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By Mathew K Jallow
The term Founding Father conjures up images of the American Revolution, and applying it to Sir Dawda K. Jawara, has always felt like a stretch to me. Yet, the realism and enigma of Sir Dawda is articulated in the pioneering spirit with which he so ably led Gambia into the age of political independence. Sir Dawda Jawara was molded in a cast, which almost defied definition. The embodiment of a conglomeration of three cultures, wrapped into one person, Sir Dawda, out of social expediency, developed a redeeming neutral identity that combined his Wollof cultural upbringing, in a detribalized Fula family, and set him on a journey to adolescent identity crisis. Sir Dawda’s character and personality are the products of the refine and sophistication of the Aku culture into which he married, his omnipresent Mandinka heritage, which loomed large in his background and the Wollofnized Fula upbringing that shaped his early years. And growing up in Bathurst where his sense of tribal identity was diffused by homogenizing forces more powerful than the divisive tribal identity, Sir Dawda, became the product of the environment and circumstances that profoundly impacted his early life. With the pull of the different cultures and the draw of conflicting identities, Sir Dawda learnt to rise above the narrow limitations of tribal identity, to escape to a neutral safe-haven, and far away from the demons of his inner cultural identity conflict.
Late Alhagie Sir Dawda K Jawara with Queen Elizabeth 11 and Prince Philip far right
Even when politics necessitated a response to the self-interests that consumed the antagonistic tribal forces in his government, Sir Dawda seemed to quietly retreat into the familiar neutral. And nearly two decades after his fall from political grace, Sir Dawda’s story is still being written by the inadvertent paradoxes of history, as the contrasts with Yahya Jammeh’s murderous regime become the true testament of the genius of Sir Dawda’s leadership. There is no a doubt that the verdict of history will cast President Dawda Jawara in good light, notwithstanding the economic failures, which led to his eventual political downfall. Throughout his public life, Sir Dawda remained neutral to a fault; for even when faced with competing tribal forces, he showcased neutrality that often bordered on detachment from the natty gritty of the nation’s daily political life. Sir Dawda K Jawara was never given to drama, and even when the nation’s resources were plundered right before his eyes, he seemed almost unable to provoke a sense of accountability and discipline, in response to the exigencies of the moment. And despite his abundant gift of wisdom, Sir Dawda Jawara easily fell victim to his popularity, but more important than that, he never learnt to hold the feet of his subordinates to the fire. It was this lackadaisical approach to governance that became his undoing. For even as Sir Dawda drew sharp criticism for the descent into the depths of corruption and tribal infighting, he seemed to bury his head into the sand.
Yet, despite his faults and failures, Gambians today would rather relive the worst of the Sir Dawda K Jawara era, than remain prisoners in a state of suspended animation that challenges our national conscience and degrades the humanity of Gambians. The last two decades of Yahya Jammeh’s political dramatics are radically different from the tempered era of Sir Dawda; an era characterized by the paradoxes of insidious tribal conflict, and manifest political harmony. As President, Sir Dawda was without a doubt a man of vision both by nature and circumstance, yet he lacked the strength and the force of will to rein in the run-away corruption and the pervasive plunder of our nation’s resources. And today, corruption remains embedded in Gambia’s body politics; only elevated to a level of gravity that borders on the cataclysmic. In spite of this, Sir Dawda remains the picture perfect embodiment of nobility and grace; a rare breed of politician who exudes serenity; a man who seems more focused on his unique qualities as a compassion statesman, and whose superior morality precludes greed for material wealth. In this regard alone, Sir Dawda has become the true definition of honor. During his thirty-year long presidency, Sir Dawda provided opportunity for Gambians, yet somehow, the cloud of ethical degradation that hung over his successive governments, failed to alert his good judgment for reason that to this day leaves many Gambians perplexed. As president, Sir Dawda Jawara was unlike most African leaders of his generation; leaders who took advantage of their positions to enrich themselves with the wealth of their people. If there is one negative about the era of Sir Dawda on which there is universal consensus, it is that he overstayed as president even when the signs for his departure were written on the wall for all to see.
Since we cannot undo the past, we must find solace in the remarkable achievements of Sir Dawda Jawara’s long, peaceful reign. Today, only a few other African countries have had the success of ingraining the values of democracy and the rule of law in their citizens as in Gambia under Sir Dawda. Ours is not merely the romanticized notions of democracy, judging from the plethora of angry voices shouting freedom, not only from behind the ominous dark shadows of the confining walls the Gambia’s deadly prison complex, but also from the unforgiving distances that separate Gambians from their beloved homeland. As it is, Gambians on all continents are forming a critical mass in their opposition to Yahya Jammeh’s murderous regime, and this is possible only because Sir Dawda Jawara gave us a taste of what it was like to live as free people. Military leader, Yahya Jammeh’s narcissism, brutality and greed stands in sharp contrast to the compassion, humility and frugality of Sir Dawda, whose humane predisposition is the product of a highly enlightened person. Sir Dawda Jawara may not acknowledge all the failures of his successive governments, but he has given us much more than material rewards; he allowed us to retain our inalienable rights as a free people, and this is more than Gambians could ever ask for. For, truth be told, there is no greater gift Sir Dawda Jawara could have given Gambians than the gift of living free. Now, as age takes its inevitable toll and Sir Dawda continues his graceful march towards the lonely and melancholic sunset, his legacy will remain etched in our hearts, our souls, all across this land. Sir Dawda has carved out a name for himself in our hearts, as a leader, a humanitarian and a true statesman. Rest in Perfect Peace, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. You will be missed.
By Mathew K Jallow
Even in its abomination and insidiousness, despotism under Yahya Jammeh’s ruthless regime offered glimmers of hope for change and renewal. The gloom and joylessness presented a unique break from an ugly past, but also an opportunity to rebuild a nation with the aspiration of its people. But, along the way, a combustible cocktail of ignorance, intellectual dearth and absence of mental fortitude, combined to illustrate a dangerous political paralysis that torments the mind and promises to plunge the Gambia into another period of political nihilism. 2016 was the culmination of twenty-two years struggle, which ended with a renunciation of the lawlessness, barbarism and tyranny, which inducted Gambia in the pantheons of pariah nations; not unlike the Hitler Third Reich. In more ways than one, Yahya Jammeh was a true personification of Adolf Hitler, or perhaps, an Idi Amin Dada reincarnate; a malignant carcinogen that needed to be exorcised from Gambia’s body politics. But, soon after the Coalition took over power, the rapturous euphoria that had swept across the nation, quickly dissipated into the void, triggering the disbelief that continues to haunt the sensibilities of Gambians holding on to hope for radical transformation. What, instead, soon became apparent is how the Coalition government was unfurling as a new iteration of a familiar Gambian political convention, which, in effect, once again balkanized Gambia’s political triumph into an unremarkable and anachronistic fidelity to self-serving tribal and political party interests. Even for Gambians without political education, deflation of their hopes and dreams is not an unprecedented path, driven by tribal bigotry and party loyalties, a Gambian orthodoxy deeply rooted in the collective psyche. But, the Coalition further displayed irreverence towards Gambians who spilled blood, sweat and tears, so as to restore peace and rule of law in the country. What made the Coalition’s indifference so spectacularly dramatic, is the renaissance of elements of Yahya Jammeh’s catastrophic reign of terror and economic plunder. These days, the demons of former president Yahya Jammeh, the Gambia’s most hated, dominate the corridors of power in Banjul. The correlation between these government fraudsters and the recent surge in economic crimes, is a rude awakening to Gambians still hoping to eradicate the vices of the past.
The sickeningly absurd paradox that the Coalition government is pursuing, is more broadly condemned as patently farcical and completely devoid of dialectical reasoning, but in my view, it’s even far worse than that. It’s quintessence African politics, driven by greed and the need to plunder state resources to satisfy the self serving primordial instincts of politicians and bureaucrats. But, there is another dimension to the collective amnesia that pervades Gambia; the Coalition government’s stealthy and insidious transformation into a normal and regular government, in complete contradiction and contravention of the spirit and letter of the Coalition MoU. This new curveball the Gambia is being death, so soon after the signing of the MoU, is clearly a gratuitously power grab, with potential to stir up passions and agitate political turmoil and instability. This could easily send Gambia to a tailspin into the political abyss. Over the past two years, the Coalition’s unforced blunders have ostensibly worsened, as the fault lines between President Adama Barrow and the United Democratic Party, manifest a deep and abiding ideological schism. President Barrow, having tasted the inebriating perks of political power, is determined to retain it, irrespective of consequences to the national interest. No longer burdened by the need to submit to party loyalty or subject himself to the hostile invectives of UDP party guard rails, and party rebel-rousers, President Barrow is charting his own path to entrenchment in political power. This deviation from standard political practice, in a democratic state, is a potential threat to the national security. Power grab is anathema to the central tenants of democracy, and apart from violating the public trust, it has an uncanny ability to heighten the sense of skepticism about government’s filial obligation to the national interests. In so many ways, President Barrow, in hiding behind the blurred veneer of development, under the Barrow Youth Movement, has easily transcended the excesses of Yahya Jammeh. What is so remarkable is the detachment from reality that borders on dereliction of duty, which the National Assembly and other state agencies responsible for the treasury, have implicitly and explicitly become complicit in the activities that subvert democracy and good governance.
The Barrow Youth Movement, Adama Barrow Foundation for Inclusive Development, and the a First Lady Fatoumata Bah Foundation, are boondoggles whose source of funding is still a mystery; and illegally and offensively so. Since the donations of vehicles to National Assembly members, in 2017, effectively corrupting and compromising the Assembly members into indifference to President Barrow’s self-serving activities, he has continued to finance questionable organizations and individuals, in the exclusive promotion of his political interest; and in particular, seek support in negating the Coalition MoU. President Barrow is committed to challenge the 3-years term limits of his transitional government. His hubristic disposition is emblematic of the African inclination to take ownership of governments; a surreptitious and conspiratorial seizure of power; often done legally by changing national Constitutions, and at others, quite unethically, but always with coercion and ruthless Machiavellianism. When entrenchment in political power supersedes the commitment to fortify the democratic system; the lynchpin of economic development, resistance to such state lawlessness is more than just necessary; it becomes the patriotic duty of every conscientious citizen. Many Gambians have fought too long, and too hard for the empowerment of democracy, to let their selfless efforts slip away under nebulous circumstances designed to primarily bewilder and ensnare Gambians into submitting to political greed. In African, and by extension, in Gambian politics, there is visceral impulse to overreach and subordinate the public interest to the insufferable smug of selfishness, an overarching issue of concern. It took President Adama Barrow just one year to relapse, with gleeful contempt for ethic and morality, into the stereotypical fecklessness of African leaders. The quandary the government is plunged in, is a manifestation of Coalition’s contempt for those in the diaspora who gave all for Gambia’s liberation. In part, the Coalition also keeps at bay, Gambians with principles and commitment to the tenets of democracy and the rule of law. Co-incidentally, Gambians with principles and those commited to the democracy and rule of law, present challenge to the Coalition government. And as doubts linger over the qualification and selection of President Barrow as Coalition leader prove increasingly more convincing, so is the decline of the morale around the country manifesting as strident opposition to this Coalition government. Increasingly, 2019 promises to be the Gambia’s crucible year in politics.
By Mathew K Jallow
Beyond their simple and ordinary definitions, ideas and concepts of government are intellectually profound and mentally challenging for the simple-minded to comprehend. This congenital inability to grasp the most basic theories of government and nuances of governing, belie the leadership crisis that fittingly conferred on Africa its marquee incarnation as the den of corruption and greed. When Adama Barrow made a nescient reference to authoritarian rule, last week, he unmasked his infinite incapacity to reflect back to a sad chapter of Gambian history, still fresh in our minds. By naming the military, police, National Security and the ECOMIG forces as his power base, Adama Barrow revived memories of the violent human rights abuses committed by the combine the police, military and National Security forces. What seemed like an innocuous reference to Gambia’s security forces, was, in fact, a clear break from politesse; an implicit threat that left Gambians dumbstruck, further reinforcing the belief in President Barrow’s unfitness for office. In one fleeting moment, in time, it seemed as though a dark, ominous cloud, from another era, had come back to hang over Gambia, one more time. The Gambia’s transitional president, in threatening authoritarian rule, has, instead, became the living embodiment of everything pernicious about Africa’s insidious political systems. Adama Barrow’s jarring comments, made before an audience of UDP party supporters, are a living memory of the political conformism that, for six decades, has plunged African into endless conflicts and permanent state of underdevelopment. More consequential than what Adama Barrow parroted out, is the anecdotal evidence of hubris, often explicit, sometimes implicit, by which Adama Barrow is underhandedly and consistently struggling to engineer his entrenchment in power, by politicizing the public service and the institutions of government. When Adama Barrow further made reference to a second term in office, he essentially unveiled the depth of his ignorance, and perhaps hastened the humbling end to his ignominious, accidental political career. For suddenly, by these two words, “second term,” Adama Barrow instantly morphed from innocuous daftness, to an existential threat to political instability in Gambia.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding by which a Coalition to remove Yahya Jammeh was constituted, Adama Barrow was elected for a transitional period of three years; just enough time to allow for multiparty elections, and return to party rule. By their very nature, Coalitions governments are notoriously unstable, and are; therefore, not the preferred forms of managing and establishing government control, due to their inherent, systemic, structural weaknesses. This has often fostered a climate of partisan political bickering, which compromises national security. These visceral impulses are manifesting themselves in Gambia, as the Coalition has all but completely disintegrated, rendering the government, illegitimate, without the legal glue of the Coalition. In any functioning democracy, one of three things would happen; assemble a new governing Coalition, dissolve the government and call for snap elections, or force presidential resignation, to allow a replacement candidate to stitch together a new governing Coalition. Because Gambian politicians generally have limited understanding of how government functions under a democratic system, it makes the enumerated choices and options a hard sell. This, therefore, leaves Gambians in a state of suspended animation, second guessing the political storylines likely to emerge in late 2019. Meanwhile, the chaos President, Adama Barrow, is in many ways, relapsing comfortably into Yahya Jammeh’s drunkenness for power, an undeniable insult to the democratic norms, which Gambians, over two decades, struggled for, and died. As Gambians seek to seed the norms of good governance in the country, for now and posterity, there is reflective resistance from the very top of government, supported by amateur professionals, and some party loyalists blind to the broader national interest. And consumed by a morbid fear losing power to the educated class, the transitional president has embarked on a program to endear him to the population, using government resources and religion to achieve his ends. Meanwhile, lost in this fog of self-interests, the contours of tribalism permeate, giving Gambia the crippling intensity that is hamstringing the government’s social and economic development programs. But, in this game of subtraction, the main edict of tribalism, no one wins, and everyone loses, in the long run.
If sneering at the 3-year term-limit MoU compromise agreement, which was inevitable in Yahya Jammeh’s removal and exile, is not enough, Adama Barrow’s taste of power has trapped him in a state of political insanity. The soaring rhetoric about national development that now animates his public discourse, conjures up memorable images of Yahya Jammeh’s drive to bring projects to few select communities that commit to advance his goals of entrenchment in power. In reality, for the experienced and educated in governance and development, the Coalition has doubled down on Yahya Jammeh’s most corrupt practices. The absence of human rights abuses, as state policy, are noticeable absent, but occasionally violence, causing loss of human life, has flared up, due to the arbitrary use of deadly force by wayward police. Perhaps the areas of most government indiscipline are the abuses of state resources and the ubiquitous corruption, which anecdotally, are the same as in Yahya Jammeh’s Gambia. Despite putting the government under the spotlight, reinforced by withering criticisms, as a general matter, there is pervasive acquiescing to the lure of greed and an unwillingness or inability to bring government corruption under control. The ham-handed way that government is managed, with such callous indifference to professionalism, exposes the dangerous amateurism that has taken root, and the simmering despair beginning to take hold, particularly, among the educated class and the diaspora, whose remittance is a quarter of the country’s GDP. In spite of Gambia coming out of the Yahya Jammeh tragedy, the lessons of history lack the preamble and underpinning of government’s sense of exercising authority, fairly and honestly. And, even as the persistent blistering ad hominem attacks have rubbed government the wrong way, the forces of greed, combined with the attachment to amateurism, have combined to keep government wedged between a rock and a hard place. There is a touch of madness to moral outrage that government exhibits, but Gambians are not rattled; instead, the public challenge to the lack of professionalism, is motivated by patriotism and undying desire for democracy to take root in Gambia. And until there is commitment real change, the ad nauseam criticisms will continue to be relentless; for we stand as kryptonite to this duplicitous government; wannabe tyranny.
By Mathew K Jallow
It’s the thousand pound gorilla in the room. And it isn’t new. It’s a reality that reflects a counter-intuitive mindset exacerbated by deference to a culture of utter incompetence. Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC), is an enigma and a paradox; puzzling to its members, and its operations morbidly ambivalent to everyone else. Even the power-point presentations of its functions appear like a walk into a labyrinth of confusion. Internally, its various components parts look like organized chaos. But, you’ll be forgiven to think that its angles, cross-sections and intersections are a mechanism to deliberately confuse, mystify and obfuscate. The mere existence of SSHFC pensions fund as a business model is as dumbfounding as it is perplexing. My point is; Social Security is burdened with a catalog of risky adventures in investments, naked corruption, wasteful spending, crowned by terrifying lack of oversight. It appears as though the institution is conceptually reconfigured to purposefully deviate from its bedrock principle as a safety-net for retirees, even as the agency is shrouded in riveting circumscription that borders on detachment by its Board. SSHFC, in veering from its central organizing objective, as a safety-net for retirees, demonstrated a conceptual misunderstanding of the social and political materiality of the agency as a health and welfare issue, and thus a public service program under government supervision. The act incorporating the agency as a business, with normal bank functions, is ostensibly inconsistent with its core mission. SSHFC, in financing a cornucopia of state and quasi state agencies, private business, social events, and a piggy-bank for its employees and government officials, violated its pensions and banking rules. So far, the agency disbursed hundreds of millions, perhaps, billions, in nebulous deals, dubious projects, and suspect transactions. But, perhaps the most compelling piece of intrigue is SSHFC’s spurious take-over by its management as a bottomless money-pit; awarding housing and vehicle loans, study scholarships, exhorbitant per diems, and a compendium of other problematic, maybe even illegal financial expenditures.
Last week, the spat between SSHFC management and its staff, dramatized the severe financial improprieties at the agency, but the shift from this overriding issue, to that of personalities, did injustice to the agency’s unbearable stewardship of its pension funds. The crucible in this moral and ethical void; pensioners, were mythologized in banal rhetorical flourish often equivocated in the staid color of selective partiality. And crucially, when a second meeting concluded late last week, it projected spurious concern for pensioners’ interest, but the central theme of the meeting was obscured by high jinx ethnic subterfuge remarkable in its contextual silence. Subliminal attempts to straightjacket government from interference in this saga are impetuous at best, and at worst, a boisterous demonstration of subjective puerile irrationality. When pensioners’ demands ignore the very nature of SSHFC as a politically sensitive institution, inextricably tied to government interest, it does disservice to a crisis situation in which government is so deeply tied to, as agency founder and supervisor, to whom the Board itself is answerable. Last Saturday pensioners’ meeting, rather than dwell in the silly fantasy of non-government interference in state agency affairs, missed the opportunity to cast public consciousness on retirees preponderant issues of concern; separation of pension funds, as fourth rail of government, from the dangerous gambling in business adventures unrelated to objective design of the funds as retirees’ benefits program. The issue of institution building is of preeminent interest in economic development and expansion of democratic norms, yet quite often, state institutions are burdened with conflicting and contradictory assignments, personnel, who, in their mindsets, are entangled in corruption and self-interest, and a visionless workforce lacking the sense of nationalism, and the national interest as the supreme guide in the conduct of public service. More than reveal SSHFC’s slippage into a compendium of blundering financial transgressions, the clash for power at the agency has opened the playbook divulging the primal egocentrism that has deeply infected the heartbeat of a people, and the soul of continent.
The extraordinary hysteria over the SSHFC spat, fraught with platitudes of elysian reverence, disguise the less than frugal management of finances displayed by the entire management staff. But, the fierce partiality manifested in this sage have exacerbated the hurdles and further plunged the agency in hopeless quandary. In effectively and definitively tackling pensioners’ grievances, resolution of the chaotic entanglement must necessarily involve repealing the Act incorporating SSHFC as a quasi-business enterprise. The confusion of co-joining an area of public service with what is essentially an area of the private sector has, over the past three and half decades, robbed pensioners of their rightful entitlements, even as agency funds are exploited to enrich its staff. In obviating further abuse of pension funds, government ought to consider disassociating pensions funds from housing. Pension and retirement are social and health issues, and therefore, under the purview of government public service. A task of government is, through laws and Constitution, create or facilitate creation of institutions that address all areas of need, public or private. Thus, through a robust divestiture program that primarily seeks to open opportunities for the private sector to grow and expand, the need and necessity for government to remove the housing part of SSHFC from pensions, cannot be overstated. This area of the economy is more suited for private sector take-over, and banks, financial institutions, and housing corporation enterprises are tailor-made for this industry. Apart from expanding opportunities for job creation in the private sector, it has added advantage of expanding construction skills, stemming the abuse of pension funds and expanding government’s tax base. In order to separate pensions from housing, the National Assembly would be required to repeal the Act, and create a stand-alone Pensions Fund exclusively designed as an agency of government whose staff are employed and paid by government; not the pensions fund. This will enhance interaction between financial institutions and citizens, expand banking portfolios and further develop the institutions that Gambia needs in the drive to economic development.
By Mathew K Jallow
It was a bit of a mystery that rattled residents of this quiet coastal community. The once idyllic lagoon, Bolong Fengyo, on the outskirt of Gunjur, 35 miles south of the capital city, Banjul, had turned into a river of blood. And on its banks, plant and wildlife; birds, fish, crabs, mangroves, shrimps and other exotic marine life lay dead in large numbers. The mystery soon unraveled, and the community was left with a binary choice; the environmental health of their community or the Fishmeal factory on the outskirts of their village. Thus, began a year pursuing justice, a year that crystalized the dichotomy between Gunjur youth seeking to end the abuse and devastation of their environment, and government’s deliberate stonewalling, which effectively empowered the Fishmeal factory to continue dumping toxic sludge in both the lagoon and coastal fishing grounds. The environmental degradation that Fishmeal factory is causing, at its very root, is underwritten by characteristic state patronage reminisce of Yahya Jammeh’s lax environmental laws, nepotism, ethical indiscipline and corruption. But, the community of Gunjur, led by vibrant youthful consciousness of the pernicious ramifications of the festering environmental crisis, and motivated by primordial instincts, mobilized effective challenge to the state’s patronizing influence over the carnivorous mutilation of an environment critical to the quality of life of Gunjur villagers. The tragedy unfolding in Gunjur, it turns out, is only a snapshot of a much broader scourging of Gambia’s once pristine Atlantic coastline; from Kartong to Bakau, the epicenter of Gambia’s booming tourism industry. The realization that coastal environmental degradation in one community can’t be localized exclusively to that community, awakened consciousness to the gravity of the Gunjur crisis; an epiphany, if you will, which drilled a significant level of environmental awareness in the minds of many Gambians, prompting worldwide interactive engagement around the ongoing Gunjur and coastal communities saga; from Kartong to Bakau, and more broadly; the Gambia.
The breadth of the recklessness of the coastal environmental crisis, and the tunnel vision of officials that borders on pure ignorance, which the government is showcasing, was the tipping point that incentivized Gambians, at home and abroad, to coalesce around the efforts to incite government to void Fishmeal’s fishing license, and demolish their death trap; the factory with toxic chemicals. The insufferable greed, environmental cannibalism and the imperceptible ecological carnage, which Fishmeal factory has precipitated, unduly impacts the lives of communities along the entirety of the Atlantic coast, making the struggle against the malignant presence of Chinese leeches, and their poisonous Fishmeal factory, a chilling recognition of Gunjur’s slow slide into ecological tragedy of apocalyptic proportion. The challenge that confronts Gunjur and the Atlantic coastal communities is underpinned by the ignorant mystification of foreign investment, a Trumpian lack of depth in grasping the consequences of the irreversible environmental damage, and the impact on the cottage fishing industry, the economy, tourism, and the culinary culture of St Mary’s Island, the Kombos. Like most African countries, Gambia is a terrible steward of its resources, and the ocean fish stock, at the undeniable mercy of unlicensed broad day-light Asian fishing pirates, will be depleted before Gambia can benefit from its coastal resources. The land and ocean pollution aside, one of the most pressing needs now is to halt the deliberate and indiscriminate death of millions of young fish using a fishing method banned under Sir Dawda’s government, but which is resurrected and accelerated by the Chinese fishermen along the Gunjur beach. This has the effect of depleting the fish stock and creating lifestyle and culture altering scarcity of Gambia’s stable food, fish, and, hitherto, the most reliable source of protein. The urgency of halting this unregulated industrial fishing in Gambian waters cannot be overstated, given the scale of the destruction Chinese industrial fishing has caused in the years since Fishmeal factory began operations in Gambia. But, there is another significant dimension to the Gunjur environmental ordeal relating to another sector of the economy that is so imperative to Gambia’s economic development, now and in the foreseeable future.
Apart from the health consequences of sludge drainage into the open Atlantic ocean and the effects of dumping of toxic waste has on Gunjur residents and other consumers of contaminated fish, in the Kombos and St Mary’s Island, there is no guarantee that the environmentally conscious tourist arrivals from across Europe will continue to visit Gambia if a main attractions, the pristine beaches, are transformed into some hurricane swept Martian landscape. The destruction of an environment is one of the factors promoting humankind’s movement from place to place, for millions of years. This isn’t an opinion; it’s the fact back by empirical evidence, which technically makes Gunjur a perfect candidate for future exodus of its citizens. The rape of Gunjur’s land and environment prefaces an unpleasant chapter of the future of this quiet community life. Implicit in the life and death saga between the Gunjur community and the well-connected cabal both in and out of the government, who, motivated by pure greed, have forsworn their civic compacts with the citizens, in order to allow the Chinese companies to splurge in their pursuit of wanton destruction of Africa’s pristine environment. With infinite resources to hypnotize Gunjur elders into a state of selective amnesia, in cohort with corrupt state actors, the Chinese Fishmeal factory is, due to government detachment, granted broad discretion to circumvent Gunjur’s local authority in their quest to expand their cataclysmic ecological destruction of the Gambia’s environment, just as they have so tragically done elsewhere all across Africa. The ongoing saga between the community of Gunjur and government, ostentatiously displays the state’s banal overreach and sneering manifestations of the debauchery so characteristic of African governments. Gunjur’s plight also reveals a fundamental weakness of the Gambia’s institutions, since the agency responsibility for overseeing the Gambia’s environmental health, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) is so powerless that a single government official, Economic Planning’s Isatou Touray, can casually and unilaterally override the agency’s professional decisions. This display of arrogance by state officials is underpinned by unjustified assumptions of authority, disregard for Gunjur’s community welfare, and a touch of madness that puts material interest over the obligation to protect the national resources. For, even after one year, there is still no end to this sad and ugly tragedy that has befallen one of Gambia’s most dynamic communities; Gunjur.
By Mathew K Jallow
The unsurprising avalanche of criticisms and acrimony surrounding the Coalition’s scorecard, isn’t a departure from the norm; it is the new norm. The concept of a 100-days arbitrary deadline is remiss of reality, and ignores the social and political complexities that besmirch all illusions of substantial development achievement, in such short space of time. Put differently, the whimsical 100-days benchmark patently underscores the ridiculousness of our expectations, which seek to relegate the process of governing into some Shakespearian theatrical drama. The transcendent paradigmatic nature of political change, over the past five months, has restored a sense of normalcy in our political system, but spawned a pandemonium of spurious expectations that are more a flight of fancy than realistic. But, as surreal as these expectations seem, they represent the legitimate manifestations of decades of deprivation and yearning for political change, even as they demonstrate ignorance of the way government functions, often in slow imperceptible ways. Evidently, much of the criticisms of the new government are benign expressions of strategic differences, but go a long way into keeping political leaders aware of the divergent, and often, conflicting voices in the political system. The relegation of political dissent among Gambians in the diaspora as mean-spirited ideological animus, only reinforces the pathological attachment to parochial sectarianism. In the recent past, the Coalition has endured scathing criticisms that are justifiable, if premature, in the process arousing the wave of withering counter-attacks, which awoke Gambians to the sobering realization of the existence of narrow partisan loyalties. This wagon circling betrays the common national aspirations, and sinks the Gambia into sophomoric ignorance, and detachment from reality. It is particularly tragic, in this delicate period of political restructuring in our country, and the likely subtext of a country receding back into its vexatious past.
The ham-handed impulses that polarize Gambian politics along vague ideas of narrow sectarian preferences, must be resisted as pure paternalistic parochialism, which erodes confidence in the Coalition’s ability to construct a truly just political dispensation that excises the demons of the past from Gambia’s body politics. The issue of political surrogacy is pervasive in democratic societies, and have an insidious ability to inadvertently transform free societies into antediluvian oligarchs; a complete antithesis of the concept of democracy, and, therefore, anathema to the aspirations of a free Gambia. The thin veil of tribal affinities has always existed on the margins of Gambian politics, with deleterious effect, which now has the potential to hijack the prospects of creating a truly democratic society. Tribalism in the Gambia has been the political orthodoxy over the past five decades, casting a dark shadow, which has permeated every aspect of life, to create the divisions along narrow sectarian lines. The general agreement in the Gambia is the need for vigorous intellectual reorientation in order to negate the myths implied by the prevailing sense of entitlement, in so doing, tackle a major part of the underlying dysfunction in our political system. The epic failure of the Gambia’s political system, dating back to the Sir Dawda Jawara era, is characterized by the bloody coup attempt of 1981, and the bloodless coup in 1994. The regressive nature of the sectarian slant that dominated Gambian politics, for the most part, since 1965, has erected a barrier to reconciliation that must be overcome in order to build a fully, culturally integrated society, like the neighboring sister country; Senegal. The Gambian people must reject the strong, almost gripping Darwinian appeal that nudges our countrymen and women into corners of cultural convenience, and intolerance to diversity, based on the regressive infatuation with tribal domination.
There is consensus in the new Gambia for parity in society and the political system, designed to preclude tribal majorities from impeding citizens in the pursuance of their constitutional rights. The central element of the intellectual realignment of our political consciousness is deference to the Constitution, which, in theory, empowers every Gambian to aspire for the highest office in the land. The constitution inspires equality as the bedrock of our new political dispensation; a true departure from the archaic political disposition of the past several decades. In so many ways, a sad element of Greek tragedy permeates the Gambia’s diaspora political discourses, and the tragedy is that, as a nation, we have learnt little from the seismic political shift of the last two decades. Frankly, Gambian politics were partly in disarray under Sir Dawda Jawara’s democratic experiment, and disastrous under the tyranny of Yahya Jammeh, and since independence, Gambia has been steeped in Faustian undercurrents, causing the rabid imperviousness to reason and morality. The arch of history does not permit the permanent advantage of tribal domination, which unfairly empowers a slice of society, at others expense. The aspirations for total political domination have always been challenged by the moralized pontifications of progressive forces, which champion equality in society, thus contextualizing the deep distress inherent in political marginalization. Blanket contempt for sectarian divide, as a guiding moral principle, has generated broad contrarian views, and isolated the demons of injustice into decline and decay. Paradoxically, the sickening ad hominem attacks and demagoguing of the emerging political system to the point of deifying political leaders, will meet stiff resistance, which has ability to save protagonists from their absurd political excesses. The Gambia’s new political orbit is replete with opportunities, but also of challenges, and only temperance; rather than hubris, will see us through in peace and fraternity.