be the watchdog defending both traditional human rights, the rights of women to equality and the much-neglected social and economic rights as adopted by the OAU, ratified by The Gambia House of Representatives and signed by The Gambia Government. The GAMSEM Centre will sponsor research, studies and monitoring work on poverty, marginalisation and all sorts of discriminations.
GAMSEM will run campaigns of self-reliance, self-employment and democratic cooperativism. GAMSEM gets moral and material support from the Olof Palme International Centre, OPIC, and ABF–Stockholm which is a federation of workers training and educational Association and Helping Hands which is a group of Gambians residing in Sweden. ABF-Stockholm is currently running a SIDA-sponsored project, channeled through GAMSEM, that serves to promote grassroots managed and controlled cooperative projects.
What will GAMSEM do?
GAMSEM will be run by a small number of permanent staff and a group of volunteers and cooperative activists. A congress of delegates of primary societies will be the federation’s highest decision-making body. The following are some of the programmes and activities that GAMSEM will run:
GAMSEM Centre: The official headquarters, with office equipment for technical aid to primary societies, meeting room, reading and research rooms will be opened.
GAMSEM Educational and Training Programme: Courses, seminars and training programmes will be run on topics like cooperative marketing, product knowledge, intensive alphabetisation programmes, meeting and discussion techniques, the role of NGOs and cooperative efforts in microeconomic development, et cetera.
GAMSEM Meeting and Conference Facility: A meeting place for primary societies and destructured and spontaneous groupings will be made available.
GAMSEM Job Hunters Club: Job seeking activities involving help in the writing of applications, filing of forms, soliciting et cetera for the unemployed.
GAMSEM Advisory Service: An advisory service and support to various primary societies, small businesses and enterprises in the informal sector, serving as a bridge between them and the hostile official environment of the formal sector.
GAMSEM Aid for Self-Help Programmes: The collection and distribution of materials for help to self-help groups.
GAMSEM Centre for Developmental Studies: The running of research, studies and monitoring projects and eventual publication of data and analytical material on the concrete living conditions of the poor and powerless.
GAMSEM Watchdog: A programme of observing and protecting human rights, social and economic rights and their violation especially against women, the poor and the powerless.
How does one belong to GAMSEM?
GAMSEM is open to all who believe in the idea of cooperativism and the method of mobilising collective efforts for solving common problems. People from diverse backgrounds, engaged in various activities of struggle for the means of livelihood, belonging to different political parties or having opposing political persuasion but holding the view that they should themselves take their fate into their own hands, form the broad membership of the federation. GAMSEM is a federation of primary societies which themselves manage their own affairs, keep and run their own finances and maintain their organisational autonomy. Individuals can only be activists and do not possess membership status of primary societies. To become a member, build your primary society based on ideas of democratic cooperativism and affiliate to the GAMSEM!