By Musa Bah
Returning from a trip to Dakar in the early hours of yesterday, I witnessed a scene of want, poverty and the ugly consequences of corruption. These images transported me through the fifty-two or so years that we have been an independent nation. And I daresay, the journey – through time – was not a pleasant one. It left me disappointed, angry, ashamed, furious and ….
After handing over my ferry ticket to the guard who is stationed at the gate of the terminal for that purpose, I moved in the teeming crowd and reached outside. Directly in front of me, a Pajero was parked blocking the way of passengers as on either side, there was what could almost be described as a small river of rancid, muddy water. The crowd moved ever so slowly as the path was too narrow for any smart maneuvering.
The vehicle parked on the passengers pass way represented the poor management and ineptitude of the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if a vehicle is parked where the people are supposed to pass, it will create an inconvenience. The large number of people that disembark from the ferry needs a wide thoroughfare to pass without let of hinderance. Thus, the management should have anticipated that, and not allow some feel-too-good ‘gentleman’ to park his expensive vehicle there.
As I negotiated and passed the huge crowd, I was assailed by yet another ugly scene right in front of the gate. A fiftyish lady dressed in an immaculate white dress was walking slowly on the side road. A pick-up truck coming from the direction of the Gambia Revenue Authority tried to negotiate and avoid the river on the road. Then the pick-up bumped, and the wheel landed on a pothole filled with muddy and smelly water. It splashed and sent sprays of reddish water high which finally landed on the lady’s white dress. (“Woye sama ndey! Yow sa chaa…” The invectives that followed are better imagined than heard.
The streets of Banjul, after half a century of independence are nothing to write home about. In front of the Gambia Revenue Authority, OUR REVENUE HOUSE, one sees first-hand the terrible condition of our one and only city. Last year, while I passed that same place, the condition was as bad as you can imagine. I wrote about it then and spoke about it on my radio talk show. An official of GRA scolded me, saying that I was tarnishing their image. I replied that I will do it again and again and again until they take up their responsibilities and managed the place well. Bear me witness, O Reader! I am writing about it again.
As I was engaged in recollecting my conversation with that official, an expensive looking car with tinted glasses cruised by. It was a huge and beautiful car which almost reminded me of Babili’s vehicles which I think will be auctioned by the Janneh Commission (or will they be inherited by the new lords?). When it passed, noiselessly as the engine must be new, onlookers marveled at the riches of the (wo)man inside. S/He might be a rich person or a politician. This is what caused a click in my brain to journey through our history of half a century.
Edward Francis Small struggled to organize our people and fight for independence, self-rule, for a life of dignity and prosperity of our collective people. The fight was not an easy one, I surmised, as his efforts would have been thwarted at every turn by the very people he was working to liberate. I read somewhere (perhaps in Nana-Gray Johnson’s The Story of the Newspaper in the Gambia), that he died a pauper. He died a man whose work was not recognized and appreciated by his people – but thank God for small favours, the table has begun to turn as the University of the Gambia is now looking at the work of this great son of the land. In Professor Pierre Gomez’s class of Introduction to Gambian Literature, one can get a glimpse of the great role played by Mr Small.
He is credited with the saying ‘No taxation without representation’. Would that Small see what Gambia has become after having representation and self-rule!
Continuing with my narration, I watched keenly as this very beautiful car rolled by. Again, as the sound was almost inaudible, it almost ran over a young man walking absentmindedly on the road. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn’t even hear the shouts of the people around who thought that the vehicle would hit him. His absentmindedness, a testimony of the biting financial troubles people in this country go through, almost cost him a limb. Perhaps he was thinking of the next meal or how to get money to pay the water and electricity bills or any of the many other difficulties people face in the country. This is what self-rule has brought us all. So far.
I continued to walk carefully, looking here and there with a view to avoiding being splashed with dirty water, towards the garage for Tabokoto. I answered the greetings of people who recognized me and others that were just in the good habit of greeting you whether they know you or not (this group is dwindling rapidly as economic struggles force people to be in a constant state of rush). The streets there and everywhere else in Banjul are characterized by potholes and pools of muddy water which pedestrians must constantly keep in mind if they wish to reach home clean and tidy. That is our story.
Last year, when I was invited to be the guest on the BBC talk show called Today, I was embarrassed whenever we passed a street like that and the journalist from the BBC will comment on it. It showed that we have not registered much progress as far as Bamjul is concerned. Banjul is the capital city of the country and thus it projects what the country is all about. The buildings – many of them at least – are still the colonial type, not only in style but age as well.
Since independence, this city of a few hundred thousands of inhabitants has had city councils led by male mayors and perhaps lethargic government who have not done much to give the it a facelift. I remember a few years ago, Babili showed us plans of Banjul renovated on the Gambia Radio and Television Services which gave some hope that it will soon see a renaissance in its infrastructure. But as the Wolofs say ‘Moom la picha yi di naawee’. It was just a ploy to get reelected. Well, now Banjul has a female mayor in the person of Rohey Malick-Lowe and a Governemnt led by Pres. Adama Barrow who promised to transform this country. We hope that it will fare better in the hands of these new barons. That is why the speech of His Excellency Adama Barrow in Nouakchott, Mauritania where he promised to tackle corruption is so important to us and all Gambians.
I want to remind them, and all concerned that if Banjul were the face of a woman, she won’t have many suitors. Except perhaps suitors who have nowhere else to turn to. Suitors here will signify investors and thus the prospects of the Gambia while Banjul is still dilapidated and gloomy.
Banjul must be given a facelift and managed better.
I want to therefore amend my title to The Agony in Banjul instead of The Agony of Banjul.