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On the OIC Banjul summit

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By Alagie Saidy-Barrow

A long time ago, some Gambians in Atlanta came up with the idea of celebrating America’s independence on July 4th. Gambians from all over the United States converged in Atlanta for a few days of merriment. It used to be one of the biggest Gambian events in America, if not the biggest. For most attendees, the highlight of the July 4th celebrations was the evening football matches that had Gambians from various states competing for bragging rights. The evening at the park was also when some Gambians came to showcase themselves. It was their moment to impress other Gambians. To show how well they were doing. Some Gambians start planning for July 4th celebrations months before the event.

I know of a fellow who was said to have rented a very expensive car and drove it down from another state to Atlanta. He had the car parked close to the main entrance of the park with dancehall music blasting! He was hanging out with a few of his friends seemingly disinterested in our admiration of his expensive car. That fellow definitely made an impression. Eventually, one of the friends he was hanging out with told someone that the fellow rented the car. It was not his car. Years later, I’d come to meet this guy, and out of curiosity, I asked him if that was his car because others were saying he rented it. He laughed out loud and insisted it was his car and that those who were saying he rented it were haters! When I insisted, he laughed again and told me a lot of Gambians rented cars to come to the July 4th event. That was beside the point but I let it be.

I don’t know why but when I heard about all the vehicles our government officials decided to rent or buy in order to impress the OIC guests, I couldn’t help but think about that fellow and the expensive car he brought to impress at the July 4th celebration in Atlanta. Interestingly, just as he labeled those who said he rented the car haters, our government officials and those who benefited from this OIC also try to label critics as unpatriotic. Somehow, if you don’t express support for the OIC or promote it in a way they desire, it means you are not patriotic. Or as our government officials conclude, it means you are jealous. A very simpleminded conclusion.

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Anyway, The OIC is over and done with. The expensive cars will find new owners. NAWEC will continue with its inefficiency. Some people will laugh all the way to the bank because the OIC buttered their bread. The average Gambian will see little to no benefit. And as usual, those Gambians who benefited in some form will hail it as a success. But ask them what barometer or yardstick they use to define success and chances are you’ll be met with blank stares. Or as someone maintained, the fact that Gambia successfully hosted the Conference is itself a success. I’m not sure that makes any sense to me but if your yardstick is that Gambia hosted the OIC, then I guess you can congratulate one another. As low a bar as that may be.

I must admit, I haven’t watched or listened to a second of the Conference. I read stories about it and saw pictures of attendees in colorful attires here and there. Given all that was promised at its inception and what I saw on my visit to The Gambia last December, I suspected the project would be mired in mediocrity and eat all you can.

If this was our opportunity to impress the world, I guess we accomplished that task. Which direction the impression scales tilt depends on whether those looking at it are close to power or among those who chopped some money. Objectivity often flies out the window when a Gambian is benefitting from any enterprise. But until they can show you tangible results, just know that we are all entitled to our flowery opinions.

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I would have been proud if what we used to try and impress the world came from our own pockets. Knowing that we had to go and beg others to impress the world, I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to be proud of. Am I supposed to be proud that Gambia can organize a huge conference on donated resources? Or is it that like the fellow in Atlanta, we should be proud that we bought or rented some very expensive vehicles to impress others while the majority of our people are suffering and living in poverty? If others hadn’t given us loans or donated money to Gambia, would we have been able to host the OIC? Please do not tell me other countries did it the same way. Begging and borrowing to impress others should never be normalized among any serious people!

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