Gambia at 51: free but not free from poverty— citizens debate future

DSC06316Gambians are celebrating 51 years of nationhood on today February 18 but opinions of various people on the West African country’s achievements are sharply divided.

Still dependant on grants to feed its development needs and with a mounting debt of about 108% to the GDP, critics said the two presidents the country has since independence have done little to change the lives of its people, 48% of whom currently live below a dollar a day.

Madi Jobarteh, deputy executive director of Tango, an institution that oversees the operation of NGOs in The Gambia, said the country could have far exceeded its current level of development.

“I am not satisfied with the progress we have made simply because, our capacity and the resources we have as a country are too immense that by now we should be counted among the most developed countries in the world,” Jobarteh told Anadolu Agency.

“We have human resources, a very fertile land, River Gambia, enormous sunlight and wind— so we have what we need to be a developed country… I think coming down 51 years, the level of underdevelopment in all sectors is huge to the point that I am completely dissatisfied.”

Jobarteh observed that the country has “failed” to build what he called “a nation state of sovereign people”, adding that “our first point was supposed to be the creation of a new Gambia where people will be the real owners of the country. But those republican values were not there”.

But Hassoum Ceesay, one of the country’s most respected historians, said though there still remains “miles to cover” in terms of development, there are amazing achievements to celebrate.

“Development is an on-going process and it will never end. What we can say is that great successes have been made in all areas of development from education to security, agriculture, telecommunication and international relations. But of course we have to agree that we still have miles to cover,” Ceesay told Anadolu Agency.

“We are electing our own leaders ……I always say The Gambia has defied skeptics because there were people who thought the country would not survive at independence because of the weak financial basis thus they call it “an improbable nation”.”

Ceesay explained that the dreams of the agitators of Gambia’s independence were to build “a country that is economically viable because there were doubts as to whether the country could survive”.

Edward Francis Small, one of The Gambia’s foremost independent agitators adopted a slogan, “no representation, no tax” to denounce the exploitative nature of colonialism.

Perhaps a failure to meet Small dreams, 51 years after self-rule is achieved and Gambia resources “invested” in her people, 48% of the people in the country still wallow in poverty.

Jobarteh said the country’s failure to “build a nation state where power will reside in the people partly contributed to why we could not defeat poverty, corruption and achieve the desired development for all”.

At independence, The Gambia has two senior schools and two hospitals with only two local doctors and a broken infrastructure.

In a random interview with students of the University of the Gambia on their views on independence, students expressed that though the country has survived the bitter past of colonial exploitation; its own leaders who inherited power from colonialists could have done better.

Essa Sanneh, a political science graduate student from the University of the Gambia, said “some tremendous achievements” have been made but not without “major challenges especially agriculture”.

“At 51, we should not be crying for electricity and water shortages,” Fatou Sanneh, a student, also added.

Meanwhile, Ceesay also revealed that recovery from the damages the country incurred, from an economic, political and social point of view, to colonialism cannot be immediate.

He observed that the country still struggles to regains its former self after the brutal encounter with the colonial masters.

“One thing we have lost to colonialism that we have not retrieved is depreciation of our norms and values, languages,” Ceesay said.

“We have also inherited individualism from them because traditionally we use to do things in a communal form but now people have become individualistic.”

Despite similar dissenting views on the streets of Serrekunda, country economic capitals, on the achievements of Presidents Kairaba Jawara and Yahya Jammeh in building a prosperous nation, opinions are undivided on the sorrow state colonialists left the small island nation.

Though there were considerable efforts by the first and the second presidents of the country to cleanse the country of any colonial relic but it appears the most disturbing legacy of colonialism, poverty, remains stubbornly high.

One person who is not charitable in his views on the achievements of the country’s two presidents is Halifa Sallah, a veteran politician and a respect social commentator.

The author of the book titled “road to self determination and Independence”, Sallah said both presidents have had their policy priorities flawed which, he added, explains the current state of development in the country.

“The Government which took over on 18 February 1965 inherited and maintained an economic base which depended largely on production and exportation of groundnuts and the importation of manufactured goods for commerce…,” he argued.

“It goes without saying that from 1994 to date the government of the second republic also maintains a one crop economy… The country still depends on loans and grants to carry out development.”

Sallah said Jawara has left the country as “one of the poorest in the world” while Jammeh moved it further to becoming “one of the poor, highly indebted countries” in the world.

Gambia breaks the colonial yoke from Britain on Feb. 18, 1965 and became republic on April 24, 1970.

Meanwhile, celebrations are taking place at Buffer Zone in the middle of Serekunda in the country’s commercial town and the capital, Banjul.

However, apart from the actual venue of celebration in the capital, there is little sight, if any, of celebrations elsewhere in Banjul.

Credit: A part of this article was taken from Anadolu Agency





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