By Madi Jobarteh
The population of The Gambia is approximately two million with a land size of 11 thousand square kilometers. The country is a largely flat terrain with limited adverse weather conditions that cannot severely affect GSM and Internet connectivity. Based on the geography of the country, it is therefore expected that GSM and Internet communications would be greatly accessible and strong and of the highest quality. However, users of mobile phones and Internet services experience incredibly poor network even within the Greater Banjul Area. For all the networks, contrary to their advertisements, there are vast areas of the country in which connectivity is almost non-existent. Furthermore, GSM termination costs within a network and across networks remains largely expensive. Why?
Why is mobile telephony and Internet service terribly poor in this country despite the many government projects and huge investment that has been made in this sector so far? Even when GSM and Internet companies generate huge revenue from customers yet the quality of service remains erratic, poor and unavailable to majority of Gambians who continue to pay a lot for these services? Why are these companies not making adequate investment to upgrade their systems? It is high time Gambians demand from both the Government and GSM and Internet service providers to explain and address this unbearable and unfair situation in order to ensure affordable, high quality connectivity and accessible services to all. Or we sue them!
Telephony and Internet services are fundamental drivers of the progress of society and economy in all facets: from employment, health and education to leisure, security and business among others. Hence the need for quality services must be a top priority of any government and society.
From the look of things, it is clear that the only reason the Gambia faces such a poor telephony and Internet sector is the lack of strategy and leadership at the level of regulators and service providers. The law empowers PURA to ensure that service providers perform in the best interest of society and economy. The Ministry responsible for communication infrastructure and technology is expected to back and enforce the recommendations of PURA. GSM companies themselves are expected to abide by the best practices and high ethical business standards and operations. The question is, are all of these entities performing their functions as required by law and ethics? It appears this is not the case. Their failure is because the citizens are not taking them to task.
Gambians must understand that the Government, through MOICI and PURA has a duty by law to do their jobs perfectly. They do not give us charity, rather they are here to defend our fundamental human rights of access to quality products and services based on value for money. Hence MOICI and PURA must not allow any private entity to provide poor quality services to Gambians yet who are forced to pay for those poor services. It is clear in the law as to what PURA, backed by MOICI should do when a GSM or internet company fails in providing quality products and services. Therefore we expect nothing from MOIC and PURA but to enforce the law.
In early 2016, the regulatory authorities in Nigeria and Sierra Leone imposed a fine of more than seven million dollars on GSM operators for just providing poor quality services. Has PURA ever imposed such fines on GAMCEL, QCELL, Africell and Comium? Have these companies ever fulfilled such fines? Thus Gambians must ask the fundamental questions knowing that what we are dealing with here is about our lives, rights and destiny. So far the quality of services is unbearable, unfair, expensive and erratic. This is unacceptable.
In building the New Gambia, citizens must demand that the Government set high-level standards in both the public and private sectors in the delivery of goods and services. This is a fundamental human rights issue. We must not allow private GSM and Internet service providers to rip us off of our hard earned money! Unless we are able to set and enforce those standards in our institutions and processes for the delivery of goods and services, this country shall remain an impoverished and underdeveloped country. Let us refuse to buy empty excuses and false rationalizations that governments and companies like to always spread around in order to run away from their responsibilities.
The Gambia Government has all the legal powers, competences, capacities and resources to make sure citizens enjoy the highest standard of living in all aspects. Hence let us demand that the Government exercise those powers within the limits of the law to protect our rights in all respects. The current and continued poor quality of GSM and Internet services in the country is a direct violation of our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as captured and espoused in the letter and spirit of our Constitution under Chapter Four. Let us not allow the Gambia Government and private companies to perpetuate this injustice anymore!
If these poor and expensive services persist, citizens must, sooner than later resort to civil disobedience including going to court to sue the Government and these companies in order to force them to serve us adequately and protect our rights. Our GSM companies have lavishly spent millions of dalasi to satisfy Yaya Jammeh and his immoral and anti-Gambia celebrations when they should have invested in upgrading their systems for the benefit of their customers. They made those millions out of us, The Customers! Therefore they have no excuse and we must not accept any excuse from them.
Let us be vigilant and know our interests bearing in mind that everything is about our lives, rights and future, and not about the president or the government or companies who are only our servants.