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Happy Independence Day?

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With Aisha Jallow

On February 18th every year, we celebrate the Independence Day with pomp and circumstances. Military and police parade, medals brushed up, shining like the sun. Kids participate in games, stories of the past are told and traditional food is shared to remind each and everyone of your past.

It sounds lovely, and might be important, but how independent are you really? Are you even allowed to become as independent as you might wish? To be able to become independent, you must have the right tools for it. These tools, to begin with, include a proper and up-to-date education system that allows each individual to explore his or her full capacity. An education system that is built to encourage each student to ask questions and to learn more than just studying for the exams in fear of failure.

We already have too many so-called ”failures” in The Gambia – people who failed exams and didn’t get a second chance; people who were too poor to pay exam fees; girls who became pregnant outside wedlock and who live in shame, doomed to a life in poverty; women who would have loved to study, but were stopped because of poverty or marriage; or husbands who didn’t appreciate their wives to become smarter than them. Other failures are disabled people, people we believe to be less able just because some of their limbs don’t function. A wheelchair is a vehicle for someone who can’t walk. It is not an equipment that tells us that the person sitting in the wheelchair is unable to use his or her brain.

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The list of failures could go on forever, but the largest failure is the political system in The Gambia. A system that is built to suck every butut out of any person with some kind of income, but doesn’t give you anything back. This political system is built on fairytales and cover-ups, it is constructed in a way that it is impossible for a common person to understand anything of it. It doesn’t allow you any insight; there is no transparency. All you hear is the silent sound of broken promises. You hope that things will become better one day. You pray that God will move the cold hearts of the leaders of our country in a direction that would benefit the whole population and not only those who know every loophole in the system.

In a recent article, in The Standard newspaper, President Adama Barrow said his administration does not have any issue with opposition parties criticising the government, but the criticisms should be genuine and constructive.

”We are always happy when we are criticised because it helps us in running this country, especially when it comes to discussing issues about the country and when drafting policies to make The Gambia a better country for all of us,” he said.

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We are always happy when we are criticized because it helps us in running this country! Does he even believe in his own words? Did this happiness lead to the arrest of our famous activist Madi Jobarteh? Did the president miss Madi that much so he had to lock him up to be sure that Madi didn’t run away from him?

Madi Jobarteh is not the only one muzzled, he has a strong voice, strong opinions and a fan club that is more genuine that the president’s because Madi’s fans are not bought. The former leader of the country, the maniac now living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, couldn’t stop Madi from voicing his opinions. There is a part in the Holy Bible where the Pharisees tell the Prophet Jesus to hush the people who have gathered to praise him. Jesus tells them: “I assure you that if they keep quiet, the stones on the ground will call out instead.”

No, I am not comparing Madi with Jesus, Madi is far from being a holy man, but Jesus was a man with strong opinions and always told his truth even if they stung.

Jesus was a pain in the behind of the Roman emperor and well respected among people. His opinions were not popular among the Romans as they believed themselves to be of a higher class, cultivated and rulers of the world. They actually saw themselves as the rulers of the world, the world they knew. The Roman Empire was very large, that was what they knew of and that was enough for them. What was outside the Roman Empire was of no interest, it was populated with barbarians, dirty and uneducated people with no class at all. Ruling these large areas was not easy, and any disapproval opinion from those who didn’t like to be oppressed was silenced with force.

This technique is still used today. We see it in our country where both verbal and physical fights easily break out. When our top politicians can’t control their temper, but break out in profanities, we hardly can expect common people to behave better. In the article I referred to earlier, President Barrow added this:

”Politics is a game, but it is a game to move your community or society forward. When we are criticising, let us make genuine criticism of the government. That criticism can make a huge difference for our people.”

Politics is truly a game in The Gambia, a game where the rules can change without you knowing it in advance. Suddenly you stand there and realise that the old rules have gone out through the window, and new and better rules obtain in the country. The rules are better for the rulers, not for you, but I think you already understand that. Madi Jobarteh, as well as many others, have relied on the constitution where it states that all citizens of The Gambia enjoy freedom of speech. Obviously that is not the fact, so a scared leader tries his best to wipe out every person he believes to be his enemy. This leader doesn’t understand that he will only get more enemies, true enemies, by his actions. Of course he doesn’t smudge his own hands in this dirty business, there are so many minions standing in line to follow every order without questions.

This is what you are taught from early childhood; obey orders, do as you are told and don’t ask questions. Is this independence? No, this is mental slavery! It doesn’t matter if you celebrate Independence Day every day of the year, because you are not free. You are not taught to be free and proud of yourselves, you are taught to be obedient and useful. Ask yourselves if this is how you want to live? Isn’t life about fulfilling your dreams of a better world? I am not speaking about material things, I am speaking about everyone’s freedom to achieve something with their lives, something to be proud of.

The material things will come along, but the main focus should be on solidarity. In a society built on solidarity we make sure that everyone is taken care of; no one has to die because the person can’t afford healthcare; education is affordable; you can grow your own food and eat fish that doesn’t cost a fortune. In this kind of society you would know that your leaders are there for you, not for their own benefit. The day when your life is not only a struggle for a daily survival, that will be the true Independence Day.

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