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City of Banjul
Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Bridge

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There is such a thing as the older brother complex. For years I have wondered how accurate the term and its description are having never experienced the benefits of an older male sibling. However I am now privileged to watch this occurrence at home.

 

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Since I grew enough to understand the happenings of the world, I have seen this complex dig its fangs into my country. It is a love and hate relationship that is brewed by an unreserved admiration for the land of Teranga. They have been fortunate to be French kissed enough to offer such sophistication and beauty that is only read of in Danielle Steele novels portraying Paris pre-World War II.

 

Where we do not want to be Senegalese or to speak English with the annoyingly sexy French accent, Senegal has been for a long time, the example of what to be for many.

 

I met an investor a couple of months ago interested in his definition of the “New Gambia” who already has operations in Dakar. His first complaint about our brothers was the “ignorance” of the people. I listened as he went on and on about the need to continuously educate and illuminate the people so they understand the workings of the global village of investment and development.

According to my friend, Senegal drains you emotionally and mentally, yet rewards you financially. I told him that “God works in mysterious ways”, for that was probably preparation for him before his endeavours in The Smiling Coast.

 

The last time I wrote anything for the papers, it was “Old Gambia”. The President was His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa with rumours of being crowned king to serve in that capacity until the angels took his last breath from him.

There were three almost permanent police checkpoints between the traffic lights junction and the Bijilo junction, another one going into Banjul, another one leaving Banjul and the occasional heavy checkpoints at different intervals on the highway.

The populace were fighting daily with the tourism security to access our beaches, Solo Sandeng wasn’t late, Adama Barrow was in real estate, companies were looking forward to printing election t-shirts and businessmen had started making orders for green coloured memorabilia for what would be an interesting year. It’s 2017 now and a lot has changed…or not.

 

You see, it is fair to say that we share nothing in common with our older brother save for the common urban language and the border. Of course we share a rich and beautiful history pre-colonialism but we have grown into very different people.

My investor friend claimed there is such ignorance in Senegal that outreach programmes must be developed and invested in for the people to be more aware of the happenings of the world and the structures put in place to direct those happenings. How shocked he will be when he starts to operate in Jollof.

Now a few things are new in The Gambia. The former president is now called by his first and last names only. Adama Barrow now has His Excellency added to his name. Military personnel walk around with their heads bowed low. Green is no longer the colour of the gods and I am back to writing again.

 

Just before the inauguration of President Barrow, I had the pleasure of working with a brother of mine and his investor friend on issues surrounding money and lots of it. Knowing that my brother played a significant “undercover” role in the change of government, I lamented my fears with the new dispensation. It wasn’t a misplaced fear…it was the most genuine of fears. During the transition, I had seen the appearance and reappearance of hungry wolves that saw change as an opportunity to replace powers that existed before…and not in a good way.

This is an issue that I might have the opportunity to delve into in subsequent essays. My friend revealed his own frustrations. He had however, lowered his bar of expectations to avoid further disappointment. According to him, he only wanted three things in the next five years; the freedom to express himself without fear, a consistent yet imperfect power supply and freedom to traverse the length and breadth of the country without being hassled by law enforcement every two hundred meters.

I am looking forward to a follow-up conversation with him. Since my conversation with him, I have refined my expectations to two. In the next five years it is my wish to express myself freely without fear or favor and to continue to live and work in a peaceful atmosphere without unfair interruption. The former however, will require a resignation from my current employer and the latter is left to chance.

 

As a people we must face reality head-on and agree first and foremost that we are a unique people. Over the last few months I have found myself constantly over-exhausted by a desire to take advantage of the possibilities of change to rectify certain systemic wrongs. I have been told time and time again that this is not the time to be tired.

According to the voices in my head, those that do not want the system to change will do all they can to frustrate you to submission. However, the battle for change is a battle against a wall with its foundation deep in earth’s core, unwilling to move. The battle for change is exhausting!

 

As things settle down in Jollof, it becomes clearer that people did not fight for the same change. Change is a thing of perspective. Our country is one family with a dozen tribes. We can acknowledge the fact that ignorance is one of the key elements of our problem as a nation but it is not the only element.

Of all the things we are ignorant about, the stumbling block to our development is not one of them. None of us are ignorant of the fact that our urban checkpoints are more of money collection centers than security apparatuses (I thought the plural for apparatus was apparati…it seems autocorrect has other ideas). It is clear to every honest Gambian that our leadership has changed but the systems that encourage corruption and nepotism continue to prevail.

 

My job gave me the privilege of meeting His Excellency President Barrow on official matters months ago. I had very little expectations as I drove to Kairaba Hotel that morning. A meeting that was scheduled for 10am started after 2pm. It was however, well worth the wait.

I had half expected a dull and uninspiring afternoon but to my surprise, I met a man that seemed to know exactly what he wanted and how he wanted to get there. I left the meeting feeling inspired and believing that my country was in safe hands. My view was not out of bias or political persuasion, but out of sincere assessment.

 

Weeks later I would however observe that our country is yet to settle under one leadership. I believe it is important that the role of the media be emphasised in showing the people that our transition is still ongoing and that our peace and security is yet to settle. We are still at a crossroads…a scary crossroads. Over the years, we have watched key institutions and establishments hijacked by ineptitude, inexperience (in doing the right thing), and unwarranted arrogance.

It is fair to say that this hasn’t changed. It is my fervent hope that the new administration realises that these things haven’t changed. You do not have to be in the system to acknowledge the fact that two things have happened; old system corruption and ineptitude still holds on to a bulk of our economy and new system corruption and ineptitude holds on to the other bulk.

 

We are living in the information age and the traditional media must make ground as new media takes hold. Misinformation continues to be the order of the day as the guardians of information try to catch up with the people. We must remember that we are not Senegal. We are a unique nation with a unique history and a unique people.

There are trying times ahead of us and the powers that be must realize that the growing youth population have realised their power and are at war with a system that has to change. The Gambia might be divided by politics, tribe and social hierarchy but the youth are united by the desire for a future which they can survive in. It is clear that this is not a desire that they are willing to compromise on. Perhaps that is a similarity we now have with our neighbours.

It is not in anyone’s interest for any government in our country to fail. Failure of government is in essence failure of self. Government must however find the will to succeed within to be far greater than the will of the people. One is nothing without the other. Our country must find a way to minimise the noise and amplify the sound. There are too many people that spew unprocessed knowledge which only “miseducates” the masses and further deepens our issues.

 

Our country is going through a fragile and sensitive period which will last a while. However, systemic change cannot be a gradual process. Vampires are like mosquitos. They adapt to change as long as the change is gradual. Our youth have evolved and our country must evolve with it.

Unless the vampires and wolves of our time realise and acknowledge this truth, we continue to live in a country whose peace and security is as fragile as time…and stability is the most solid foundation for any development.
TGBA

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