Honk, honk, here comes the bus!

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With Aisha Jallow

70 buses inaugurated by the President himself! Imagine that, folks! This must be an event so special that only a president is fit to preside the whole thing. I admit that there is definitely a need of these buses in The Gambia, but did you get them thanks to the president, or does he only want to take the chance to shine for a while? For me it seems like he can’t have that much to do, as he has time to go on a bus ride like a normal person. Wait a minuteā€¦he is a normal person! I forgot that for a second and I’m sure he has forgotten that a long time ago.

70 new and shiny buses, bouncing up and down when the wheels can’t avoid the potholes in the roads. 70 new and clean buses that soon will become dirty and dusty as everything else in The Gambia. 70 new and functioning buses that will be standing still at the garage when something has broken down and there are no spare parts to be found anywhere. 70 new buses that don’t have 140 drivers, or more, that have a special driver’s licence for buses. 70 buses that are trying to get somewhere in the morning traffic or the afternoon traffic that is a challenge even for a motorbike. The buses need a lot of space, they don’t turn around and go some other way when the road is blocked. 70 buses will get stuck on the narrow roads, causing more commotion than we normally have in the traffic in The Gambia.

Getting these buses is good, but as with so many other occasions in The Gambia, we begin in the wrong end. It is nice to hold a ceremony, listening to some speeches, taking photos and saying admiring words about the shiny buses, but then what? Have all the preparations been done, before the inauguration, or was the focus on the ceremony and the practicalities will come afterwards? Where are the garages for all these buses? Garages with equipment for cleaning the buses inside and out? Tools for maintenance and spare parts when something has to be mended? Are there trained mechanics who are specialized on this particular type of buses? Not all buses are the same and with new vehicles comes new technique.

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With old vehicles it was enough to be practical and have a set of tools. With a bang and a boink and some swear words when you hit your thumb with a tool you could fix most vehicles and their engines. Nowadays you need to be almost an engineer to be able to fix the modern vehicles. There are special computer programs that the mechanics use to search for the faults. It is not enough to hope for some tips on TikTok or YouTube how to fix the vehicles. The mechanics need special training and I doubt that we have this kind of vocational schools in The Gambia. Once again, we also come back to our good, old friends on Nawec. When a mechanic is about to search for a problem with the computer, he will not be happy when the electricity suddenly is cut.

The computer programs mechanics use to search for a fault on a vehicle are very expensive. The computers are also expensive and they break down when the electricity goes on and off. It is amazing that this knowledge hasn’t reached the guys at Nawec yet. It is like electricity is a new phenomenon in The Gambia and no-one knows for sure how to handle it. I understand that people are bit sleepier during Ramadan. They are hungry and thirsty so their thought process goes slower than normal. I wonder if those who are responsible for managing Nawec are sleepier than others? It feels like as long as they are awake, everything works fine, but suddenly the one who is responsible for that shift takes a nap for some hours and the electricity cuts. If we want some development in The Gambia, we need to make sure that no Nawec: I take a nap as long as they are at work.

70 buses need at least 140 trained bus drivers. The drivers can’t work the whole day long, from early morning until late in the evening. They need to have a schedule to follow so they will know when to have a lunch break and to get some rest. We all know that still too many drivers, in The Gambia, seem to have got their licences as a gift at the bottom of a box of cereal, so where is the road safety? Do you find that I have too many questions so far, that I only look at the problems and that I don’t enjoy the buses? Well, you see; I am a pragmatical person and this is how pragmatical people are functioning.

The Gambian Government should need a bunch of pragmatical people who could ask all these uncomfortable questions like: how, who, when, where and what if. The Government need people who has the ability to begin a process in the right end. Not with the Pomp and Circumstances, but with the boring practical questions. All of us have different abilities, different gifts. Some of us are practical, others are visionaries. Some are content with staying in their home village and make the best of their lives there. Others are adventurous and want to explore the world. All of us are needed, and to mix us up is what makes development.

Let us play with the thought that we should start a new Government in The Gambia. We should look at it as starting a business. What is the business going to offer to its customers? What kind of people do we hire to do the best job? What kind of positions do we need? What kind of qualifications do these people need? Different positions require different skills, and never can it be enough to be someone’s childhood friend, or a cousin, or someone you owe money, that should have a position. Starting a business requires professionals on every position, but that doesn’t seem to be so important when we begin to analyse our government.

It seems to be more of a will than a way, an urge to get a taste of the power, an office, a desk and A/C. If the position also will come with a car and a driver, it will be a taste of heaven! The ceremonies, speeches and praise from people who want something from you, is not what any politician should search for. When someone is applying for a position, they should be asked first of all why they wish to have that position. If the answer is that they wish to be a servant of the people; then hire them at once! This is a rare breed, so don’t lose that person out of your sight. The roads to development in The Gambia are just as crooked and bumpy as the roads in the country. There will be no development if we don’t start with the bare necessities; education and determination. These two things are the foundation for a thriving country, not any unnecessary ceremonies or inaugurations.