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Friday, June 21, 2024

Too many chiefs and very few Gambians: Why I am against creating CRR North as a new region

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In my series which concluded on 25 April 2018 in response to Jammeh with regard to the outright and blatant indifference to one particular ethnic group as being unGambian, unpatriotic and foreigners, I touched briefly on the social contract between the state and the governed.

A contract etched in indelible ink till eternity that a people, conscious of the fact that not all of them could be required to attend sessions and make decisions on matters that affect them as individuals and as a group, and conscious of the fact that it is almost impossible that we will agree on one course of action to remedy the challenges society faces on a daily basis, and thirdly because some decisions require swift and timely responses to the external stimuli of a constant changing environmental challenges, society therefore concluded that the best approach was to appoint a group of people as their representatives and empower them to do the needful in their collective interest.

Once these people are appointed, through a democratic process but which process sometimes allows elected officials to use the powers of delegation, to further empower other people to be part of this continuum of public officials to be ears, eyes and enforcers of the policies that emanate from the elected constituent body, a contract has therefore been signed with expectations and accountability procedures and processes.

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This contract is binding on both parties: the government and the governed each with a set of roles and expectations in the greasing and malleability of the variables of life so that with each challenge the society faces especially at the sharp bends of this road called governance, each group is very clear in expectations and the processes involved to bend the arc of opportunity to the groups’ advantage and hopefully catapult the group to the destination of success. A destination where each member of the group, despite the different sizes, shapes, opinions and expectations, could each be able to have a place at the table of progress and carve out for each other an appropriate and equitable access to the common resources commensurate with need.

Certainly, at this table being fair, that is giving each member the same amount of resources will be inequitable. Rather, giving each member at the table equitable resources should be the core of guiding principle. Being fair is not the same as being equitable.
Equity is giving each member enough to be able to compete. That means that since some may have already had an early start due to privileges, those late starters should be given more so that they could catch up otherwise giving each member the same resources only entrenches the gaps already existing or widens it further as the early starters are more able to expand their share faster given their advantaged positions of power and influence.
In pre-colonial Gambia, we had no governors as institutional figures of any sort. Matter of fact, there was no place called Gambia which is nothing but a recent colonial creation. We had the states of Niani (two states with the same name), Wuli, Kantora, Jimara, Wuropana, Jarra, Saloum, Niumi, Kiang, Foni and Kombo. In total, 13 independent states each ruled by a king with absolute powers in decision making which are not subject to appeal or challenge.


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In the beginning
When the Portuguese first showed up on our shores as early as 1446, and the English in 1587, the political landscape of these indigenous states went through a series of transformations that the surviving system of governance was that which was introduced by the Europeans. Don’t get me wrong. Our kings had representatives in their individual states who were mostly their sons and nephews as scouts for early warning systems of threats but also enforce and entrench the power of the king across his land.
Our governors are no different and these roles of pre-colonial representatives just adapted with colonialism which also had the same objectives of power and control of the indigenous people and keep them malleable enough to respond positively without question, the policies of the colonial government.

This will play out in 1901 when the British colonial administrative embarked on a series of punitive missions and in particular at Sankandi and beyond when additional troops were brought from Sierra Leone to enforce their power after the death of commissioners and many soldiers in what is dubbed the Battle of Sankandi, when a fight broke up between the people of Sankandi and Jattaba over a rice filed which actually belong to Sankandi, given to their daughter who married in Jattaba and when the marriage went sour, the bride asked for her farm from her Jattaba in-laws who refused.

The Serer had jaraff while the Mandinka had the faalifo. In many Mandinka states, the position of kelleh jawaro was created. He was the de facto ruler during wartime when a king temporarily abdicates to this official and the state is brought under martial law. The kelleh jawaro is disbanded when the war is over and the king assumes office. This kelleh jawaro, can best be understood when we travel back in time to 1235, at the Kurukang Fuga when a federation of states formed the Manding Empire. The Jawara clan, mainly from Wagadu, also headed one of the 16 military divisions of the Manding army. As warriors, this clan name became synonymous with bravery hence the title kelleh jawaro which simply means “The Fighting Jawara”.
We are digressing.

Enter the year 1894 and the birth of local government administration
After years of signing treaties with various states as mentioned above, the colonial administration went further to entrench itself by invoking provisions of these treaties in which many of our leaders recognised the authority of the British crown and agreed to enter a peaceful coexistence with her representative. Banjul and Kombo Saint Mary’s were already colonies under direct British rule but the rest were for the most part under the traditional rulers through whom the British would exercise authority. This gave birth to The Gambia Protectorate Ordinance of December 27, 1894, which was an Ordinance to provide for the exercise in the protected territories of certain powers and jurisdiction by native authorities and by commissioners.

For purposes of clarity, the Protectorate was any land from Lamin Bridge, near the Nature Reserve to the far reaches of the south bank all the way to Koina and Fatta Tenda, where in 1904, our border would be an arc 15-kilometre radius from the centre of town. And on the north bank of the river, anywhere from Barra to the far eastern side of Fatta Tenda, 15 kilometers of an arc from the centre of the settlement.

However, there was one exception. That is Morro Kunda or simply Fort George which by 1823 was settled by a group of liberated slaves caught in the Atlantic but also transported from Sierra Leone. This island rebought in about 1785 from the King of Upper Niani at Kattaba became the only colony in the sea of the Protectorate. An island initially bought to house Britain’s worst of the worst as a penal colony but which decision was appealed by the lawyers of the prisoners that sending them to the island was a death sentence and therefore, the act was beyond the judicial sanction of the judge. They won their case and the prisoners never came but were taken to some other places.

With the coming into force of the Protectorate Ordinance of 1894, two travelling commissioner positions were created to serve the whole country. One commissioner for the South bank and the other for the North Bank regions of the country. The first two appointees to this role were Commissioners Sitwell and Ozanne for the south and north banks. By an Order-in-Council, the Legislative Council of The Gambia was empowered to promulgate ordinances for the administration of the protectorate.

Why am I bringing this? It is simple. Despite the difficulties of travel in 1894, and in addition to poor and limited resources, these two commissioners trudged through the thickets and forests on horse backs to reach the far flung areas of our country, collated date and issued annual reports despite the many challenges. They appeared effective in their duties to the crown. Yet with a plethora of governors of our times and with all the luxuries of life, annual reports are scanty if not nonexistent. Basic regional statistics are in dire need.

I just read the 1962/63 Annual Report and amazed how detailed the report was up to the number of crimes committed, their types and even the number of teachers and road accidents, fires and so on. Try to ask these basic questions today, and you will be met with a big surprise as though you are from another planet. Policy planning and decision-making cannot be effective absent accurate and timely data.


Arguments for creation of CRR North as a new region
Some of the arguments I heard in support of the creation of a new region are that CCR as a region is large and therefore difficult to manage. I wonder whether I am mistaking CRR for another region because as far as I understand, there is no place in The Gambia that is not reachable within five hours of Banjul by road. And CRR being a subset of the territorial boundaries of The Gambia, makes it even a lesser challenge for the governor in Georgetown to reach the furthest settlement of his region in less than one hour of driving. In fact from Georgetown to Demfaye, my village which is a spitting distance from the Senegalese border is less than 35 minutes despite the bad roads from Kaleng village heading north and on the south of Georgetown, Casamance too is an arm’s length. So the argument of size is not convincing.

I have heard that creating a new region will also improve employment and I laughed my head off as if the governor had any executive function in writing and implementing economic policies, raise or reduce taxes, create tax free zones, enter into negotiations with businesses and provide incentives to attract direct investments in their regions.
The governor is a public servant who is nothing but a listening post for the bureaucracy in Banjul and acts accordingly. The role of the governor has not changed since the Ordinance of 1894 for the most part.

I think some are mistaking the governors as though they operate in a federal system like the United States with executive powers. Ours is a different system of government. Our governors are not elected but appointed by the executive basically to ensure implementation of policies and programs in their regions in tune with the central bureaucracy. Policies affecting or influencing employment is outside of the purview of the governors. Even though the governors are Class I Magistrates if I recall correctly, have no legal training or experience further muddying and compromising their abilities to pass judgment that can only be challenged at the High Court.

The argument for government to be the employer of last resort has long since been dead. If we have not learnt anything in public policy from the events of 1983/84 during the Structural Adjustment Programme in which nearly 25% of civil servants were retrenched, then we need to do catch up very quickly. What government can and should do is create the enabling environment for private sector growth to usher in full or near full employment.
Students of history would agree with me that this idea of government being the main employer was tested in the past and in France for example, under the supervision of Francois Guizot in the 16th century where unemployed youths were hired to dig trenches only to fill them back in in order to create employment was soon abandoned as its toll on the treasury and the political backlash. It has never worked and this argument will not hold for long.
To be continued.

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