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City of Banjul
Monday, September 21, 2020

To my President: Wishes for a happy birthday and many more returns !

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Not all countries are privileged to have their president’s year of birth coincide with their year of liberation from domination.  Surely your spirit would not allow you to enter this world in a colonial setting.  Every year we celebrate the republic’s birthday and then three months later yours.  It is the 49th year of your journey with this country, twenty of which you have been the gallant and dynamic captain of its affairs. 

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There are many reasons to celebrate your birthday and to honour you, but in this letter I shall list a few. I salute you on the occasion of your own birthday 25th May 2014. I do not believe in accidents; you were born on African Liberation Day for a reason. You came to liberate and you did liberate many Gambians through your many development projects. With all patriotic Gambians and friends of The Gambia ready to celebrate your birthday, I toast a 21 gun salute to the many reasons you and your noble life is worth celebrating:

 

1. Airport development was one of your initial projects when you took the reign of power in 1994. Yes I do remember reading a particular issue of New Africa Magazine during the early ’90s where Baffour Ankomah bared out the underdevelopment of this country in an article titled “Stranger in Banjul”. His description of our airport must have been along the lines of “an old hut” or so. When you came, you gave us an airport building that itself looks like an airplane ready to fly. And fly we must as a nation in this development trajectory that you are spearheading. 

 

2. Beaches in Banjul were virtually washed away by the waves of the sea by the time you came to power. I remember joining many residents of the city in the early ’90s under the leadership of the late Imam Ratib of Banjul Alhaji Abdoulie Jobe (May Allah bless his soul) to throw rocks in the path of the waves that had started exhuming corpses in the graves on the beach beside the former Radio Syd. I am saddened right now with memories of human remains on the beach as I did my evening jogging along that beach in those days. You came and the beach has been reclaimed to the joy of many a Banjulian. Not only has the beach been reclaimed, it has also been adorned with many a coconut tree.

 

3. Construction is an integral part of your development philosophy and you have constructed like no one ever did in the history of this country from pre-colonial days to date. No wonder your party is called the Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction. From roads to bridges to hospitals and schools; the list goes on and on but let me stop here, as the list will be further dilated on through this journey of the ABC of your projects.

 

4. Development as an all-inclusive term has greeted us in more ways than I can enumerate. As a cross-cutting issue, let me cut it here and move on Dr President and Commander-In-Chief of National Development.

 

5. Education is one of your key priorities and hence it is the one sector that has enjoyed the most dramatic transformation in your development agenda. And oh! This subject gets me emotional and excited. If I do not restrain myself, here, this essay would turn into a book. Yes, because this very skill and knowledge I am using to write this essay was acquired through one of your most impactful projects in this country, The University Project. When you ushered in the country’s first ever university programme in 1995, I was among the lucky few who had faith in that project and enrolled. Some 18 years later, I was national budget director (after 10 years of work as a macro-economist at the Central Bank), published author, motivational speaker with a vast network of friends and colleagues around the world; in the lofty palaces of the global macro-economic management realm. Okay let me calm down and bring it down to the grassroots level where you have brought education to the doorsteps of every Gambian especially the girl-child. This is both noble and commendable! 

 

6. Economic growth has been commendable throughout the 18 years you have been in office. From July 1994 when most people thought that you would not be able to pay salaries for civil servants for even 3 months, you have steered the national economic ship through the turbulent waters of the global economy, earning yourself a major international accolade from no less an authority than the Economist magazine that listed The Gambia among the world’s four fastest growing economies. I salute you sir! 

 

7. Farming is not only a priority for you, it is a noble occupation that you are personally engaged in. You have not only called on the nation to go back to the land but were the first to make that trip yourself. Your philosophy is one of self-reliance and we should very well indeed follow your footsteps. The Mandinkas are indeed right that hunger does hamper one’s freedom. Your investment in this sector has been phenomenal. As we herald the Vision 2016, the world stands in awe at the  uniqueness of your vision and determination to free your people from all forms of dependency syndrome.

 

8. Gamcel came into existence on the very day of your birthday. I was told that most of your cabinet ministers were doubtful that a cell phone company would be a viable investment in our small economy but you took the bold step with your trademark faith. More than a decade later Gamcel is our pride and we have three more such companies operating private businesses in this country. 

 

9. Girls in this country have found a new impetus in the development of their lives since your taking over of the leadership of this country. In fact we the boys are now jealous of our sisters (laughs!).  I understand that we have almost reached parity in gender in terms of enrollment in schools. You have personally funded the education of many a girl through your President’s Empowerment of Girls Education Project (PEGEP).

 

10. Health has been a major priority for you, sir, thus alongside the revolution in the education sector, you rolled out a construction spree in expanding access to hospitals. From one referral hospital, you opened the doors to health facilities around the country. And I was not surprised but impressed that “The Gambia has been selected as a winner of the 2013 Resolve Award, based on the sustained gains registered in the area of access to reproductive health and reliable referral systems for efficient health service delivery.”

 

11. International appointment is the dream of many a Gambian civil servant and our presence in the high offices of international organisations has witnessed a dramatic increase during your presidency. Having Gambians occupy important positions in these institutions is very important for the interest of the country. From the appointment of Julia Joiner to the most remarkable ascendancy of the Honourable Fatou Bom Bensouda to the office of Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, you have facilitated the rise of many a prominent Gambian in the international arena. The Gambia has just assumed the position of Commissioner in the Ecowas Commission (as far as I know) for the first time ever. You have done well Mr President and I salute you for this!

 

12. Justice has seen a major boost both in terms of human capital and service delivery. We have witnessed an unprecedented number of Gambian judges as you spearhead the ‘Gambianisation’ of our judiciary. Alongside your intervention in this area by appointing Gambians in the court system, I wish to salute here those patriotic Gambians who heeded your call and came to serve the country in this most noble profession of administering the laws of the land.

 

13. Kunta Kinteh must be deeply rejoicing in his place of rest for you have honoured his memory with the renaming of James Island to Kunta Kinteh Island. This should not be viewed as a change of name alone. It should serve as a boost to the national psyche. I have written eight essays on the subject “What’s in a Name” and I have almost concluded now that “Much’s in a Name”. Thanks immensely Dr President and this brings to mind another change of name with the renaming the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital to Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital.  Sure enough, sir, as you continue to honour the names of our great ancestors and heroes, so have our people also honoured you with many an honourable name. I rejoice in the one I find most pleasing and motivating and let me take the liberty to digress here and dwell on that most royal name of yours in poetry while I take my break for the second part of this series:

                                          Continues next page

 

Baa Bili Mansa

N-na taarikoe to e nyongo mang siyaa

E la doekoo nyimmaa ning nganiya seneyaa

Ka dindingo lu karandi ka kay baa lu faasaa

E yeh musoe lu sembentung yaa daa wo daa

Wolaa tinna moe lu teh  nyina lay la

E yaa kata wo yaa tinnaa moe lu yeh e nimbaara

E yeh e kullee kuta keh e ko e yeh Baa bili Mansa

Kerewan bolong bala e ko moe teh a sala la

E naa ta yaa baaraa baa bili ta

JangJang Bureh daa la jinoe lu balanta

Moe bay bori ta e ko nying teh noe la

E tambi ta e ning dangkeneh yaa kori bali koo la

Kulungo lu yehmang ta, baa leh bili ta

Wolaa ting ngay horoma kay boonyaa

Bankoe moe lu sonta e la kay yaa la Yahya

E ko e yeh e kullee Baa Bili Mansa

 

Translation:

You are one of a kind in our history

For your great work and generosity

Educating the children and supporting the elderly

You have empowered women in all spheres

That is why the people will forever remember 

You have done well, the people are grateful

They have renamed you Baa Bili Mansa

The Kerewan River was believed not to be bridgeable

You came and did it, the river is bridged

At the Janjangbureh River the Jinn’s refused

 

Baa Bili Mansa

N-na taarikoe to e nyongo mang siyaa

E la doekoo nyimmaa ning nganiya seneyaa

Ka dindingo lu karandi ka kay baa lu faasaa

E yeh musoe lu sembentung yaa daa wo daa

Wolaa tinna moe lu teh  nyina lay la

E yaa kata wo yaa tinnaa moe lu yeh e nimbaara

E yeh e kullee kuta keh e ko e yeh Baa bili Mansa

Kerewan bolong bala e ko moe teh a sala la

E naa ta yaa baaraa baa bili ta

JangJang Bureh daa la jinoe lu balanta

Moe bay bori ta e ko nying teh noe la

E tambi ta e ning dangkeneh yaa kori bali koo la

Kulungo lu yehmang ta, baa leh bili ta

Wolaa ting ngay horoma kay boonyaa

Bankoe moe lu sonta e la kay yaa la Yahya

E ko e yeh e kullee Baa Bili Mansa

 

Translation:

You are one of a kind in our history

For your great work and generosity

Educating the children and supporting the elderly

You have empowered women in all spheres

That is why the people will forever remember 

You have done well, the people are grateful

They have renamed you Baa Bili Mansa

The Kerewan River was believed not to be bridgeable

You came and did it, the river is bridged

At the Janjangbureh River the Jinn’s refused

Everybody ran away saying it is impossible

You moved forward with faith Mr Possibility

The boats have all disappeared, the river has been bridged

That is why we honour and respect you

The people have attested to your ability as a real man

They have renamed you Baa Bili Mansa

 

14. Lights have been shining brighter since you took over power. From a generation capacity that barely served Banjul and KMC in 1994, NAWEC has expanded its power output exponentially to serve not only our cities but also villages in the hinterland. Our streets are alight in the Greater Banjul Area. We have surely come very far in this journey and the future is sure to be brighter with your many surprise projects to be inaugurated in subsequent celebrations of the July 22nd Anniversary.

 

15. Music has seen a tremendous revolution with your intervention both in terms of material support and the policy environment that brought us such sensations like Singhateh, Manding Morry and Mighty Joe. This development could not have happened without your policy prescription on TV. I have said this often and I will repeat it here; without your personal support many of our artistes would not go beyond a single album but year after year you sponsor concerts and give these young talents financial support that is needed for the development of their talents. The artistes have responded in kind, making you perhaps the most sung leader in the whole of Africa. From Singhateh’s hit track Mansa Kay to Samba’s classic “ding kendo naata/mansa kendo ali wuli/gii yeeto mange-gii rambenorr…” these boys have celebrated you from their hearts with gratitude.

 

16. Nursing has also enjoyed a major boost under your government with the upgrading of the training facilities at the School of Nursery and Midwifery. It has been so good that we are now exporting trained nurses to both the US and UK, congratulations sir! Faith and determination do work wonders! N also stands for neighbour because this School of Nursing and its products are your closest neighbours, being housed next door to your official residence and office and I am privy to information that you have been a good neighbour to them by extending many a largesse to the students who inhabit that facility.

 

17. Opportunities for self-fulfillment have multiplied with your various interventions in different sectors of the economy. During the 17th anniversary celebrations of the July 22nd Revolution, I presented a paper on this subject at a symposium held at the Friendship Hotel. Here is an excerpt from that talk: “Gambian youths have for long hungered for opportunities to tap their vast potentials in pursuance of their lofty goals. Opportunities for self-fulfillment have unfortunately been limited until the advent of the July 22nd Revolution in 1994 that has since opened thousands of windows of crisp opportunities for any Gambian with a desire to excel!

These opportunities have come in various forms and in different sectors of our economy and society but to mention a few: education, the quintessential resource for sustainable development, has seen massive investment since 19994, and for me even if this were the only avenue opened for young Gambians, it would have sufficed to solve all our problems. In addition to that, we have had the proliferation of programmes that train our youth in the acquisition of specialised skills like the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSS) and furthermore resources have been made available to youths through the National Enterprise Development Initiative (NEDI) for young people to access funds for investment…”

 

18. Petroleum exploration has seen a more serious and rigorous approach with your Government. From my studies of geography at high school I have learnt that The Gambia started petroleum exploration in the ’70s with a Canadian firm called Petro Canada, but nothing tangible was realised by the time you took over. You have made so much headway in this area with reports in the international media authenticating the seriousness of our potential in this area. Doubting Thomases still abound but I do know that we will soon realise the bounties of the black gold. A recent local media report concerning the arrival of an oil investor named Kase Lawal through his company Camac Holding was very exciting for me. As more and more major multinationals covet The Gambia’s oil blocks, the promise is getting brighter. Thank you for sticking to your guns to ensure that our natural resources are not exploited for the benefit of foreign companies that end up leaving only pittances for the states that license their blocks to them.

 

19. Quarry residents at Kotu were repeatedly threatened by floods and when the matter became worse you intervened by identifying land for their resettlement. In their joy and gratitude they named their new settlement Allah Tentu. I recently visited a major capital city in the sub-region and saw residences literarily in a huge gutter to my shock and astonishment. Then I remembered how you helped resettle those people who were at the Kotu Quarry. I also remembered a senior government official who told a friend during a foreign trip that we should be grateful that The Gambia is the only country in the sub-region that is not scarred with the menace of slums. Thank you Mr President! 

 

20. Road construction has seen perhaps the highest amount of investment in your development programme. Last weekend I travelled to the village of Sanyang to attend a friend’s naming ceremony and while the car glided on the smooth coastal road, I revelled at the beautiful mansions that lined it. I turned to my wife saying “deuga deuga waaji ligaye na!” but I had written about this some six years ago and republished that essay in my book The Way to Happiness. Let me end this second part of this letter with an excerpt from that essay:

For me the take-off of the road construction era of the July 22nd Revolution was the bridging of the gutter separating the Gambia National Library and Saint Augustine’s Senior Secondary School’s football field. This waterway has been a menace for those of us who lived on Box Bar Road and Tobacco Road. During the rainy season it was sometimes impossible to cross that mass of stinking water to go to the National Library because the few planks of rhun palm that covered the gutter are covered by water when it rains making it impossible to get to the National Library without getting wet. This big gutter was one of the first places to be bridged by the July 22nd revolution’s road construction spree. It may not be the biggest project and might as well be the least investment in this area but it is the most symbolic in that that gutter had been there for decades without attracting the attention of the previous government. 

In a poem entitled ’22 Road’ a poet writes:

“dust, mud, and fatigue, then came

the road builder of world acclaim”.

Perhaps the two lines suffice for a description of the Jammeh administration’s take-off in building quality roads for Gambians…

 

21. Sports development saw a major boost also with your government taking charge of the needs of our national teams. It was a celebration of a July 22nd anniversary that saw a cadet tournament bringing in countries in the sub-region and The Gambia’s Under-17 won the tournament. The boost in morale from this victory catapulted the Under-17 to win the CAF Cadet Tournament here in 2005. At that point this was our greatest feat in international football and this achievement has also changed the lives of many of our youths who went on to sign lucrative deals with European clubs changing not only their lives but those of their families.

There you have a twenty-one gun salute that will continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of the millions of people whose hearts you have touched and whose lives you have made better forever. May you live to celebrate many more returns of your glorious day of births.

 

 

The Gambia’s Pen

This piece was first written as a series of essays in 2013 when author was a director at the Ministry 

 

By Momodou Sabally

 

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