South African inspiration and influence in the Gambia

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When Dube performed at the Independence Stadium in Banjul in 2000, the then president Yahya Jammeh showed his party side.

“Jammeh was dancing (during Lucky Dube’s gig) like he was in his living room in front of the family. I had never seen the president that happy,” said Eric Jallow, a cab driver from the capital city of Banjul.

When Dube died, Jammeh was one of the African leaders who sent condolences to the Dube family.

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Years later, in 2015, Dube’s daughter Nkulee Dube performed at an Africa Day special in Banjul. During Jammeh’s last years, Nkulee would perform in Gambia at the invitation of the president.

On 1 May, International Labour Day, a public holiday known as Workers’ Day in other parts of Africa, but for many, it was business as usual and nothing amazing in Serrekunda, a sprawling tourist town the size of a village in South Africa.

“With Jammeh in power, we would have been in a national party mood. He was strict but good at unwinding when necessary,” said Jallow as we arrived at the beach in Sarakunda.

Jammeh, according to international media reports, was oppressive while in power between 6 November 1996 and 19 January 2017.

Like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, in 2013 Jammeh withdrew the Gambia from the Commonwealth.

In what could be a message of good hope for Zimbabwe, Gambia returned to the Commonwealth with current president Adama Barrow in 2018.

Under Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe is seeking the same after Mugabe’s withdrawal in December 2003.

Jallow added: I am one of those who miss Jammeh. I’m sure there are many out there who feel the same because the economy is not working.

According to the United Nations, Gambia has a population of 2.64 million as of 2021, slightly more than Botswana’s 2.3 million which is about 51 times bigger than the Gambia, but has about 70% of its land covered in desert.

While Botswana is one of Africa’s fledgling economies, Gambia is one of the world’s poorest nations, having a gross national income (GNI) per person of about R7 920.

In fact, as a result of the country’s rapid population expansion, the absolute number of the poor has increased during the past few years by 150 000 and 48.6% of the population now lives in poverty.

“I can’t survive here, I’m thinking of going to Senegal,” said a waiter at a hotel in Banjul. Gambia, somewhat like Eswatini and Lesotho, is almost surrounded by Senegal. Locals understand this comparison because South African history is taught in the school syllabus.

Francis Henron, a Liberian working in the Gambia, said: There’s some South African historical influence here. There’s Steve Biko FC, Sarafina up to now is one of the most popular African films. School children are exposed to Sarafina.

Steve Biko FC competes in the Gambian Football Association (GFA) league first division, the country’s top flight.

They last won the league in 2013. Currently, they are 13th and as of this past weekend were on a stretch of three draws, and two defeats in their last five games.

In a small town called Brufut near the city of Serrekunda there’s the Madiba Mall, one of the modern structures in an area still dominated by colonial building designs from the 1960s.

It’s operated like a regular mall in most African cities where one finds retail shops, offices, banks and other recreational facilities such as restaurants.

In Banjul, the capital, one finds the 400-metre-long Nelson Mandela Street, one of the major roads that cut inside the country’s commercial hub.

Senegambia

In December last year, there was a foiled coup attempt in the Gambia.

Had it succeeded, it would have been the second after the 1994 one that brought Jammeh into power ousting Dawda Jawara, the independence president.

This was the third coup attempt since 1981.

Out of the three, the 1994 one which brought a then 29-year-old army lieutenant Jammeh into power was successful.

But the 1981 attempt to remove the country’s founding father Dawda Jawara was foiled by the Senegalese army.

This led to close ties between the Gambia and Senegal resulting in the creation of Senegambia, to promote cooperation between the two countries.

But the federation was dissolved by Senegal on 30 September 1989 after the Gambia refused to move closer toward union.

Since then, the area has become a tourist destination in the Gambia. It’s popular with Europeans, particularly in November and December.

“Business is low right now even if you see many people. The real business is during the festive season. Europeans, mostly from the Netherlands and Germany, love the Gambia,” said a bar lady at a local hotel overlooking the beach.

Since the 1990s, European women seeking African “toyboys” have made the Gambia their preferred location.

It all began when United Kingdom-based travel agents offered affordable package tours to this little West African nation.

After more than 30 years of hosting thousands of middle-aged European women who visit with the goal of engaging in sex tourism, the government wants to shed its image as a sex tourism hotspot.

The former British colony said it was now attempting to draw in “quality” tourists. However, in Senegambia, the trend is still there.

“There are no jobs. What do you expect, if I find one happy one I wish to be taken to Europe,” said Toni Kamara, a 23-year-old failed footballer.

He told News24 that he gets money from women who visit from time to time because, “I am good with the old ladies.”

The government issued a statement discouraging sex tourism but it’s not working.                                          

Source: News24