As someone I care a lot about has been injured in a traffic accident, I began to think of how grateful I am to be independent. Even if I would be left alone, I would manage on my own as I have a good education and a job. Too many women depend on their husbands, or their families, and they always have to adjust to someone else’s wishes or demands. All my children are adults, they are educated and have jobs so I don’t have to worry about them. It is a blessing, but nothing I take for granted. I am born in Finland, coming from very poor circumstances, and in my large family it is only I and a cousin who have studied at university.
In The Gambia a lot of young people study at university, but it is very hard for them to find a job. It is mostly a matter of who you know, instead of what you know. On all levels of the society you have people who are more or less skilled to do their job. It doesn’t seem to matter if the employee is qualified or not, as long as the person comes from the right family and have the right connections. The dream seems to be a job for the government, not so much for the opportunity to serve the people but for the opportunities that come with the job. Saying the right words in the right ears at the right times can lead to an office with AC and your name on a plate outside the door.
Having an office means that you have a door that can be shut and no one knows if there are any activities inside that door. People wait patiently outside your door, they will be too respectful to knock on the door and expect anyone to open it. Sometimes someone opens your door and goes in or out, looking very busy and important. Every time the door opens, you half rise from your chair, hoping it is your turn to go in to that office. The waiting outside the offices in The Gambia is looooong! If someone would count the hours people are spending outside someone’s office, you would find that too much time has been wasted and too little has been done.
Sometimes you wait outside an office and after some hours you realise that there is no one inside. You have been hoping that the one you needed to speak to was there, but no. You had seen how people went in there with some papers, and came out without the papers. You had heard voices and thought it was a conversation, but you realise it was the one who went in there who spoke in his headphone. Nowadays you can walk around, speaking to yourself and no one thinks that you are crazy. You just put your headphones on, and then you babble on without anyone questioning your sanity.
If you keep your phone in your hand, everyone understands that you are busy in a conversation. They don’t know if you really speak to someone, or if you respond to the voices in your head.
The dream of having an office is not for everyone, especially as half the population still can’t read and write properly. The kids who can afford to study at private schools are lucky, they get opportunities other kids can only dream of. Not only are the teachers better, who teach at the private schools, but the kids grow connections with time and those can be handy the day the kids have become adults and need a job. ”Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” as the saying goes. It is important to have the right connections so you can be sure to manage on the top of the food chain. You don’t want to be the one who has to walk long distances in broken shoes. No, you want to have your own car with tinted windows so no one can see you inside.
God forbid that your poor friends or neighbours would see you through the windows of your car and ask for a ride. No, better pretending you don’t see them, step on it and drive away as fast as you can. You are too important to be bothered with poor people’s problems. You have your own problems, and they are much larger and on a different level than those you have to serve whenever you choose to turn up at work. Independence is not for everyone, the sweet feeling of oppressing the one you are able to oppress seems to be the fuel that keeps Africa going.
Look at Senegal and President Macky Sall. He doesn’t want his first term to count so he can be able to go for a third term. Does that sound familiar? President Barrow sings to the same hymns as Macky Sall, his big brother. Barrow depends on the goodwill of President Sall. Sall feels good when Barrow scratches his back and so on. Independence is not for everyone, it is a matter for those who are in charge, the people with connections and large bank accounts. They have money enough to be able to choose the best schools for their kids, the best hospitals when they get sick and the best food their wives can cook.
Why care about the kids who can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes and are not allowed to go there bare feet? Why care about the kids who go to school on an empty stomach, who only have some bututs for their lunch and are terribly hungry when they finally are home? Who cares about the mothers who struggle to make some food for their families every day? The mothers who don’t have an education, who are unable to get a job outside the home, who depend on their husbands for fish money. The mothers who are lucky enough to have a husband with a job can thank their lucky star for that. The others suffer from day to day in their attempts to make at least one meal for their families.
I have told this before, but I will keep on saying it: the oppressors are among your own people. The ones who don’t want you to become independent are those who blow dust in your eyes every five years so you will vote for them in the elections. Your oppressor doesn’t care if your kids don’t get a proper education. It is beneficial for your oppressor if most people don’t have a proper education because then they can’t demand their rights. Using religion is also a tool for oppressing people. Making you believe that it is God’s will that your wife died when she gave birth to your fifth child is arrogance disguised in empathy.
The leader who makes sure that all his people are fed, have a roof over their heads, are educated on the level that is proper for every individual, can afford to go to the hospital and feel safe in their own country; that is the leader you should vote for. Not the leader who gives you a free T-shirt and some food at times of election. You are in need of both the T-shirt and the meal, but if your leaders made sure you would manage on your own, then you could buy your own food and even print a T-shirt with your own face on. Independence day is still far away, but it is not impossible to meet that day if you make the right decisions.