State and Society in the Gambia Since Independence:

47

The Gambia: Essays on Contemporary Issues and Future Direction (s): 1965-2011

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By Dr Cherno Omar Barry,
President of Writers Association of The Gambia

Abdoulaye Saine is a retired Professor of African Studies and International Political Economy, Department of Political Science at Miami University (Ohio, USA). Ebrima Ceesay is an independent researcher on Gambian Politics. He has written on issues surrounding the military, democratisation, and human rights in Africa. Ebrima Sall was the Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

EXCERPT

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Introduction

Improbable Gambia: Three Dialogical Strands

Rarely perhaps, has a small country with a pedigree of insignificant geopolitical value, evoke a continuum of contrasting perceptions of its postcoloniality. The core of these perceptions is predicated on what could be labelled as three dialogical strands. The first pertains to early doubts surrounding Gambia’s ‘improbable’ post-independence survival. Nestled inside Senegal, the shape and size of The Gambia illustrate fictional ambiguities of colonial state creation and the frames of its enduring legacies. The artificial constructs of The Gambia was perceived to impose so many limitations to its capacity to sustain itself that the euphoria of the prospect of independence was lost in the maze of fear and uncertainty. Some of the misgivings were reflected in the narratives of colonial officials and subsequent historical documentations of the country’s social and political struggles.

Early literature on The Gambia provides glimpses into the state of the Gambian colony at the dawn of independence. As the smallest of the British West African colonies, The Gambia had a shaky foundation to statehood. Like many other colonies, its economy was weak, infrastructure negligible and impoverishment steeped in rural and urban communities. But unlike other colonies, Gambia’s accumulated dysfunctional infrastructure and its ridiculous size gave rise to a perception that it was not capable of independence and that its eventual cooptation into Senegal was not a matter of if, but when. And so notwithstanding its affirmation of ‘self’ and clamours for a separate political identity, the Gambian colony was rendered by colonial sceptics as a ‘geographic and economic absurdity’ incapable of standing ‘alone as an independent nation.’ The consensus was that the colony was in bad shape and so pointing the economic realities that it was difficult to be optimistic about its social and political futures.

For Empire’s officialdom, Gambia’s sleepy and non-confrontational social system provided a source of solace and assurance for the prospects of imperial continuity, especially when subjects in other colonies showed streaks of ‘disobedience.’ Yet, despite Queen Victoria’s proclamation of Gambia as that ‘dear, loyal little place,’ the social and infrastructural settings of the colony were so desperate that its viability as an independent state was increasingly being doubted. Richard Burton, the idiosyncratic British anthropologist had very early on gone to lengths to capture the ’emptiness’ of the Gambian colony, describing Bathurst its seat of power, as ‘nothing but mud, mangroves, malaria and miasma.’ But beneath Burton’s observational mockery lay a thicket of challenges and difficult choices that subsequently caught up with the country’s nationalist leaders. Some of the challenges were to be later lamented upon by President Franklyn D Roosevelt during his brief stop-over in The Gambia en route to Morocco in 1943.

The doubts had a ring of bother and at some stage its leadership was compelled to explore modalities of a merger with Senegal. Of course this did not happen. The chorus of improbable statehood was also enhanced by the almost lackadaisical attitude of the local nationalist leadership and the innocent naivety in which they composed themselves. Pace of life was slow and lacking in urgency, exacerbated perhaps, by what Mahmood Mamdani calls a decentralised colonial despotism. All these colluded to shape views that suggested that ‘in a more rational world Gambia would simply not exist as a separate entity.’ This dark picture was in contrast to the resilience and excitement of the dawn of self-rule that anchored many colonies elsewhere in Africa. On February 18, 1965, the improbable did happen. The Gambia became the world’s 115th independent nation. In April 1970, the struggles for independence were near complete when the new nation was baptised as a sovereign republic.  

The second dialogical strand relates to nationalism and the rhetoric of post-colonial optimistic ambitions. This emerged from the euphoria in the attainment of independence. Aligned to it was the conviction that despite its size and limitations in revenue generating portals, The Gambia could be steered into a peaceful progressive republic capable of standing in shoulders to and friendship with nations and powers in Africa and beyond. To negotiate this, the country needed a kind of a persuasive grand narrative that appealed to expectations of the local citizenry and obligations towards the international community. But The Gambia had neither the influence, nor the geo-strategic location to entice international political interests. What emerged from a novice political leadership was a vision that combined advocacy for peace, respect for human rights, international values, and a pragmatic non-confrontational foreign policy.

The first opportunity to pitch this to the world arose on September 25, 1965, when Dawda Jawara, then Prime Minister, addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on the occasion of Gambia’s admittance to the world body. The sense of pride and humility of the occasion, Jawara noted, was particularly poignant in the knowledge that ‘without ever departing from the path of peaceful and orderly progress, The Gambia has taken its rightful place in the family of nations.’ With peace and order recognised as the operating decimals of the successful struggles for independence, Jawara went on further to suggest that these elements would remain the determinants of Gambia’s postcolonial engagement with the world:

Whilst admitting that The Gambia has many problems, particularly economic and financial, I take comfort from the fact that, having regard to the sympathy and impartiality which characterise the brotherhood of nations, my country is no longer alone in her struggles now that she has gained admission to this society.           

In subsequent years, the rhetoric of peace, democracy and liberal internationalism permeated through Gambian officialdom. Following the 1966 referendum to abolish the constitutional monarchy inherited from Empire, the defeat of the ‘yes’ campaign of the ruling People’s Progressive Party added credence to the claims that the country was forging ahead to a democratic culture, where the values of freedom are generally adhered to. This did not escape the influential West Africa magazine, which editorialised that ‘Gambians can take pride in this glorious quixotic assertion of democracy of a kind that is increasingly rare elsewhere on the African continent.’ For most part of the 1970s and 80s, the values set out by Jawara at the onset of independence helped strengthen Gambia’s image in Africa and beyond. Notwithstanding some of the democratic deficit that stained Jawara’s administration the appropriation of liberal internationalism and human rights values as selling points was a relative triumph for a country whose survival as an independent state was earlier pronounced as improbable.  

The third dialogical strand is represented in the promise and perils of ‘democratic constitutional’ governance in the Second Republic. The period was ushered by interruptions in democratic governance following the July 1994 military coup. The coup brought end to the strand of progressive peace fronted by the leadership of the First Republic. Prior to 1994, The Gambia and Senegal were the only two countries in West Africa which had managed to escape the sequences and disorder of the military coup phenomena that had bedeviled the sub-region. Gambia’s coup bore a subtle irony; it was both a surprise and predicted. Surprise because there was an assumption that constitutional democracy had been so deeply implanted in the country’s political culture that a coup was unnecessary and unlikely; that the electoral process provided a reasonable platform through which the voices of reform could be channeled; that in a society where minimum thresholds for civil liberties are visible alternative frameworks for progressive dialogue are also assumed to exist.

The military coup was also predictable given that the very democratic values The Gambia was eager to be referenced by had been compromised so much so, that electoral change within the existing institutional order was not deemed feasible. The military rule was short live, but its legacy continues to define The Gambia. During this period, a coercive mindset of authoritarianism was introduced culminating in the destabilisation of the values espoused by the second dialogical strand. The images of the first dialogical strand – those that questioned the very survival of the Gambian state – began to resurface, mutating in a new regime of doubts occasioned by the erosion of those very selling points that allowed The Gambia to negotiate a rare status in international society during the First Republic. In essence, what the third dialogical strand has done is to relapse The Gambia into the dilemma and fears of sovereign unfulfillment.

What, then, it might be asked, are the significance of the three dialogical strands to this volume of essays? The dialogical strands are a personification of a sequential historicity of the Gambian state and the discourses this has or is likely to generate in the academe and other circles. In respect of this volume, most of this is explicitly or by implication, underlined by the rationale and central questions of its chapters. The dialogical strands, then, capture the unfolding history of Gambian post coloniality, and in effect, the frames upon which the searching enquiries of this volume are anchored. In particular, the strands have had, and continue to have, considerable influence in the focus and direction of scholarship on modern Gambia. This is because the specificities and particularities of each dialogical strand produce research potential that inspires scholars and scholarly works. And for the most part, this has shaped the guideposts of the evolution and estuaries of Gambian scholarship.

Evolution and Estuaries of Gambian Scholarship

Scholarly engagement with the geographical appellation of the Senegambia area has had a long history significantly predating colonial and European missionary adventures. With its proximity to North Africa and once a distinct and vital constituent of both the Mali and Songhai empires, modern day Senegambia featured in the accounts of Arab and North African geographers and historians most notably Ibn Battuta and Al-Idris. Ibn Battuta spent the middle half of the fourteenth century travelling around and chronicling the social settings of the region, networking with its local Muslim scholars and oral historian. This was followed by the Portuguese explorer Alviste Cadamosto in 1455. About three centuries later Mungo Park, the Scottish cartographer, reached the Gambian River in June 1795 from where he sent serious dispatches on the ways of lives of the people. Park subsequently returned to the Senegambia area in 1805 from where he eventually met his death.

But since then, epochs in modern or contemporary Gambian academic scholarship have been difficult to sketch, let alone determine. This is in no way due to boundless existence of variety and choices in the extant literature. The reasons point to the dearth or narrow projections of Gambia specific research. A stream of factors could be attributed to this. It is widely accepted that the conception and promotion of scholarly research is largely the prerogative of academic institutions. In them, exist, the institutional arrangement and the motivation to explore and enquire. Until 1996, The Gambia had no accredited university or equivalent institution. The main higher education college in the country – The Gambia College (formerly Yundum College) – had a limited mandate by virtue of its founding charter and resource constrains. And with the desperation for service delivery immediately following independence the focus of the College was purposely calibrated to help mitigate the need for specialized professional training for nurses, teachers, agricultural extension specialists and community development workers.

So as regards the academic realm, Gambians had to, prior to 1996, venture abroad to acquire university education and academic training. This was expensive and a privileged opportunity available to a very few. This, of course, had considerable impact on the academic ambitions of individuals, and by extension, the country’s intellectual growth. The dearth of Gambia specific research and the long absence of home grown academic outlets or university equivalent institutions meant that the immediate years proceeding political independence had been Gambia’s ‘lost decades’ of academic growth, explaining perhaps why The Gambia has comparatively with its sub-regional neighbours lagged much behind on this front. In this sense, epochs on Gambian scholarship are not axiomatic. Perhaps the closest to a possible determination of any such epochs is that the evolution and estuaries of Gambian specific research have seemingly followed a certain gradation shaped by the three dialogical strands. The gradation could be classified in what may be viewed as first generation, second generation and third generation scholarship. It must be emphasized from the outset that this categorisation is not exhaustive, and its underlining rationale is to provide an overview of scholarship on The Gambia and the respective methodologies that characterise it. Also the timelines associated with each category is meant to offer a guide on the period that has shaped its scholarship.

Editors:

Abdoulaye Saine, Ph.D. [email protected]

Ebrima Ceesay, Ph.D. [email protected]

Ebrima Sall, Ph.D. [email protected]

The first-generation scholarship represent a category of scholars whose overriding objectives was to document, render commentaries and forge synthesis amongst the ensemble of social challenges, political formation and economic difficulties during colonial rule and in the run up to independence. This category though not entirely composed of initiated academics, had nonetheless the sufficient grounding that provided it the tools with which to conduct research and interpret findings. Amongst them were historians, social-anthropologists and a random corps of travel journalists who offered intriguing, yet stereotypical travellers’ accounts of the lives and livelihoods of the natives. First generation scholarship spanned the period 1900-1969 with key proponents including Sir John Gray, Harry A. Gailey, Berkeley Rice, and David Gamble. Through their combined and individual works first generation scholars undertook the cumbersome task of editing and annotating valuable primary sources on The Gambia.

Gray’s History of the Gambia was perhaps the first major compendium of the time to undertake an ambitious historical synthesis of Gambia’s socio-economic settings. Gailey’s A History of The Gambia was unsurprisingly, both remarkable in its affirmation of Gray’s as it was distinct from it. In Enter Gambia, Berkeley Rice added an important dimension which attempted to shift the focus, perhaps unsuccessfully, from an archive-laden scholarship to one that was conscious of the political transformations and challenges of statehood. The role of David Gamble in this mix has been both recuperative and affirmational. A distinguished scholar, Gamble has had numerous research missions and publications on The Gambia beginning with a 1949 monograph, Contributions to the Socio-Economic Survey of The Gambia. In subsequent decades Gamble supplemented and updated Gray’s volume and has in the process, assembled an impressive collection of primary materials most of which have been generously made available in an online monographic series. Particularly intriguing about the series is the use of oral Gambian history.

It is worth noting however, that although first generation scholars did galvanise some relative interest in Gambia specific research, their works embody a kind of an ‘elitist historiography’ that offer insights into the colonies in a style and methodology that is neither critical of empire, nor sufficiently reflective of the deeper social plight of subjects in the Gambian colony. In some instances, aspects of the scholarship lack analysis, nuance and objectivity. This has meant that a huge part of its lines of enquiries were framed around the simplistic narrative of the first dialogical strand. So, despite some of its distinguished collections, first generation scholarship had been largely unable to advance beyond explicating and sanctifying documents and documentaries of the Gambian colony. Seen this way, first generation scholarship has been at best, a resourceful escritoire – capable of documenting, but incapable of advocacy.

The second generation scholarship arguably constitutes the first corps of scholars to attempt a serious intellectual engagement with The Gambia. Their aim, it appears, was to adopt a professional, analytical, yet non-confrontational approach, to the study and periodisation of events and developments in The Gambia. The intellectual abilities of this category of scholars allowed them to identify the country’s challenges (especially in the socio-political realms) assess and situate their contextual and broader significance. Their sense of curiosity and perspectives energised them to probe a wide range of issues that have shaped binaries of the second dialogical strand. With analytic tools and a knack for prognosis, second generation scholars have been able to excavate into the underwaters of Gambia’s socio-political foundations. Prominent scholars in this category include, in no particular order, Arnold Hughes, Donald Wright, Kenneth Swindell, John Wiseman, Florence Mahoney, Sulayman Nyang, Lamin Sanneh, Jabez Ayodele Langley, Jeggan Senghor, Tijan Sallah, Omar Touray, Hazel Barrett, Angela Browne, David Perfect and Judith Carney.

The category comprises widely published and highly trained academics and professionals who sought to rescue Gambian studies from the periphery of first generation scholastic residues and steer it into the ‘mainstream’ of research. Although this might not have been the conscious preoccupation of every member of this category, the end results point to it in a number of ways. For instance, in The Gambia: Studies in Society and Politics, Arnold Hughes brings to the fore some of the themes of Gambian social life that had remained largely obscure or invisible in the literature of first generation scholars. Writing subsequent sequels in partnership with David Perfect, this restorative exercise became increasingly profound in both A Political History of The Gambia and Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. Donald Wright’s works differ, but in some ways complement the others. He has explored Gambia in its various habitats, whilst also setting out to establish the social and cultural synthesis amongst the inhabitants of West Africa. In his The World and a Very Small Place in Africa, Wright’s aim is as much the idea of bringing out the strength of localism as it is the illustration of the expanding frontiers of the global in the local.

The works of the late John Wiseman have the unique attributes of straddling all the three generations. With numerous books on Africa and over a dozen articles on The Gambia, Wiseman had acquired extraordinary expertise on The Gambia over three decades of scholarship. Langley’s Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa remains an essential read, whilst Florence Mahoney’s doctoral thesis on Government and Opinion in Gambia had long been an indispensable reference for researchers and policy makers. Similarly, Kenneth Swindell’s works represent decades of active research on The Gambia. His most recent co-authored work, Migrants, Credits and Climate 1834-1934, provides a useful addition to Gambia’s political economy. For Sulayman Nyang and Lamin Sanneh, the focus of their early works on The Gambia appear to mainly engage some of the salient social issues proximate to the individual, society and the family unit. This means that religion (Islam and Christianity) and identity (ethnicity) have been dominant themes in their works. It should be pointed out though their recent works have taken a broader and global outlook. Tijan Sallah’s works embody in a significant way, his multifaceted talent and professions – economist, linguist and poet. These qualities have enabled Sallah to write on The Gambia from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives. Perhaps most notable amongst his collections are Wollof Ethnography and Economics and Politics in The Gambia. Senghor and Touray are perhaps less ‘proximate’ in their works, examining respectively the politics and challenges of Senegambia integration and the development and direction of Gambia’s post-independence foreign policy. All these works and those not reviewed here have contributed immensely in enhancing Gambian studies.

However, in spite of attempts to intellectualise as well as lend credence to the themes and methodologies of Gambia specific research, second generation scholarship has been pretty much constrained by its narrow focus, and in some instances, disproportionate reliance on colonial archives and contestable official narratives. From this perspective, second generation scholarship is a palimpsest, advancing ahead of first generation scholarship but falling short of critically exploring beyond certain epistemological boundaries. It is also the case, too, that some of the limitations inherent in this category of scholarship are attributed to the spaces, confines and alleyways through which individual authors negotiate their research interests, scope and direction. Second generation scholarship runs roughly through the period 1970-1994. Of course this timeline is neither totalising nor arbitrary. It is merely suggestive of the period that has occupied scholars in this category and the issues arising from it.

The third-generation scholarship epitomises both a seismic shift in Gambian studies and the emergence of what can be described as a counter-hegemonic methodological approach. By counter-hegemonic it is meant an approach that is inquisitorial, confrontational and propositional. Whilst drawing on some of the rapturous dividends of the first- and second-generation scholars, this category is shaped mainly by the third dialogical strand of Gambia’s post-coup struggles. Its scholastic focus seems to be underpinned by the premise that the dilemmas faced by The Gambia are so overwhelming that the traditional focus and methodology of Gambia specific research must be seriously reconsidered if the exacting authoritarianism of the state and its agencies are to be unmasked. Third generation scholarship rejects the elitist historiography of first-generation scholarship and equally cautious of the disproportionate dependence on colonial and contested official archives by segments of second generation scholarship. Thus third generation scholarship significantly differs from the other two categories on a number of tangents.

First, third generation scholarship is increasingly Gambian-led and driven with the advantage of familiarity with language, culture and mindset – crucial factors, perhaps, in averting instances of prejudice and ‘lost in translation.’ Second, third generation scholarship is both critical and subaltern sensitive. Its methodology and thematic focus are amenable to the urgent need to sketch and expose the tragedies of Gambian post coloniality. This is especially important if Gambian scholars and scholarship are to advance towards charting out the means to righting wrongs of whatever form or shape. As Joel Ngugi admonishes in a different context, ‘if third world scholars are serious about bringing about real and effective changes, they must look from outside the existing framework with its inherent biases.’ This is because ‘to carry out emancipation projects…there is a need to challenge more seriously the categories that now construct… discourse and the way they frame issues of resolution.’ And so ‘every time we invoke the categories presented to us by the biased…system,’ Ngugi concludes, ‘we must remember that we cannot use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house.’ Third, and perhaps most crucial, there are patterns of diversity in third generation scholarship, expanding to research areas that had been previous overlooked. The diversity has brought in genera of pedagogies that may exponentially advance the growth of Gambian scholarship.

Third generation scholarship is deemed to have begun from about 1994 onwards, and is still pretty much evolving. Its leading proponents include Abdoulaye Saine, Ebrima Ceesay, Ebrima Sall and Jimmy D. Kandeh. Saine and Ceesay could be viewed as the doyens of third generation scholarship with their respective publications embodying major departures from first and third generation scholarship. For instance, Saine’s extensive publications on politics, democracy and the military in Africa provide useful and refreshing perspectives on aspects of Gambian studies that require serious and continuous probing. In one of his major works, The Paradox of Third-Wave Democratisation in Africa, Saine contextualises the dilemmas of ‘third-wave democratization’ in The Gambia exposing the tension and contradictions that lay in the formulaic nexus between markets, development and governance. In some of his other works, Saine delves into the false premises and promises of ‘democratisation’ by the military and the rise of authoritarianism in The Gambia.

Like Saine, Ceesay has been occupied with the military and ‘democratization’ and with his The Military and ‘Democratization’ in The Gambia, rightly qualifies as the author of what is the most comprehensive study on the subject. Ceesay’s work critically accounts for the deficit of democratic governance in the First Republic and the absurdities and contradictions of the ‘democratisation’ processes by the military in post-coup Gambia. Both Sall and Kandeh have been in various ways seized by these themes and approaches. Sall is arguably the first to seriously engage Gambia’s post-coup politics. In his Gambie: le Coup de’Etat de Juillet 1994, Sall evaluates the context and rationale of the coup and its wider implications on Gambia’s governance and political culture. A co-authored piece, The Military and the Crisis of Governance followed soon after.

There are potentials in third generation scholarship especially its capacity to interrogate, confront and propose alternatives. Its scope too is likely to expand as there is an emergence of a pool of promising young Gambians who have completed or are completing their graduate studies in Africa, Europe and North America. Some have already begun to explore a conflation of themes that undergird the third dialogical strand, whilst others are building on their doctoral theses to tunnel into uncharted research terrains. It is hoped that the emerging talents will add important dimensions to the growth of the literature beyond the limits of the dialogical strands reviewed above. In that way, a serious attempt would have been made in elevating Gambian scholarship and expanding its estuaries. This volume, The Gambia: Essays on Contemporary Issue and Future Direction(s) provides, in a small way, one possible opportunity through which this could begin. 

Rationale of the Book

It is clear by now, that Gambia specific research is in need of a major boost, not least because the country has undergone, for good or bad, substantial transformations in the past decade or so. The nature of these transformations is enormous and their effects have virtually defined every segment of Gambian society. There has been, of course, a noticeable and welcome growth in Gambian studies especially as regards the nexus between the state, society and politics. But the expansion in the scholarship has been almost confined to the same circumference of the line of enquiries that have dominated Gambian studies in the past decade. Consequently, research in other areas remains limited. It is imperative to therefore explore beyond the confines of existing scholarship with the view to capturing and situating epistemologies of areas less represented. This will help broaden the contexts upon which Gambia’s present and future are analysed.

An object of this book, then, has been to assemble high quality multidisciplinary research on The Gambia and by so doing, attempt to bridge the imbalance in the literature especially areas of Gambian society that have been less explored. Furthermore, the book is also the product of a desire to provide an outlet through which recently completed works on The Gambia – by Gambian and non-Gambian scholars – can be show-cased. This is anticipated to be part of the continued efforts to enrich the scope of the literature on The Gambia. The reflection of new estuaries of research would similarly help pluck major gaps in Gambian academic literature. To this end, the volume will hopefully remain a valuable resource not only for scholars and students of African studies, but also a helpful reference to proximate and distant faculties and landscapes. The book will also appeal to a non-academic readership with diverse interests on The Gambia.

Above all, the volume is a culmination of an assemblage of distinguished scholars as well as an impressive pool of emerging talents on Gambian studies. It is the most comprehensive volume that represents the scholarship of all the dialogical strands on Gambian studies. The diversity of the contributors provides a rare kind of coverage on a vast expanse of themes poignant to the challenges and dilemmas of Gambian post coloniality. The themes and their broad lines of enquiries make the volume a timely addition to contemporary Gambian studies. It is hoped that the volume shall be a useful testament to and affirmation of the quality and strength in perspective of Gambian scholarship. The diverse themes may well provide avenues through which to gauge and engage the travails of a small, once improbable, yet intriguing country.

Structure of the Book

Representing what is to date, the most diverse collection of multidisciplinary scholarship on Gambia, this volume is structured around three main parts; Part I Historical Backdrop; Part II Political Economy and External Relations and Part III Socio-political and Literary Perspectives. The contributors are organised generally around this three-part thematic outline. Each contributor could also to a greater or lesser extent be possibly classified in the estuaries of research embedded in the three dialogical strands outlined above. To set the tone of the volume the services of Professor Lamin Sanneh a distinguished Gambian scholar are sourced. Read in conjunction with this introductory chapter, Sanneh’s forward provides an initiation on modern Gambia and the thematic synthesis that have dominated its scholarship.

With the forward setting out the synthesis, the volume opens with a historical grounding. In chapter one, Donald Wright provides an appropriate backdrop on the foundations of modern Gambia. Writing from the prism of the first dialogical strand, Wright attempts to provide a picture of the social and political settings of The Gambia as a colony and at the dawn of independence. Limiting his enquiry to the period spanning 1816 and 1965, Wright chronicles aspects of colonial policies and decisions that became the operative machinery through which the Gambian colony was governed. Like many other so-called second-generation scholars, Wright is of the contention that the colonial structural model in the Gambian colony was to a large extent responsible for the problems and challenges that generated doubts over Gambia’s improbable statehood. Wright’s observations and analyses corroborate Franklyn D. Roosevelt’s observations during his 1943 stop-over in The Gambia that the extent of human poverty and underdevelopment was so vast as to constitute a totalising indictment on the colonial administration. 

The indifference of the colonial machinery to the plights of Gambians was evident in the agrarian economy and the relationship between ‘experts’ and the natives. And so in chapter two, Kenneth Swindell brings to light difficulties and dangers in the reliance on European ‘expertise’ in charting the future of farmers and farming in the colony. Focusing on the period 1900 to 1947, Swindell examines the problems that afflicted the agriculture sector and the attempts made to boost productivity of food crops through limited credit schemes. The highlight of the initiatives, according to Swindell, was the ‘importation’ of European expertise from London. Swindell however argues that European experts found it difficult to relate with farmers because of the cultural and historical baggage brought along by the experts. For Swindell, the inability of the experts to relate with the locals point to an important lesson that although farmers are not averse to innovations, the success of any intervention must be sensitive to indigenous culture and society.

Swindell’s analyses are complemented by Tijan Sallah’s explorations in chapter three, only that in his piece, Sallah concentrates on an often-overlooked human dimension by tracing the origins and development of the strange farmer (seasonal migrant worker) phenomenon from three different periods – pre-colonial, colonial to postcolonial. The thrust of Sallah’s chapter hinges on an undertaking to outline the role of strange farmers in augmenting Gambia’s seasonal labour needs. First though, he draws distinctions between the varying interpretations of the phenomenon emphasising that although seasonal farmers can be labelled as international migrants as they come from different countries, ‘their behaviour and sets of opportunities reflect more significantly internal migrant behaviour.’ In assessing this, Sallah uses statistical data to illustrate the linkages between strange farmers and Gambia’s oldest and most important cash crop – peanuts. The linkages also reveal other broader impacts of strange farmers to income generation in colonial and postcolonial eras.

The post-independence political context upon which the agriculture industry was constituted is explored in chapter four. Here, two leading experts on Gambian studies – Arnold Hughes and David Perfect – examine Gambia’s electoral process since 1960. The chapter documents the eleven parliamentary and six direct presidential elections. The knowledge of the authors enables them to trace and explain the sequences of personalities and political affiliations generated during the period under review. In particular, Hughes and Perfect follow the events that led to the gradual decline of some of Gambia’s foundational independence political parties and the role played by the (shrewd) tactics of the PPP in this. There is also an attempt to show the rise of ‘independent candidates’ as well as the role played by the PPP political bureau in stating their threat as a political force. Intriguing is also the authors’ reference to the significance of the ‘drum and marble’ method of voting – an ingenious creation of two probably eccentric colonial officers. The chapter concludes with a comparative analysis of the first and second republics showing their similarities and divergences.

In chapter five, the volume moves towards a rarely examined, yet crucial aspect of the third dialogical strand. In this chapter, Abou Jeng assesses constitutional law making in Gambia’s Second Republic, an exercise he perceives as ‘recuperative’ given the lamented near absence of serious scholarship in this area. Using constitutional legality as a theoretical and analytic framework, Jeng provides a devastating critique of Gambia’s constitutional law making processes. He begins by sketching the elements of constitutional legality, most of which point to the need for constitutions to embody the sovereign will of the people. But for that to happen, Jeng argues, ‘a constitution must wield authority and provide the normative, institutional and inspirational proclivity towards building a better society.’ The possibility according to Jeng is compromised by constitutional violence and tragedies orchestrated by serious omissions in the constitution as well as the adoption of coercion through the reintroduction of the death penalty, retention of military decrees and incorporation of indemnity (ouster) clauses. What all these show, Jeng concludes, is that the 1997 constitution is not a people’s constitution.

The pessimism and note of frustration in Jeng’s chapter is carried on in chapter six, where two third generation scholars, Abdoulaye Saine and Ebrima Ceesay offer a critical political cartography of the failings of post-coup politics and the rise of authoritarianism. Confining their enquiry to the period 1994-2010, the chapter analyses the nature and effects of the major political developments during this period. Their principal contention is that since the 1994 military coup, The Gambia has been trapped in what the authors call ‘a vicious cycle of authoritarianism and harrowing poverty.’ To establish this, Saine and Ceesay undertake an excavation into the politics of the First Republic, then the military coup and the transition programme to civilian rule, followed by evaluations of the three subsequent electoral exercises. With background materials from their respective earlier publications and recent materials, the authors provide damning observations and critique of the failures and failings of post-coup ‘democratisation,’ and in effect, apportioning blame to virtually everything and everyone responsible for or in complicity with ‘the entrenchment of an authoritarian [Gambian] state.’ On the wider prospects for genuine democracy in The Gambia, Saine and Ceesay conclude that this seem pretty bleak.

Chapter seven introduces the second theme of the volume – political economy and external relations. Writing on trade unions and government in The Gambia, David Perfect examines the role of unionism in Gambian society and politics during the First Republic (1965-1994). First, he sets out the social and economic context upon which the unions operated, pointing out the nature and dominance of the Gambia Workers’ Union. The chapter then examines the reasons for the decline and subsequent revival of the Workers’ Union. In the first part, Perfect briefly shows the restrictions and flexibilities governing unionism and the subsequent amendment to the legislation. Extracting largely from his earlier works, Perfect profiles the activism of leading personalities of the Unions showing their battles with Government especially in their pursuit of fair remuneration and better conditions of service. The decline and revival of the Workers’ Union is analysed and the linkages this had with the unsuccessful bid for political office by its leader. Perfect concludes that the resistance by the Government and the turmoil of the unions meant that unionism was less of a force at independence than during colonial rule.

In chapter eight Jeggan C. Senghor invokes the ‘Senegambia’ experience as the basis for a twelve-point propositional ‘check-list’ for regional integration in Africa. The chapter relies on Senghor’s recent work on the subject, The Politics of Senegambia Integration, as a primary source text from which most of the discussion is abstracted from. The benefit in this approach lies in the ability of the author to explore the Senegambia experience whilst simultaneously providing cautious pointers for wider regional integration in Africa. Naturally the chapter begins with the diversities in the vestiges of colonialism which, Senghor argues ‘are realities that must be confronted in any integration project.’ This is so because the instructive nature of the colonial in the Senegambia experience is pretty much a microcosm of the dilemmas embedded in the historical social settings found in most African countries. Senghor makes some sombre reflections on the role of culture and identity in the making or unmaking of integration initiatives. Particularly intriguing is the continued role of Islam and culture in strengthening shared heritage in Senegambia. The chapter goes on to address other challenges ranging from unity, national statehood, and internal politics to governance and external arbiters.

The focus on Senegambia is pursued further in chapter nine where Martin Evans and Charlotte Ray stray into ‘uncertain ground’ by examining the largely underexplored position and role of The Gambia in the Casamance conflict. The chapter outlines the Casamance conflict showing the multitude of actors and their complex relationships. Having determined the ‘profoundly transnationalised space’ of Casamance, the authors effortlessly establish the impact of domestic and external political developments (especially in Guinea-Bissau) on the Casamance conflict, arguing that although these have led to improved security, the search for a peaceful resolution remains elusive. Gambia’s role in the conflict is assessed first, by a restatement of the historical legacy of what are porous borders and second, in the extent to which this has defined the relationship between the two territories. The chapter adds refreshing perspectives on the economic dimension of the Casamance impasse and how it ‘spills over’ to The Gambia. Contrary to wider assumptions, Evans and Charlotte conclude that Gambian involvement in the Casamance conflict is not ‘a cover for the nefarious activities by the current Gambian regime under President Yahya Jammeh.’

In chapter ten Rebecca Cassidy delves into a recent ongoing controversy of HIV treatment in The Gambia and the politics that defines it. Anchoring her analysis on ethnographic research, Cassidy charts the processes of what she calls the ‘de-pluralisation of HIV treatment’ and the subsequent ‘dramatic re-pluralisation of treatment.’ The chapter reiterates the global prioritisation of HIV treatment and the extent to which The Gambia morphs into it. Using theoretical perspectives and research results, the chapter describes the dynamics of treatment programmes teasing out the lived experiences of people living with HIV. Cassidy’s findings expose certain challenges in the treatment structures and systems noting that these are fundamentally problematic given that ‘when a person enters an HIV clinic as a new patient in The Gambia they enter a mystifying world of numbers and measures, drugs and tests.’ New sets of challenges further emerged when President Yahya Jammeh announced his ‘cure’ for HIV. Cassidy discusses the nature and processes of the President’s treatment exposing the paranoia, distrust and circumstances of fear under which Jammeh’s alternative ‘clinical spaces’ operate within. Whilst admitting that Jammeh’s motivations are impossible to determine, Cassidy suggests that the treatment may well be ‘analysed as a reaction to the encroachment of international agencies and funding into the national arena.’      

Education in The Gambia is the focus of chapter eleven, where Ousman Gagigo analyses the attributes of modern formal education in The Gambia since independence. The chapter reaffirms the importance of free and compulsory formal education in Gambia’s constitutional instruments and the Millennium Development Goals. Gagigo establishes early on that progress towards achieving this goal has not gone smoothly for most developing countries and that for The Gambia this is aggravated by the ‘absence of available formulas for extending quality education to all citizens.’ In a bid to establish the educational challenges faced by The Gambia at independence and beyond, the chapter undertakes an historical overview of the school system, and from this, it provides a documentary analysis of the correlation between the availability of schools and the average level of educational attainment. The chapter uses considerable statistical data and graphs to establish divergences, correlations and varying factors determining access and attainability of education in The Gambia.

In chapter twelve, Cherno Omar Barry sets out to rescue an aspect of Gambian studies that has been in the periphery for far too long. Focusing on Gambian fiction from the 1960s to date, Barry traces the persistent and sometimes painful attempts by Gambian authors and literary enthusiasts in appropriating spaces with the view to exposing their works in the domestic and international spheres. Barry’s assigned task is undertaken first, by assessing the impact of Gambian authors especially that of the late and much lamented Lenrie Peters and second, through an evaluation of the role played by the newspaper industry in the growth of Gambian fiction and literature. The chapter negotiates the diverse works of Peters over many decades. In a way, the chapter provides an opportunity to appreciate the sterling literary qualities of Peters and his preoccupation in enhancing Gambian fiction and literature during his lifetime. The chapter then goes on to discuss the role of newspapers in providing readership and publishing outlets for Gambians and the subsequent demise of the newspapers. Other difficulties relating to publishing are discussed as are the revival of Gambian fiction through emerging talents and publication outlets.

Gambian fiction and literary works thrive on certain social exploits of society, one of which is the relationships between ethnic and social groups. So, in chapter thirteen, Mark Davidheiser examines an old but often undervalued phenomenon of joking relationships. Focusing on South-western Gambia, the chapter establishes the social significance of joking relationships ‘as strategic resources in shifting circumstances and as coping mechanisms’ in the backdrop of ‘tremendous social and physical transformations.’ The relationships are rooted in many cultures and social groups and are typically associated with ‘reciprocal obligations expected and proscribed behavioural pattern and taboos, and intergroup stereotyping.’ The chapter has an interventionist quality to the extent that it ‘aims for an analytical third way situated between macro-level structural-functionalism and poststructuralist perspectives that emphasize agency and micro-level analysis.’ To fulfil this, the chapter uses ethnographic and qualitative data from south-western Gambia, which allows the author to offer insights in the understanding and relevance of joking relations to the lives of rural residents.

Through the inputs of Sylvia Chant and Isatou Touray the volume turns to the sober issue of women and gender in chapter fourteen. Drawing on their individual perspectives and fieldworks, the authors offer an overview of gender roles and relations in The Gambia showing the progress made in gender equality and pointing out some outstanding challenges that need attention. The chapter establishes early on that ‘although most Muslim women in The Gambia are not subjected to the strict forms of seclusion which apply’ elsewhere in Africa, ‘local religious interpretations are still quite conservative.’ What this means, the authors argue, is that The Gambia shares some patterns and commonalities with other Muslim dominant societies. With background materials from their primary fieldwork and recent publications as well as data from international development institutions, the authors analyze the depths of gender disparity through education, employment and subsidiary economic activities. The authors go on to examine the interstices of family and society on gender questions and the extent to which they constrain ‘possibilities for freedom, power and rights.’ The chapter concludes by reiterating the call for reform so as to mitigate gender inequality and ‘dismantle other barriers of discrimination, violence and subjugation which face women.’

Community-based policing is the subject of chapter fifteen, from which Stephen B. Perrot provides a report card on the introduction of this method of policing meant to advance rights and internal security within legal and governance frameworks. With insider knowledge (having served as a consultant to a previous Canada-Gambia initiative) Perrot charts the systemic incompetence, attitude of Government and senior hierarchy of the police office towards the project. To enrich understanding of community-based policing, Perrot traces the rise of the phenomenon through the tenets of inclusion and democratic practices, elements he says are absent in Gambia’s police structure due in part to fundamental disconnects in ethos and priorities. The chapter then proceeds to account for the sequences of events and turning points that culminated in the gradual demise of the project. On the future of policing in The Gambia, Perrot is unrepentantly blunt – it is simply bleak!

Chapter sixteen concludes the volume with a postscript by Sulayman Nyang, a distinguished Gambian scholar.