Societal pressures 


Dear editor,

You see, colonialism predisposed Gambians to this unhealthy attachment to government positions. Back in the day, it was a prestige to be a mere clerk for the British because in those days, few people in the colonial space could read or write in the colonial language. And so those who could read and write and worked with the colonial masters were sometimes the envy of others. That’s why you still hear simpleminded government functionaries and their minions claiming that those of us who criticize people in government are just jealous of them. The colonial mindset is still pervasive! It goes beyond the ridiculous wigs our learned ones maintain unyielding fidelity to! You take many of these folks out of government and they cannot survive on their own. That is why you will see someone go from being so-called ambassador to the US, then So-called Minister of Defense and then So-called ambassador to Mauritania. Anywhere else, this would be seen as a huge demotion but Barrow and Jammeh toyed with many of these folks because they know these folks can’t survive on their own. That is why serving in the government is also seen as a reward for “sacrificing for the nation.”

Because the African has been trained to think that mastering the ways of the colonialists means one is better than other Africans who haven’t mastered the ways of the master, some of the few clerks that worked with the colonialists saw themselves as the envy of many. As many more people mastered the ways of the masters, being a clerk wasn’t just as prestigious anymore. With time, even being a mere civil or public servant wasn’t anything to brag about anymore. One had to be in a civil service position that inspired acclaim and that required a more prestigious position. And the higher one was in the colonial government, the more the prestige. And the more the prestige, the more the societal pressure. Again, one has to be moored to strong values not to succumb to the hype and settle for debauchery. That is difficult if you present yourself as an “honorable” who is doing better than most.


After the colonialists tricked us into believing that they don’t control us anymore, outside of being president, nothing else inspired acclaim more than being a minister! To this day, for many in the civil service, being minister is the height of their dreams. Government positions are/were prestigious, but for many, being a minister is the most prestigious government position. That’s why to this day, government positions, especially becoming a minister is a national obsession of sorts. And because many think that getting degrees is how one climbs the government ladder, bagging meaningless degrees became an obsession of its own. Not necessarily to be able to perform one’s functions well, but to be able to move up the ladder and feel the prestige. The title of our position matters more than the skillset required for that position. That’s why when you ask for bios from us, most of our accomplishments are on “degrees we bagged” and positions we held. Skills be damned. It’s all about the prestige.

Regardless of how accomplished many Gambians are/were, it never compares to being a minister. You could be the international president of Dog Catchers International but in The Gambia, you are never as important as the honorable minister. See how deferential people are when ministers come to any gathering. Only the president is more important. Nothing is as more prestigious as being minister. Only the presidency is. That’s why sometimes you’ll see highly accomplished individuals abandoning their positions abroad to come and be a minister. It’s not about the money for many of those because they’re already rich. It’s about the prestige. Let me also say that not everyone claiming to have abandoned good-paying jobs elsewhere to come and work for his country is telling the truth. I mean unless we count taxi-driving in America as a good paying job.

Alagie Saidy-Barrow