By Adetona Kehinde
I decided to answer this question to shed light on why I am in love with His Excellency Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh, the best president The Gambia has ever had. I will break this down into series to lessen the burden of going through a very long write-up and to be able to drive home my point.
The first reason is the CLASS SYSTEM. Jammeh completely broke down the class system in The Gambia and made children of nobody to be somebody. In fact, this was one of the reasons for his downfall because when they became somebody, they found their voices and started asking questions.
Before Jammeh, those that had access to education in The Gambia were very few and the number of senior secondary schools could be counted on fingertips. It is only the children of the elites and those in government that had access to international scholarship and they were being specially groomed then to take over from their fathers.
This is a typical class system, the type that JJ Rawlings brutally destroyed in Ghana, but Jammeh with careful planning and excellent execution put an end to this in The Gambia. Let us look at what he did.
We all know that quality education will lift the poor out of poverty, shine a light on the path of the ignorant, and bring equality to society.
As a teacher in The Gambia for over fifteen years, I can at least say somethings about the Gambia educational system.
Jammeh’s administration embarked on massive construction of schools and made it possible for children from the provinces to have access to quality education. Some of his critics said it is education without quality. Let me tell you this, The Gambia public education system was one of the best in Africa. Even the mission schools were partly run by the government because he gave all of them govt subventions and they are monitored by the education ministry full time.
Many of my students that got international scholarship then were the best in their international universities.
Jammeh made international scholarship available to those that were qualified without bringing in nepotism, tribalism, or political party affiliation. Believe me, when I talk about this, I know what I am talking about. Students that were children of nobody got scholarship from the govt to study abroad on merits. In fact, I used to tell the students that The Gambia has the easiest route to travel abroad for any student in Africa. It is very simple then, study hard and meet the already set criteria by the govt and boom you go. That was the line I used to discourage them from embarking on the perilous backway journey. This is a complete departure from what we had during Jawara.
I once asked a friend about the absolute silence of The Gambia community living abroad during Jawara administration, does this signify that everything was alright for someone that stayed in power for thirty years without any visible physical development in the country?
The answer I got was very shocking.
He simply said how do I expect the children of state ministers, chiefs and alkalolu, prominent imams, and the very privileged few to complain about what their parents are doing.
When it became obvious that international scholarship cannot go round and not to leave any qualified Gambian child behind, his administration established the first Gambia university that can rival any university anywhere in the world in terms of quality. Graduates of University of The Gambia have gone out to excel in all fields internationally. The university is not totally free but most of the students were sponsored by the government during his administration.
I know some will want to question my judgment, especially on him providing equal opportunity for any Gambia child that meets the criteria set by the government. I will answer this set of people with my personal experience and I will make the story very short.
My elder brother has a very brilliant daughter from his late Gambian wife. By birth, she is a Gambian and holds a Gambian passport. Her surname is ADETONA, a typical Yoruba name and even her first name will give her away as a Nigerian. She completed her secondary school and applied to the Gambia university to study medicine and straight away she was admitted because she meets the criteria set for admission.
Now let’s flip this over. I have an adopted Gambian son that I trained from primary school. He bears complete typical Gambian names, came out with the best result from his school, the same year with my brother’s daughter. He also applied to study medicine at the Gambia university and was denied admission and I decided to use my connection to push his admission through.
I met up with a senior serving Minister, in fact he may read this. After listening to me, he told me a little about the position of gov’t on things like this and how the President is personally interested in how an average Gambian child is treated on things like this. It was a very long and frank discussion between us and he advised me that my son should take a course that he was qualified for. I still continued to push and he gave me a note to the dean, college of medicine at RVTH to go and try my luck, but he warned me that I was on a futile mission.
I was ushered into the dean’s office and after telling him my reason for the visit, he brought out the admission list and I saw that my brother’s daughter was number ten on the list and I know that my brother did not push for her daughter. She was simply admitted (despite the fact that she bears a complete Nigerian name), based on merit. The dean without knowing my relationship with anyone on the list proceeded to explain the University admission process to me and how the gov’t takes this very seriously, and especially the interest of the president in the whole process. The process was so open, merit-based without any form of favoritism. Sincerely speaking, I found it very difficult to believe what was happening. My son accepted another course that he was qualified for at the end of the day.
To be continued