To roughly analyse our present national status, poverty makes more sense if we are to seriously consider redefining our paradigms for achieving a progressive society. Culture matters of course, yet, it is poverty we should eliminate to give an impressive culture a breeding ground. We need a Copernican revolution against poverty to rejuvenate a proud national identity that will embody spiritual and moral identities we all shall be proud of.
Many Gambians are dying simply because they cannot afford to stay alive. If you dispute this stance, tell me what actually determines life expectancy? Poverty is under rapid cultivation and it seems no one cares: our politics is unfocused to things that really matter and more people are eventually becoming a social liability for more than half a century. We are gradually approaching a state of social inconvenience, political turbulence and moral decadence that extensively will produce religious, tribal and sectarian identities which, if given a way, will autocatalytically create an unbearable inequality.
To be born in a community, of course does mean, sharing many things in common especially those things that keep us all alive and well. Things like food, potable water, electricity, shelter and clothing, as basic liveable conditions, cannot be compromised. Any political system that cannot provide these basic necessities to her citizenry, should be changed. Those needs are not ordinary rights attached to citizenship, they are special natural and human rights every government should and can provide. It is a state obligation for which we each pay our taxes. As a citizenry, we can refuse the conventional laws to pay our taxes, if they are not used to benefit us. That is, if we cannot live a dignified life out of our taxes we pay. This act cannot be illegal where a state cannot guarantee its fundamental obligations which we vote for and pay our taxes to sustain. The two must correspond –taxes equal basic liable conditions.
Anytime we imagine the impacts of poverty, we create more mental pictures of elevating a better status. When we see physically drained villagers on their ways to their farms in Kantora or Basse, we are morally compelled to debate if they could really lift their locally made hoes for an hour. If they cannot, that determines the durability of their hunger. When women and children in the villages of Bansang rush out to the hospital for lack of medicines, we are forced to comprehend that their homes are hardly habitable. If young boys in the streets of Banjul are turned to be professional beggars, obstructing traffic and normal businesses, we never thought of the family they came from! When young boys and girls choose to undertake perilous journey outside our frontiers, do they not see any faith in their institutions? If the brain power in our prisons are compared to those not, are we on anyway to combat poverty? If our institutions hope for more international aids rather than support others or cultivate our own prosperity, we are perplexed as to whether we will ever flourish without international aids. If a rich man in his comfort zone in Kololi got robbed, is it because he has more than he needs? When young boys and girls are beaten for following tourists on the beautiful beaches of Senegambia, are they immoral or compelled by subconscious social constructions or it’s just poverty? When the majority of Gambian students cannot make it into academics or professional lives, what can we do to keep them productive in school and make a professional life? If I am confuse not to catch with the real causes of poverty in The Gambia, the probability is that, the problems are cultivated and more than I can see actually read them. More than half of our populace are hungry, ignorant and prone to diseases.
We are all subjects of poverty in one way or the other. Our institutions are not only authoritarian because we have a higher percentage of ignorance but fundamentally because the majority are poor. The poor nearly have little time to talk about complex political and economic structures that directly affect and define them. They rather will prefer to hustle on mechanisms of making food available on the table. When a poor husband of three or four wives sends his daughters to stomach the burdens of early marriage, it is enough to blame his religious faith or ignorance of the consequences the new marriage institutions will offer them? Is his decision to send his daughters for an unprepared adventure largely dictated by poverty -he had to meet the basic needs of an extended family? This is not a supportive argument of early marriage or polygamy. Though, even nuclear families or single-parent famalies are facing the brunt of poverty but not anything comparable to the opposite. They all feel it in their own ways.
Poor institutions are the roots of what we will define in a word as poverty. Poverty as a condition of not meeting one’s basic needs to live a dignified life, is overwhelming and undefeatable if we are to continue with the institutional structures we have today. Majority of the Gambians are born dead in poverty and do largely nothing significant to change them. This is largely embedded in our houses of ignorance (religious and cultural) which are the root causes of individual and collective poverty almost every Gambian is engulfed in today. When parents are confronted with the striking decision as to which of their children should be given the opportunity to seek education or medical care, is it because they failed to calculate their own poor status or it is the government and the society at large to blame? If the daily chores are considered to be feminine rather than shared, this state condemned women to the ultimatum of poverty. When I rush to hospitals in any part of The Gambia, women and children dominate the queues for seemingly unavailable medicines while men endure with their poor health status at work.
Bad polices are largely political and secondarily religious. When a poor school graduate cannot find anything to do, our political institutions are to blame but when the same individual goes on marrying four wives, his poor decision is largely influenced by his religious background. In a society where manhood is typically measured by how many wives or children one brings up, not only political institutions are decaying but also moral ones. If we are so dull to understand our own “corrupt” cultures and traditions, but instead centralise our failures on the government alone, we will hardly triumph over poverty.
When white colour jobs are seen as the ultimatum of success, that shows how less innovative a population we are. The Gambian culture faces more loopholes than it has perspectives in eradicating poverty. We have enough corruption that poisoned our horizons of developments to grant every citizen the constitutional right to dignified life. This is simply why urbanization is under speedy and highly unsustainable conditions. But, this was obvious after all, in a cliché “man does not leave by bread alone.”
We are friends with aids and enemies of our own makings. Rwanda and Ethiopia are doing handsomely well because they do keep themselves first and others only secondarily. Senegal, which is not far from our borders has better institutions than we have in terms of general wellbeing of her citizenry. What is responsible for these differences we now know is in the efficiency and inefficiency of institutions that give birth to progressive or retrogressive cultures. If other cultures are worthy of commendation, then others must learn to better themselves before it is too late. For more than half a century, ‘The Gambian Identity’ is by far dictated by poverty.
Cultures and traditions are lenses of perception. They are spectrums of the reality. When they drive us apart, they should be abandoned and so as when they condemned us to poverty. Most of what I analysed from the nature of poverty in The Gambia, is culturally, religiously and traditionally linked. When children are raised for the mere sake of carrying out matrimonial duties or some religious doctrines said so, I cry in my mind as to whether we are not completely lost.
Leadership from the informal to the formal sectors are mostly unfair, or at least, as I experienced it. Merit is not given to whom it belongs to, rather it follows the background of who belongs to which group, party or which faith or idea you share. Favouritism and nepotism are corner stones that shamefully define the Gambian community. In fact, it is “institutionalised”. This is what one will broadly define as corruption – a decadence of our moral spectacles. To me, Gambian corruption is inbuilt. It might have some external bases, but, it has always been a Gambian DNA. Like many Gambians, I was born in it, brought up in it, and it unfortunately continues to accompany many of us to their untimely and undignified graves.
The way a society normalises evil tells how poverty is deepen. When the people only concentrate on having food on the table regardless of how it is gained, not only is morality lost, but there you can see the frustration imposed by poverty. When a person’s life is put on stake because of food, one might underestimate the scars of poverty. When poor voters sold their voices for a plate of rice or forcefully laugh to satisfy their leaders, one might understand that the pit of poverty is not as shallow as the corrupt statisticians will necessary show it.
Leaders are not necessarily incapable to lead better, they are also capacitated by the poor majority to lead badly. Poverty is not actually the root cause of all evils happening in The Gambia but it is necessarily linked to it. When the few powerful or rich class dictates a society because of the need to have food on the table, and the poor majority accept that, that food itself becomes morally unfit for consumption.
Author: Alagie Jinkang