I was privileged to meet Africa’s political and business gurus and watched as they tabled, discussed and debated on issues surrounding African investments and the way forward for a growing continent. It was at this gathering that I met Senegalese headliner Bousso Dramé who declined a French visa in protest and turned down an international award. It was at this same gathering of new players in an old world that I also met Rapelang Rabana who made it to the cover of Forbes Africa as Africa’s 30 under 30 millionaires and game changers. Being the “new kid on the block” it was a learning experience for me as I noticed that we all shared so much in common as Africans and the “red black nonsense” we encounter daily.
We all have issues with traffic police. My Nigerian colleagues would be quick to add that they own that area and will die defending their right to own it! “Lagos Police is the sh*t!” We’re all miles behind the developed world in terms of Energy and Power. We’re all just finally getting to the curve towards technological growth and innovation. Our reasons were always different but our problems were just a little too similar. It was as if we had all been tied together by the hip; some facing north and others south, east or west. Imagine four people tied to the hip, facing different directions and all trying to walk forwards!
This essay however, is not about Africa and its numerous pitfalls. This essay is on one of our most pertinent issues as Gambians and most likely as Africans. There’s been a furious and lengthy debate over the decades as per colonisation’s negative impact on our growth as Africans and where many accept this truth, countless more believe it is time we grow from it and seek practical solutions to these “problems”. One of Colonisation’s most permanent gifts to us in this part of the world has been the structuring of a civil service (which has also seen the growth of the entire public service). Where the existence of a civil service is inevitable in the modern world, the “civil service” culture is one which benefits no one.
A few years ago, accompanying some E&P investors, I visited certain government offices requesting for some data which was mandatory for the investment to move forward. These investors had a week to collect data which would be further processed when they went back to their main office somewhere in “outer lands” and had little time to waste. My first visit was to an office in the city which still had the look of a 19th century English colony structure on the outside but looked quite decent on the inside…almost like the woman you wouldn’t want to date but would gladly marry, if you’re not into all of that outer beauty nonsense. It took me a little over an hour to finally get to see the man I was there to meet even though an appointment was booked a week before. Apparently, he had scheduled three meetings for the same time (well according to him, his “stupid secretary” had done that). By this time, the investors were smiling in the air-conditioned office, away from the Banjul heat. The “boss”, with the help of his colleagues was able to provide quite a bit of the necessary data but the most essential ones remained unaccounted for. He knew they had them but he just didn’t know where they were. By that time I had almost lost my patience. Knowing they were out of options, the office claimed the data was in some computer which had lost its mind and thus couldn’t retrieve it. Now this data was sensitive and expensive data which would help convince investors to finance undertakings which would create employment and revenue for our economy. Finally, after I used my somewhat novice I.T. expertise, we connected the computer’s hard-drive to another PC and the data was still not to be found. It was then that they realized that the files were not on that computer but on the computer of a certain John Doe who had been fired and had gone away with the files. If I had any hair on my head, I would have torn it out. Fortunately for me, I kept my great looks intact and sought a better solution to our predicament.
Episodes like these continued with some offices performing much better than others. I was most impressed with the availability of the NEA director general and his expertise on subjects of interests plus his knowledge of where everything we needed was. By then it was one Pa Sarr (he insisted we call him just that) and the investors were more than impressed with his knowledge of the global environment and his expertise on his office. Suffice to say, we paid him two more visits before they left for Babylon.
The last office I visited was one I had visited two days earlier. A file I requested was not available and the investors and I were promised it would be availed to us before they left. We headed there hours before their reporting time at the airport and I waited in the car exhausted from the many futile trips to different offices that day, but also happy with the promise I had seen at some departments. Unbeknown to me, the man who had promised us the data was the father of all a-holes. After almost sleeping off in the car, I went into the office only to realize that he had kept these elderly investors waiting the entire time. When asked when we would get the data, his response was simply, “like I told them, and I am now telling you, sit there and wait!” It wasn’t just what he said, but also how he said it. He said it like an emperor sitting in his castle talking to beggars seeking alms. He was the pharaoh to my Moses refusing to “let my data go”. What did I do? What would you have done? I let all hell loose. My anger and frustration bottled up for days all jumbled up into one long verbal essay of obscenities. I said words I never even knew I had in my head. I started and I couldn’t stop! Here was a young man, in a modern world acting like an old suit. He was a small boy wearing “big man pants” and allowed a position to get to his head! I gave him my other side. He wanted me to bend over and take it…not today my brother! You barked up the wrong tree puppy! I explained to him what his job was in the strongest of terms. His look after I paused for my first breath break is one that stays in my memory for the ages. He had allowed a civil/public service culture we had inherited from our colonialist masters to infect and infest him! He had “slave master’s disease”.
To cut a long story short, we got the data five minutes later even though it was not all that we needed. I met him a year after that and he walked right past me his face muscled up into the strangest frown ever. I was scared for my life! “I tell you no lie”.
The civil service all over the world is known for its numerous red tapes and unnecessary bureaucracy. It has made work in the service inefficient and mostly ineffective. I have seen a lot of positive signs as the service gets younger and younger and even better educated. However, processes are still slow as a lot of young people who join the ranks quickly wear robes of arrogance and become so power hungry, they become worse than our colonial masters. Worse still, we’re fast developing a private sector which reeks of the same (if not worse).
What happened to friendly faces and accommodating smiles? What happened to working for the love of country and not the love for self? What happened to not being an a-hole? What happened to humility? What happened to common sense?
With Latirr Carr]]>