By Gibril Saine
I write with scathing rage as to the high level of drugs abuse and that of prostitution among the country’s youths tearing-down lives and families apart. In the last ten or so years, there has been an explosive rise in the number of young people using drugs and such addictive stimulants leading to high waves of crime across the country as consequence.
Among young women, prostitution is directly linked to substance abuse. To feed that habit, which don’t come cheap, these girls turn to the ‘night-life’ putting their body and dignity on line in exchange for cash. In Gambia’s case, there is a somewhat subtle side to the story often overlooked. Evidence has shown that some of these girls turn to prostitution, not due to drugs, but to put food on the table for their families, pay school fees, or to meet such financial constraints. That is the shameful reality Yahya Jammeh has subjected young Gambian women to. For no fault of their own, girls are left hanging onto streets to find sources of income by whatever means necessary. That was a decrepit of duty in stark violation of the social-contract on the part of APRC leadership, for which it should stand trial.
Still, a stunning coincidence that cocaine is readily available & all too prevalent on Gambian streets. That is quite painful & to contemplate how the country came to be turned loop-side down and dirtied; tainted by immoral characters. In trying to psychoanalyse Yahya Jammeh – I found a foolish man, although one far from stupid. He sees losing young Gambian men through drug-addiction or the back-way journey into Europe a win-win, thus encouraged. To him, the more ‘destroyed’ youths, the less opposition or adversaries to his misrule, allowing for perpetual grip onto power. That is why APRC never had any credible drug-policy, nor a handle on the back-way menace.
Zero Tolerance Drugs Policy – As a matter of urgency, every single police officer, army and other personnel across the country’s security sector must be subjected to drug tests. This should be a periodic & random exercise given history of substance abuse among serving members of the security personnel. If the Gambia is to professionalise the entire security apparatus, she must weed out criminals so as to inculcate morality & for the return of public confidence.
Recollecting a scene on independence-day 2017, a youth-man was cautioned to put off a marijuana joint as President Barrow took to the podium at the independence stadium. ”Leave me alone, it’s democracy”, he protested, conflating ‘rights’ with the ‘law’. Despite the new dispensation, the Gambian people ought to know that there are limits to human rights. Your ‘rights’ should not infringe on mine, or the ‘general peace’. That include protecting the population against certain acts considered ‘rights’ elsewhere, such as drugs, homosexuality and pornography – I strongly encourage the administration to condemn & criminalise harsh punishments against all three.
In 2004, Portugal was face with a drug epidemic with soaring death rates among the population. The Lisbon-government quickly mobilised treatment programs across major towns and cities accompanied by effective media campaigns, and soon the problem was remedied. Today, the United States too is face with an uphill battle against opioid crisis across ‘Southern States’ with untold death counts. Nothing good ever comes off drug use which parents must constantly drill into their kids.
Solutions – The government, through the Ministry of Health, should offer free treatment programs to addicts help recover from addiction nightmares. It is the responsibility of government to help its citizens in times of desperate need. Yes, the addicts are Gambian too, our neighbours and neighbours maybe. The Minister of Health, Saffiatou Lowe, appear missing in action, and must stand counted with better ideas for reform.
As for prostitution, a similar program is of urgency to help young women and girls fallen victim to sex crimes over the years. Again, the Ministry of Health should have been at the forefront to help all victims in recovery. Similarly, prostitution should be criminalized and for a nationwide campaign by various women-led groups in the country to both sensitize and educate young girls on their rights & learning new skills.
The coalition-government should further strategize as to training programs & to expand opportunity. That include educational, jobs and sports programs to engage our young people away from ‘harmful’ streets. I further enjoin the line-Ministry & that of Health respectively to come forward announce what plans there are to help ‘lost youths’ of the Jammeh-years back into productive members of society.
The menace of Semesters – It would be wise for individual diaspora members to rearrange thought & priorities bordering on behaviour during those short trips visiting home. Research has shown that fake-lifestyles, promises and wild-theories about Europe is having detrimental influence on Gambian youths. Hard-Work pays: Nothing is given: should be the message instead of idle talk on impressionable minds. Yes, responsibility, even in chatter!
Today, technology has led to the invasion of ‘Western Lifestyles’ on our traditional way of life. Parents, and ultimately government, should gauge the good & bad of that and weigh how much of it to absorb into homes. In a digital age, the media regulatory watchdog should redefine its role as to standards and safety controls. Parliament ought to mobilise put a ban on pornographic activity if government is serious about protecting young girls and to clean up the bad image levied against the tourism industry. In other to reduce crime & other societal gaps, the Ministry should go back to the drawing board formulate plans to reinvent the country’s proud culture & smart ways to protect young girls from sex predators & harm-imposing cultures. The President also need to speak up address the crises facing the youths. I further encourage him to read President Jawara’s autobiography ”Kairaba” and such books on African history – reflective learning whilst leading.