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Thursday, July 25, 2024

New Gambia: To walk the talk

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With Rohey Samba

As an oestrogen based life form, unlike my testosterone counterparts, I am expected to suck up quibbles and move on. Not fight back. As a grown up woman, this is the logical step towards peace of my species.
But I don’t like being told what to do, what to think and particularly, how to act in any given context or form. Passive acceptance of fate minus pride is unreasonable torture for my soul. Fact of the matter is, I am not a stoic. Stoics are long-suffering people who unquestioningly accept whatever life throws out at them. So I give my best fight when I tumble upon any unacceptable encounter. And I move on.

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When I look around, there is nothing to gain from an unquestioning mind or an unchallenging spirit. It is dull. Very dull. Ever wondered why God will judge us in the end? Well, it’s because we have freewill. The freedom of choice, of volition, of acceptance or just plain rebuttal of every thing that doesn’t make sense to us. Mediocrity is the twin partner of passivity. It is satisfied to rest on its laurels for that’s its entire ballgame. If we get educated, only to be enslaved in weird places, we call institutions and/or companies. Idle around every morning waiting for work to find us. This does things to people’s minds.

Last year, I completed a contract with a certain mission. I took a long leave of absence from my permanent job to have a taste of what it feels to use my skills in a capacity other than I have in the past. Work started at 9am and closed at 6:30pm, with two breaks in between. So organised was the work that each day, there was no end to the zeal to accomplish the daily tasks that were given by the supervisor. Time flew fast each day, and so energized was I each morning to get up to go to work, the feeling cannot find words to express its meaning.

For me, the continual training I had on the job was motivation enough. But there was more. A common kitchen was equipped with a coffee maker, an espresso machine, a kettle and a microwave to cater to all workers’ needs. Moreover, there was free coffee, tea, sugar and milk available for everyone, from the head of the institution to the very last person on board the mission. Not to mention biscuits.
Pic from left: Kebba Mamburay, Saikou Jabai, myself and Inta Lase behind. Colleagues at work.
Sadly, all good things come to an end. After six weeks of highly acclaimed work with a rousing recommendation from my white supervisor, adieus were said upon the desire to hook up on impending missions. It was satisfaction from both ends. Ultimately, what I missed most about the work I had completed, was the clear delineation of tasks, in accordance with the terms of reference I was given for each work day, in addition to the humanely treatment of all staff. Not to mention the motivation in the form of good pay, incentives and even bonuses at the end of the mission.

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Now, our institutions, especially government institutions, have a lot to learn from this mission’s institutional model. According to the international staff who came to work in The Gambia, they have never encountered such a diligent team of workers in their missions as they have in The Gambia. And that’s a lot to say because these were experts who have worked all over the world on similar missions.
Presumably, Gambians, myself included, have never worked in such a respectful environment and been treated with such dignity in their work lives as they were by this team of international experts. No wonder we all gave our very best. In the end, it was a win-win situation.

Not so in our respective institutions where we feel little umbrage to work to our best potential; where even morning beverage has to be bought by a civil servant with fifteen years of work experience on a salary scale of D7,000 per month or less. If he/she removes his/her fare to and from work daily, he/she barely has enough left to provide for his/her kids’ own breakfast, let alone his/her own.
Meanwhile, the staff members in the management categories in our offices, with perhaps quadruple salaries, are provided with all the incentives; beverages, bottled water, soft drinks and so forth as entertainment packages. How unfair and demotivating can we be to the junior staff in our respective institutions!
Just saying…

Today, we talk about the knowledge economy, where knowledge is the driving force for all institutions’ accomplishments. For every worker in the knowledge economy, the most vital accomplishment is to understand the aim and objectives of the institution and/or company one works in. Each department or unit of the establishment must be geared towards achieving the aims and objectives delineated. These may be incorporated in the long, medium and short-term strategies of the institutions.
We do not lack the literary genius of well-thought-out initiatives and strategic plans in our respective institutions. The Gambia has too many policy documents waiting to be implemented. In my little experience of attending meetings, policy reviews, project implementations and so forth, I have seen enough to be convinced by their appetence to the structures they are intended for. What we lack is the leadership to see through these works gathering dust in various filing cabinets of the weird places, we call institutions or companies in The Gambia.

The aimless work that finds us in our offices pays our wages, and goes right back to the system in the form of payments for our debts because it is too little to cater to our needs. Debts create more debts, for if the wage doesn’t suffice at the end of the month, it can’t suffice on debt. It becomes the overdraft that stretches to overdrive. A mere spoof.
For the people who are too lazy to acquaint themselves with the overdrive option, the end game is clear. They would take a shortcut as a way round the problem altogether. This alludes to the taking of bribes, cheating on working hours, taking cuts here and there to tailor their needs where the wages don’t suffice etc. etc. The system is feudal to say the least.

In the age of knowledge there is no real reason why one employee rather than the other should be chosen for investment and development, except for the inherent traits of his IQ and indeed his emotional intelligence. Oh yes, emotional intelligence is the new ball game. Who wants to work with an emotionally unstable employee anyways?
In today’s Gambia, people will work for less, preferring stability to pride and self-respect. No one wants to rock the boat. Gainfully employed people whilst glad enough for their careers are insecure. The young crop of intellectuals who come to join the workforce is seen as a threats rather than reasonable competition. The young ones have all the required education, but no training on the job. On the scale of hundred, it is a fifty-sum game.

No wonder many people appreciated the parody about the Generic Mediocrity Agency. For donkey’s years, the heroine of the story had patiently vied. Not for the undeserved recognition of unworthy technocrats buoyed by the nuances of a pedigree, not even yet the desired recognition by timeworn civil servants, who spend most of their lives juggling one position of responsibility in the name of experience. But one borne from her desire to perform to her best potential in the promise of a cause worthier than herself.
Many of my readers saw themselves portrayed in the parody, especially young civil servants who are continually denied the chance to represent their institutions. Others on the top echelons received a kick in the gut, for indeed ‘an old woman always feels uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb’.

Gambian US-based writer, Jamal Drammeh recently wrote, “Do not indulge in slavish pretentious shows to get recognition. If you do so, the favours that you might garner as a result won’t last for long or give you any real pleasure or sense of fulfillment. In most cases, this slavish attitude would backfire and cause you more harm in the end. Pretension can mimic authenticity, but the power to accomplish deserts it in the end.”
Thank you for these great words Jamal!
We must do away with pretension and strive towards performance in order to succeed as a nation. Performance is best set in the context of the right people, in the right place at the right time, with the right remuneration I may add. Without which, it is the corruption of values, the weakening of governance and the abysmal failure of decent societies. I cannot know more than my boss and be bossed by my boss. But twenty-two years of patriotism based on who you know, more than what you know, has resulted in weakening institutional capacity that is unprecedented in the annals of our history.

Gambian people have fought too hard and given up everything to see to a change of government. A year and some months on, we still carry hope that things will change, that institutional reforms will bring about precise regulations that will enhance the rule of law, good governance and boost institutional capacity. We still hope…

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