Fifty-Two Years of Independence, Survival and Reconstruction

Friday, February 17, 2017

Scores of Gambians at home and from the Diaspora will tomorrow converge at the Independence Stadium in Bakau to celebrate the 52nd Independence Anniversary of our dear nation.

At least, 20 Heads of State and Government from abroad are expected to grace the occasion, which will be marked by a military parade, march-past of school children and cultural displays.

The elaborate fanfare and pageantry that has been planned is a reflection of the mood in the country. Gambians are breathing a sigh of relief; Gambians have survived a brutal dictatorship; Gambians have peacefully defeated a tyrant through the ballot box; Gambians have chosen a new leader and Gambians are poised to rebuild their country. 

This is, therefore, a celebration of survival and hope.  Let us remember that from 1965 to 1994, The Gambia defied the prophets of doom and gloom, who had dubbed its independence as “the birth of an improbable nation” by building a new nation that thrived on Democracy, Peace and Stability.

However, in 1994, our existence as a viable State was eclipsed by a group of “soldiers with a difference”, whose rule brought twenty-two years of darkness that was characterized by terror, mysterious disappearances, torture and the plundering of state resources.

Yes, we have survived and Gambians have a right to be proud.  Yes, we must celebrate the downfall of an evil regime and commemorate our independence.

But in all the euphoria, we must not forget, the grieving mothers whose sons and daughters were maimed and killed by the brutal Dictator.

We must not forget the inconsolable widows and orphans, whose spouses and fathers have disappeared without trace, the culprits should be brought to book without wasting time.

We must not forget the multitude of Gambians who are psychologically scarred and damaged by the excesses of the defunct dictatorship.

We should thank God and President Barrow for allaying fears of repression and for bringing back freedom of speech or expression.

Many Gambians will be celebrating tomorrow, but many Gambians will continue to suffer in silence and cannot celebrate because of grief. 

Two questions come to mind: What lessons have we leant from the past? And where do we go from here?

An honest introspection will show that we desperately need an attitudinal change at all levels of society. Gambians should re-embrace our age-old virtues of love and care for one another and abandon the damaging traits of competition and the rat-race.

This has pitched brother against brother and has brought upon us a country, where there is no mutual respect between its citizens. 

Our country is devoid of sympathy and empathy, meaning,   “everyone for him/herself, God for us all”.

We celebrate when someone fails, believing that one’s failure means less competition and better chances for the others. Rather than honour, respect and celebrate each other, we pull each other down.  It must be realized that a country, where nobody is anybody, is a country of nobodies.

With this state of disunity and discord, Yahya Jammeh exploited our weaknesses, knocked our heads together and used many of our brothers and sisters as enablers to prolong his grip on power, misusing state funds by buying two aircrafts for personal use, purchasing luxurious cars and arms and ammunition for his protection at state house and Kanilai, and he was a businessman of all-rounder.

Attitudinal change is also needed in the post-Jammeh era. As in all dictatorships, Jammeh used state terrorism to instill in people a culture of fear, silence and sycophancy.

Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing and ask nothing was the prescription for safety and self preservation. The only voices that were tolerated were those of the praise singers and promoters of his personality cult. 

We have all experienced the consequences of these attitudes and there is no need to dwell on why we should move away from them.

As a people, the onus is now on everyone, to take ownership of the Coalition Government and give it the support it needs.  Whether a public servant or  private entrepreneur, we must all today make a strong resolution and re-dedicate ourselves to the supreme interest of the nation.

This means that we should all eschew ethnicity and embrace our unique national identity. It means discipline and hard work, it means nurturing a culture of excellence in our lives and in our work. It all means putting country before self.

Our country being at crossroads needs and deserves nothing less.

Our advice to cabinet ministers is simple. You have answered the clarion call of your country and your primary objective should be selfless service.

The heaviest burden is on the shoulders of President Adama Barrow. As the Fountain of Honour, Defender of the Constitution and Architect of the Third Republic, high expectations, hope and trust have been placed in him. 

We know that President Barrow is not a Messiah who will transform our country through miracles, but we request that he leads us with vision and a sense of mission.

We call on him to be fair, but firm and resolute in his actions.  Gambians are eager to move on, and we expect the honeymoon of the Government to end immediately after the Independence celebrations, for work on rebuilding the nation to commence. 

Although there are competing priorities for the Government to address, we wish to draw attention to some pressing issues. We hope that the President will immediately look into the operations of the security forces. They are bloated and expensive to maintain.

In the same vein, Government should also look into the situation of many public servants who were wrongly and arbitrarily dismissed.

Competent civil servants and officials of parastatals who were dismissed for no good reason could be reinstated. Downsizing and retraining such discharged officers for other professions should be considered.

Government should also consider to review those public servants of the First Republic who had their assets seized by the Jammeh regime, and those whose acts that may not be found wanton to be given back their assets.

National reconciliation is a priority. Our society is fractured as a result of the excesses of the Jammeh regime. Those who lost relatives should be given the opportunity to bring closure to their grief. Those who suffered torture, humiliation and degrading treatment should be allowed to confront their assailants and those who were wrongly accused and jailed must be given redress.

Only a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can serve as an appropriate platform for this sensitive exercise, and we hope that the President will make a move on this as a matter of urgency.

We welcome the appointment of a new Secretary-General and Head of the Civil Service. His task is onerous because it should involve the de-politicization of the service, rebuilding and re-orientating it to its former glory as a professional and apolitical entity.

The President should use our new found friendship with multilateral partners to address our intractable energy problems.

It is clear that NAWEC was used and misused by Yahya Jammeh as one of his revenue machines, and there is need to re-organize and re-energize that Institution to enable it resume its rightful role as an efficient and reliable energy provider.

The state of the education sector is cause for alarm, and a bold and decisive initiative is needed to re-invent the system to ensure that our children receive the education they need as the future citizens of this nation.

Our health services are also in urgent need of re-habilitation.

We cannot close the laundry list without calling the attention of the President to the dilapidated state of the nation’s capital.  Banjul has been neglected and allowed to decay by the Jammeh regime, and we hope that the President will reach out to the Banjul City Council to rehabilitate our capital city.

The needs are many and expectations are high. We leave it to the President and his government to work it out.

We call on all Gambians and our development partners to cooperate with the Government for the realization of our goals.

Congratulations Gambia and happy 52nd Independence Anniversary.

"One Gambia, One People, One Destiny!"

The Point