With Sainey Darboe
Nick Maurice is the founder of the Gunjur-Marlborough link and former director of Commonwealth organisation Building International Links for Development (BUILD).He was born in Marlborough, a small market town in Wiltshire, UK on 11 February 1943, two years before World War II ended. His father was a general medical practitioner and obstetrician in Marlborough. On 1 January 1977, he was to join the medical practice and with his cousin David become the sixth generation of doctors in Marlborough.His family was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for having practised medicine in the same community for longer than any other family in the world.In this edition of Bantaba,US-based former Standard editor Sainey Darboe started off by asking about his autobiography titled “Never Doubt…” and what informed his intriguing choice of title.
Nick Maurice: The full quotation from Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist, reads, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”. She goes on to say, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else”.This quotation has accompanied me throughout my life and encouraged me in my work for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the partnership with Gunjur.If you were to ask the question “So do you think the link between Marlborough and Gunjur has really changed the world?” My response would be:-“Well….when I think back to the number of people, both UK and Gambian citizens, whose lives were fundamentally influenced by the link, that is to say, living and working through the exchange programme in very different cultures, many of whom are now involved in international development; the many hundreds of Gambians who are either working in senior positions in The Gambia or working internationally in the US, Scandinavia, Europe,et cetera, many of whom would say that it was the link with Marlborough that enhanced the possibility of working abroad, I have no doubt that many of them would say that they have contributed to making the world a better place. I am sure they are right!It was the hugely positive experience of our link between Gunjur and Marlborough that enabled me to work with 45 other organisations in the UK through BUILD to encourage partnerships between communities in UK and in the Global South, schools, hospitals, faith-based organisations. At one time we had 4,500 schools in UK partnered with schools in Africa, Caribbean and Asia and 250 hospitals with such partnerships for mutual learning.These partnerships opened the eyes of everyone involved to the big, wide world and encouraged them to become global citizens.
You played a pivotal role in fundraising efforts which yielded over a million dalasis in aid for the people of Gunjur affected by Covid-19. What were your overriding concerns and how did you accomplish this goal?
My concern, shared by many people in Marlborough and around who had been to Gunjur and benefited so much from the friendships, was thatgiven the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts that it would haveparticularly on the poorest members of the Gunjur community, we should do all we could to help. We heard that rice was becoming increasingly scarce, as it could no longer be imported due to flight restrictions. We particularly felt and this was agreed by colleagues in Gunjur that providing at least two months of rice supply to the poorest families, this would help them greatly.In collaboration with the trustees of the Marlborough Brandt Group, who agreed to match every £1 that raised privately, we sent out a message to all those we knew of in Marlborough and beyond who had had contact with Gunjur at some time in their lives and we publicised the fundraising effort through the media and it was as a result of this that we were able to send over D1million to Gunjur.At the Gunjur end led by Bai Jabang, director of Tarud, an excellent team of senior people in the community including a representative of the alkalomade an assessment of which were the poorest families who should benefit from receiving two bags of rice.With the money they received, they were able to publicise the work on Janneh Koto FM, purchase over 900 sacks of rice from a store in Banjul, have it transported to Gunjur and then distributed on two separate occasions to 420 families. It was remarkable work that they did and everything was carefully reported, monitored and accounts shared with us here in UK.
At the heart of Gunjur-Marlborough link has been the exchange of people. But this has come to a standstill due to the difficulty accompanying procurement of visas for people to travel to the UK. What has changed, if any, in regard to this and do you foresee a resumption of exchange visits?
You are right. The relationship between the two communities was always based on mutual learning and understanding. We in Marlborough felt that we had as much to learn from the people of Gunjur as they might have to learn from us and therefore the partnership should be about the exchange of people between the two communities. I think back to the days when we would have as many as 15 Gambians living with different families in Marlborough working on a project here or going into all white schools and introducing pupils to a different culture, faith, food,et cetera, so that children would understand here are people from another part of the world, wewant to explore, maybe work in and ultimately belong to that wider world. Tragically, when the coalition, Liberal Democrat and Conservative government came into power in 2010, the Home Office raised the drawbridge and made it impossible for young Africans, Asians,Caribbeans, et cetera,to come on exchange visits. We have to recognise that at that time it was estimated that as many as 250,000 people from these countries were living in the UK illegally, but the decision not to issue visas to friends from The Gambia completely undermined everything that we stood for. To this day, it is a one-way stream of traffic of young people from Marlborough travelling to Gunjur. And frankly with the present government in power, I do not see any chance that the situation will change.
Your love affair with Gunjur is well-known around the world. A little bird told me such is your love for Gunjur you wish to have your mortal remains interred within the territorial confines of Gunjur.How true is this?
The little bird sings well and is right! I have discussed with the bird the possibility that some of my remains might be buried in my second home, Gunjur.As you are aware in our tradition, very commonly, people are cremated rather than buried after death. To a large extent this is due to there being less space available for the burial of bodies in our very overcrowded society, and a much smaller grave is required for the burial of ashes. What I would like as a gesture to both communities is for half of my ashes to be buried in Marlborough and half in my second home. This may not be acceptable in your strictly Muslim society and I would of course completely understand that.
You have seen enough sorrowful days in your life from the tyranny of Khmer Rouge and Apartheid and you are good friends with Desmond Tutu.Looking back with the benefit of the sum of your experiences, how would you describe the state of the world and do you get despondent by it?
If I am honest, I do get despondent. Of course we live in a particularly awful time with the Coronavirus pandemic and in our country over 40,000 people dying to the present time and I am sure that the impact of the lockdown, which means we have been confined to our compounds and unable to have proper human contact with friends and family, has had a bad effect on our mental health at this time.But leaving the pandemic aside, I often ask the question of my friends of the same age, do you think that we will be leaving this world in a better place than when we arrived. We often think, no, it will not be in a better place! I think immediately of climate change and the impact that that is having particularly on the poorer countries in the world. From a Gambian point of view, I am told that with lower rainfall and rising sea levels this means that salt water in the Gambia river has travelled more than 50 miles upstream resulting in it being unusable for the irrigation of crops hence food becoming more scarce and more having to be imported at great expense.
But what about solutions?
Governments and businesses are constantly expressing concern about economic growth and in the current climate the impact that the Coronavirus pandemic is having and will continue to have on that growth.Is not now the time to ask the question , in the animal kingdom, we grow until we reach our destined height – is there not a time when we should consider that we have reached our economic destiny and need grow no further? It was the King of Bhutan who in 1979 stated, “I consider gross national happiness to be more important than gross national product!”Given the disproportionate impact that Coronavirus will have and indeed is already having on the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America in particular, whether on
death rates or inducing yet higher degrees of poverty, is this not an opportunity to say, to hell with growth, which ultimately favours the many billionaires around the world – let’s consider how we can deal with the disparity between the very rich and the very poor at a global level. Let us share our existing common wealth to the point that there is a real equality in the world and people develop to their maximum potential.Development = French – ‘de-envelopper’ “Remove the envelope”, that is to say, take away the constraints of illiteracy, lack of access to clean water, lack of opportunity, impact of climate change,et cetera,and allow people to become free to make choices and reach their desired destiny.
You have been visiting The Gambia on a regular basis since the link started in 1982.After seeing successive governments at work from Jawara to Jammeh,what’s your assessment of the Barrow government since it assumed power in 2016 vis-à-vis human rights,development and governance?
The honest answer to this question is that I don’t know. I have not studied in any detail the Barrow government’s record in terms of human rights, development and governance. I have heard rumours and read negative reports.What I do know, and this distresses me considerably is the question of the Chinese invasion of the fishing industry in Gunjur to provide fish-based fertiliser for Chinese farmers in China, and the terrible negative impact that this is having on employment by traditional fishermen and women working on the beach, either preparing fresh fish caught off the beach or smoking fish ready for transport to other parts of The Gambia or for export. And what about the impact on the nutritional status, particularly of women and children now that they are deprived of fish, and the prices have risen dramatically as fish becomes more scarce?I often tell the story of the truck driver that I was talking to, some three years ago. He was loading his truck with smoked fish from the women at the beach at Gunjur. When I asked him where he was taking the fish he told me Nigeria! When I expressed disbelief and said, “Hold on! Nigeria has its own coastline, or Ghana is almost next door and then there is Ivory Coast. Why are Nigerians buying fish driven all the way from The Gambia?” The driver looked sad and said, “Dr Nick, the Chinese have taken all the fish from those countries!”
It must be the Gambian government which is responsible for allowing this abuse of the traditional fishing industry in Gunjur by the Chinese to happen. One can only assume that money has changed hands!
Do you have anything else to say?
A question I often ask, and it is one that I asked of President Barrow at a meeting in London in 2018 chaired by Tony Blair, one time Labour prime minister of the UK, “How do you see the role of the Gambian diaspora in terms of development in The Gambia?” He replied that he thought that they had an important role, but he was not very specific. The reality must surely be that there are many very highly qualified people among the diaspora who, in theory could make a major contribution to the development of their home, The Gambia if given that opportunity. I do wonder whether there is not an opportunity for key, elected representatives of the Gambian diaspora living in different countries – US, UK, Scandinavia, Germany,et cetera,- to come together asa team and, once the lockdown is over, ask the question of the Gambian government whether they might sit and engage with them to produce a joint development policy managed by the government and supported by the diaspora.This could potentially have a positive impact on some of the negative behaviour that it is rumoured is being performed by the government.