The fear of letting go

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With Aisha Jallow

Let us look at some numbers: The estimated life expectancy in Sweden is 82 years and in the US is 77 years. In the Gambia, the estimated life expectancy is only 66 years. There is a huge difference between Sweden and The Gambia, almost 20 years. The average age of people in the whole Africa is low, around 18 years, which means that you have a lot of youngsters and people who are not expected to become very old.

The average age of a politician in Sweden is 46 years compared with the US where the average age is 66 years. When it comes to these numbers, according to The Gambia, I don’t have that information, but I have noticed that people who are politically aware and wish to become involved and make a change, are considered as too young even when they are around their forties. They are talked about as young boys or girls, and that for me is very strange. In the eyes of the law, young people are children until they are 18, and after that they are considered as adults. They might not be as experienced as their older party members, but they will learn if they are allowed to.

It is important for politicians to have experience in the field where they are active. This experience comes with education, dedication and through work. The unemployment among youngsters is too high and the consequences are very hard for young people to become independent. Independency is not only a matter of finances, it is also a matter of being able to make decisions on your own, and owning your mistakes. As long as we keep on considering people, who are 40 or more, as too young and too inexperienced, we are restricting them and making them dependent.


As long as you depend completely on someone else, you will not be able to find your own way through life. You will not be able to make decisions and learn from your mistakes. You will not be able to earn your own money, get your own home and make your own life in your own way. Why is this so important? Because the world evolves and young people get inputs from other countries and societies. They see that young people in other places have a different freedom, and that their opinions matter. Young people have always had an urge to go their own way, to become independent and to create something new. If we don’t meet their needs, we risk to lose our young people. They leave their homes and their countries for a dream of a better life, a life with opportunities.

When the average age of our decision makers is high, we risk that these people have forgotten how it felt to be young and to have a dream. When someone finally has reached a position in The Gambia, this will be held to with one’s claws if needed. We see over and over again that decision makers haven’t only forgotten how it feels to be young, but they have also forgotten how it feels to be hungry, homeless, exhausted after a long walk home in broken sandals. They have forgotten how it feels to not know if they will be able to feed their children, if they can pay for school books and/or fees.

They have forgotten the fear of losing one’s job because someone had been on sick leave because of malaria. They have forgotten how expensive medication and healthcare is. They have forgotten that many people can’t afford to seek a doctor and to buy medication for some life-threatening illness. They have forgotten that women die in childbirth because they can’t afford to go to a hospital with a professional maternal ward.

They have forgotten that still young girls become circumcised in secret, risking their lives becoming infected by unclean tools. These girls’ risk to die at childbirth because of the circumcision is not allowing her lower body to open up fully so the baby can be born. These official secrets we don’t speak about, and that could have been dealt with politically, kill young women every year.

So, what about all the numbers at the beginning of this essay? They show that in my society, people have time to get educated, have a job, get experienced, make a career and finally being able to enjoy old age. In The Gambia, where the estimated life expectancy is so much lower, people don’t have time for all of this because almost 20 years of their lives is taken away. 20 years is a long time, where you would be able to achieve a lot, but your society doesn’t allow you that because your life is so hard. Have you ever thought about that from my point of view? That you are robbed on 20 years of your life? Of course, no-one of us has any guarantee for how long we will live, but still, we can look at the statistics and consider them for a while.

Experience in any field doesn’t come to you through a miracle. You don’t suddenly wake up one day as a business manager, a professor or a politician. Oh, I forgot! Barrow somehow did… hmm…that’s another story. Anyhow; to be able to succeed in any kind of career you must begin with the foundation: your education. You must learn a lot of different subjects, but you must also learn to believe in yourself and your own capacity. If no-one tells you that you are skilled in some field, you will not know. You might have a hunch, but you will not know for sure as you have never learned to trust yourself. If you are taught to obey, stand in line, wait for your turn without knowing for how long, always listen to the elders and do as you are told even if what you are told is wrong – when will you learn to do right?

Experience comes with training and that begins in early childhood. I am not saying that young people should disobey and never wait for their turn. What I am saying is that those of us who are older must allow the young ones to train in being responsible and caring. They are the ones who will take over the world one day, and what have we taught them? To grab whatever, you can whenever you can? To lie, to cheat, to stay in power no matter the consequences and how old, sick and tired you are? We need to prepare the young ones to become good citizens, we must be role models for them, but are we that?

As long as the life expectancy in The Gambia is as low as 66 years, we don’t have all the time in the world to let our youth wait for their turn. We must be able to let go, let go of our own positions and allow others to take over. If we have trained them well, they will do a good job. It is about time to change our mindset, letting go of our ego and allow our youth to step up. Every journey begins with the first step, when will we allow our youth to take that step?