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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Student politics at University of The Gambia:Constructive or destructive unionism?

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By Kaddy K. Saidy

Section 42 of the Tertiary and Higher Education Act of 2016 established the University of The Gambia Student Union which shall be governed within the limits and spirit of the provisions of the constitution which seeks to further academic excellence, support good initiatives and promote values of an open society, national service and outside the university and to prepare ourselves for a successful and inspiring future.

It’s a competent body to engage the university administration and any other institution, corporation or association within and outside The Gambia regarding any matter that affects or is likely to affect the interest and general wellbeing of the students of the University of the Gambia.

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This Act of Parliament gave birth to student politics at the University of The Gambia and has been a topic of discussion and debate for many years. The University of The Gambia is the first public university in the country and has a student population of over 4,000. With such a large student body, it is no surprise that student politics plays a significant role in the university’s culture and environment.

The birth of UTGSU politics

Student politics at the University of The Gambia is primarily centered on the student union, which is an elected body that represents the interests of the students. The student union is responsible for organizing events, advocating for student rights, and providing a forum for students to express their opinions and concerns. One of the main issues that student politics at the University of The Gambia has focused on is the quality of education. Students have been vocal in their criticism of the university’s infrastructure, teaching quality, and lack of resources. The student union has organized protests and demonstrations to draw attention to these issues and to advocate for improvements.

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Another issue that student politics at the University of The Gambia has addressed is student welfare. Students have raised concerns about the high cost of living, lack of accommodation, and inadequate healthcare facilities. The student union has worked to address these issues by negotiating with the university administration and government officials to provide better support and resources for students.

Student politics at the University of The Gambia has also focused on broader political issues affecting the country. Students have been active in advocating for democratic reforms, human rights, and social justice. The student union has organized campaigns and events to raise awareness about these issues and to mobilize students to take action.

Reports have claimed that, student politics at the University of The Gambia has not been without controversy. There have been instances of violence, intimidation, and corruption within the student union and among student political groups. These issues have led to calls for greater accountability and transparency in student politics and for reforms to the student union’s structure and governance then giving birth to party politics in the university.

The genesis of party politics and its implications

Speaking to a former campaign manager of team Alliance on party politics, he highlighted the structuring of Team Alliance was formed due to the marginalization of Brikama to access certain resources and academic opportunities which is still persistent interested most people in Brikama. However, they believe that the University of The Gambia should provide equal opportunities and create a conducive environment for teaching and learning. The people that championed this are, Alieu Khan, Alasana Dukureh, Aziz Nyang, Nfally Fadera, et al. This was pioneered under the leadership of Mr. Alasan Dukureh in 2012 towards 2013.

Team Alliance was to ameliorate and mitigate our concerns. Going into transition, members of team Alliance staged a successful protest against the Management of UTG when VC Kah was in power. This has promulgated most of members into questioning at the NIA office in Banjul. They were labeled as radicals and immoral because few individuals at the  management were leveraging themselves into power.

Further highlighted that the team has faced embarrassment from the government level and even candidates were mimicked with a description “brown tie.” Our presidential candidate faced series of allegations which stifled their ability that they are a political camp with an agenda. “Some allegations are subjective and open for debate and allow moral rationale to judge.  We were caricatured, smeared, and cyber-attacked which I was a victim of during the last presidential election as the general campaign manager”.

“Tracing back the history as far as student leadership is concerned, Team Alliance has ever been providing good leadership not by words but action oriented. To your surprise, I joined the camp well before my enrollment into university because I passed through Gambia College as well. Our leadership tracing from Dampha’s era, Jassey we’re all proactive and have the ability and willingness to steer the affairs of the students. Leadership is people’s business and two buses were procured through our leadership, Endowment fund, UNDP internship program was through our leadership”.

First female president

In 2018, the UTGSU experienced the first female president of the Union from the School of Journalism and Digital Media but everything wasn’t a smooth ride for her as Fatou Jeng stated that “the politics of character assassination by students at the UTGSU is despicable “. When she was running for presidency in 2018 and the same trend continues to happen up to date as during her campaign period”.

She said, “disappointed to say the least that sanity doesn’t exist in UTGSU politics anymore. I fear for the future our country if we don’t change this trend. One can debate on policies without having to attack a person’s persona”.

Fatou has been the only female president in the history of UTGSU in the 2018 and faced a number of challenges as a female contesting for the top office as a student in the university of the Gambia Students Union. With the high rate of gender norms, stereotypes and unequal power dynamics, she has endured verbal abuse, bullying etc., this exposes her to anxiety, depression, and anger and low self-esteem.

The birth of the Solution and Salvation to tame Alliance

Team Alliance has been the majority party in student politics in the university until in 2021 when the opponent team Solutions joined arms with team Salvation to bring down the mighty rule of alliance where the most assumed competent candidate Omar Champion Cham with majority support lost to his opponent Lagamy Gumaneh in one of the most contested elections of student politics.

This election was seen as a turnover for Team Alliance who still struggle to come to power in 2022 again and lost to Team Solution-Salvation with none of their candidates winning a single spot in the union.

Strangely, this party politics has done more damage as it led to the introduction of party politics in the sub-Associations in the various schools and faculties of the university. A clear depiction of the distasteful politics at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences’s Team Panacea and Team Solutionist election and Law Faculty’s Team Democrats and Team Patriots election where character assassination was the order of the day in WhatsApp groups and even during the convention day where sensitive and unwelcome statements emerged from the contestants and audiences when candidates were giving out their manifestos.

These unscrupulous political affairs across the university and among students have and still breeding unhealthy relationships leading to enmity and hatred of an immense degree that defeats the purpose of the establishment of the university and the student union. As the development of the nation rests on the shoulders of the citizens, if the development is to come about, then sanity must be instilled in the hearts and minds of these young dynamic individuals and not allowing party politics to divide and put the future of the university and the country at stake.

The integrity of our future leaders continues to be questioned if the politics of the students continues to trend as it is, with character defamation, leakages of secrets, and a lot more distasteful activities all geared towards attaining positions in the student union.

Student politics at the University of The Gambia as an important aspect of the university’s culture and environment providing students with a platform to express their opinions and concerns and to advocate for their rights and interests should be conducted in a peaceful and democratic manner, with respect for the rule of law and the rights of others. By doing so, student politics can play a positive role in shaping the university’s future and contributing to the development of the country as a whole.

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