On first of December 2016, Gambians went to the polls to vote for change. This was after 22yrs of oppressive authoritarian regime which pushed the whole nation to the brink. There was an attempt to refute the decision of the people by the then regime but because of the mature decision by the coalition not to react and the resolve and outcry of the people, the attempt failed and the new president was inaugurated in Dakar and soon after in Gambian soil.
We cannot deny that it is our attitude which over the years gave the former regime the audacity of being above the law and transgressing in the most brutal of ways. Now, at the dawn of a new Gambia, which all and sundry fought for, in their own ways, we cannot remain silent even when we see minor steps in the direction which took us and the Jammeh regime where we ended over the years. We now crave freedom and good leadership and will do anything to achieve that.
There are only two ways to rule and be ruled, by example and rule of law or by using force and brutality. The former regime used the latter and we condoned and supported it for 22 years. The question now is which one will we guide our new government to use? I am a firm believer that our rulers are sculpted according to the attitudes and behavior of the population. And that we are the ones who made the Jammeh regime what it was; in some cases unwittingly, in some cases negligently and in some cases due to greed.
Like many Gambians, in this era of new Gambia, I have been keenly observing our lives post Jammeh dictatorship to see if things have really changed. I agree that the new government and the population needs time to put things together but the direction of the first few steps are crucial in determining where we are headed. In addition, our attitudes are very important in forging the direction of any government and in moving towards national development.
I use the traffic every day to work and have noticed somethings both on the part of law enforcement and the general population which give me the shudders:
The following happened to me and I would like to share it:
Those who use the Bertil-Harding Highway from Brusubi area to the Traffic Light know about the disorderly traffic during the peak hours of the morning. Once traffic slows down, some people decide to go on the side of the road overtaking other vehicles on the road and thereby creating a block further down the road when they decide to rejoin the traffic. This therefore delays further the law-abiding drivers causing a lot of frustration and anger. This is clearly contrary to the law and in a normal lawful society should be immediately stopped.
It is in this regard that I relate the following story which highlights the problem:
On Wednesday 6th April 2017, I left my home a little late (0735) to drop my children to school using the above-mentioned traffic. By the time we reached Kololi, the traffic had started to form and all sorts of vehicles started overtaking from the right side and some even on the left side clearly seeing the traffic ahead. I try to teach my children the rule of law and resisted the temptation to also follow them. I was however getting more and more frustrated when we went to a total standstill while the lawless drivers kept passing by.
I decided to still follow the traffic and report at the police stop at the Kololi Police Junction. When we finally reached there about 20minutes later, I reported to the police who said they were aware but lacked the numbers to tackle the recurring situation. I asked him how I could escalate the report but he could not tell me anything specific and I decided to move on. About 100m further an unmarked white pick up drove past. I was very happy to see a police officer ahead who waved him to stop. I could see him talking to the officer very rudely and the officer was talking more and more apologetically and I overheard him stating that people are complaining. I stopped my car and leaned over and said to the driver of the vehicle,e a plain clothed young man in his thirties, that what he did was wrong. I was surprised when the gentleman…or ‘non-gentleman’ blurted out the insult ‘f..k off’ and drove off while the police officer helplessly watch him move on. Because the vehicle had no license plate (unmarked) I also was helpless because there was no way of identifying him…one of the problems of allowing this.
It is a pity that, in our new Gambia:
1. We still see unmarked tinted vehicles roaming in some areas of traffic. I feel the police should be given the mandate and empowered to stop any such vehicle until they are marked appropriately for proper identification. The police should be adequately empowered and no longer be afraid enforce the law even if a soldier or secret service officer is involved.
2. We still see ‘GG’ and ‘Judiciary’ vehicles flaunt traffic rules and go on the opposite lane causing risk and anger to other drivers. Only vehicles escorted by police siren or ambulances should be allowed to do so. If government officials want to reach early to work they should get up early enough and follow the traffic. I am a surgeon and often have to rush in my vehicle to save a life in the hospital but I do not flaunt the traffic rules!! I do not think government officials driving ‘GG’ cars or ‘Judiciary’ marked cars have a more important job than me or other traffic users like teachers. In my opinion, police should be empowered to stop such people and fine them appropriately so that they stop the behavior. The leadership which includes government officials should lead by example. If not, there will be lawlessness. An evidence of that is, because of this behaviour, the taxi drivers have also taken to the habit of jumping the queue in traffic. No one can blame them if government officials and judiciary officials are doing it! Police and soldiers should all use the traffic appropriately except if authorized to use sirens in times of emergency in which case they will be given way. There should be a system of getting that authority either by phone or radio messaging from a central place. Places where this disorderly traffic happens eg Traffic light, Kololi, Denton Bridge, Westfield etc should be monitored for some time until traffic users are used to following the rules. Who could have imagined that 99% of drivers in The Gambia will be using seat belts automatically? Now it is happening because there was a period when it was enforced and people fined. So a fining system for people jumping the traffic queues should be enforced.
3. The last issue I want to bring up is the plight of EFSTH because it is in a really bad state!! I work there myself and believe the government should give it a priority from day one. This is because as we wait, people are going through unimaginable suffering and some even dying unnecessarily. There should be no time wasted! Things have actually remained the same or even worsened over the past few months. In the past regime, doctors had spoken and were made enemies!! The simple fact is that we cannot see people suffering and dying unnecessarily without speaking out. The past regime could sleep when they knew people were dying simply because of cheap consumables e.g. gauze or cheap medications or lab tests. Will this government be able to sleep without taking drastic actions ‘even if for three months only’? Drastic problems need drastic solutions!!!
There are only two ways to rule and be ruled: by using force and brutality or by example and the rule of law. Which one are we going to choose as a people and as a government?
In this regard I will now relate real story which illustrates the above