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Saturday, May 18, 2024

What The Gambia can offer?

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With Aisha Jallow

The ambassador of The Gambia to the United States of America, His Excellency Momodou Lamin Bah, led a government delegation to an event. This event was held at the University of the District of Columbia. Members of the delegation were representatives from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, National Centre for Arts and Culture, The Gambia Tourism Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The event was held on May 6 and it was said that thousands turned up to see what The Gambia can offer.

What kind of people were included in these “thousands”? Tourists, investors, students, daydreamers, expats or what? Perhaps a mix of everything, and I wonder how serious was their interest? What kind of information did they get? It would have been interesting to know how much was expended on this trip for the government representatives. I’m sure the cost was huge. It was to be considered as an investment in the future, but whose future? The future of The Gambia, its residents or the representatives who had a nice journey on behalf of the taxpayers. The flight tickets, first class of course, stay some nights at a fancy hotel, meals at some exclusive restaurants and of course an allowance based on how many days the dignitaries stayed away from home. They must be compensated for their extra hard work and the suffering they go through when they have to leave their families for a while. Poor dignitaries, my heart is aching for them!

The first things you get to know about The Gambia, as a foreigner, is that people are friendly, smiling, welcoming. Then the blue skies and the swimming pools at the luxurious hotels. All these are true and fine, but that is only a tiny percentage of the true Gambia. This image of The Gambia is what the Minister of Tourism and the other representatives wish to share with others. They hope that it will be tempting enough for new people to come to The Gambia and spend their money here. There is this hope that someone else will come to the country and hopefully solve the problems that are caused by the people in charge.

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Are their hands tied behind their backs so those who are paid to solve The Gambia’s problems are unable to do that? It seems like their minds are tied, anyway, because there seems to be no creativity in solving problems. Creative thinking is something people must be practising from early childhood, but with an old fashioned education system the children are not encouraged to do that. They are taught to listen, repeat and do as they are told. I don’t encourage children to misbehave, but I encourage them to use their imagination. A vivid imagination doesn’t look at the boundaries, it goes beyond and finds new ways no-one has travelled before.

There is a pedagogical philosophy called Reggio Emilia that focuses on democratic stances in pre-schools and schools. The aim is to allow the children to practice democracy to one day become responsible citizens. This is a cut from the Reggio Emilia approach:

“The child has

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a hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

separate the head from the body.

They tell the child:

to think without hands

to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy”

Children who are not allowed to explore, ask questions, try and make errors and try again will grow up into adults who are limited by the rules in their minds. They are afraid to explore, to try and make errors and try again because they are taught to do as they are told and not question anything. They follow old patterns instead of making their own. They walk in the footsteps of their forerunners instead of finding their own paths through life. They are so ruled by their fear to fail so they even stop the embryo of a question in their minds. The little voice that says: “What if?” is hushed immediately because if you do as everyone else does, you can’t go wrong. Or can it? Have you tried? How did it feel to try something new? Was it scary or exciting or a little bit of both?

Creative people are scared too, but they push beyond the fear because they are driven by their curiosity to see what happens if they try something new. You don’t have to turn things upside down, causing a revolution or become an anarchist, you take baby steps and try something that you haven’t tried before. I think a part of the problem in The Gambia is that the country is so small and you check up on each other all the time. Every Gambian has a master’s degree in putting their noses in someone else’s business. It takes a lot of courage to follow your own path through life when so many have opinions about your doings.

Why are you so bothered with what someone else is doing? Don’t tell me that it is only a matter of caring. No, we all know that there is a high level of gossiping everywhere and it is not only a matter of showing sympathy for the other. This interfering in other’s business is causing a lot of unnecessary stress. You know that people talk a lot and you also know that many of them are not shy to tell you that they talk about you. Caring is wonderful, but sharing must be done with respect for the other’s integrity. Whenever you feel the urge to share something you have heard, ask yourself if it is true and if it’s good. If you can’t answer yes on both questions, then it is better to keep quiet. Words you have said cannot be taken back, as little as water you have spilled on the ground.

Being a person with some kind of power is never easy. This comes with a lot of responsibility, but also fear to do wrong. You are in the public eye and know that people question what you do and say. They have the right to do that, as they pay your salary with their tax money, but there must be some kind of balance. Power must never fill someone’s head so completely that there is no room left for commonsense and empathy. The fear of failure is hidden behind a mask of dignity and pride. This is how people are taught that persons of power should act. This is how it used to be and so it will remain until the end of time. Is that so? Don’t we want to see the person behind the mask? As long as we allow the mask to remain, we allow the people of power to be so filled with their own importance that they lose the grip of the reality.

The representatives who attended the event in the US were afraid to show the real picture of The Gambia. They know that if people would know the truth they would not invest their money in the country. Instead of making The Gambia attractive for investors, they try to blow dust in the eyes of those who show some interest in the country. They are hoping that what they can offer on the glossy photos of dancing girls, beaches and smiling kids will be enough. All of us who know the truth also know that the photos don’t show what The Gambia will offer. Shh…don’t tell anyone! Our leaders don’t want anyone to know the truth.

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