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Apr 27, 2017, 10:35 AM

Please allow me space in your widely read newspaper to share my views on an   issue of great significance. As we all know, television and media in general, play a very important role in informing, educating and communicating with the people in this day and age. As such, they are a very powerful tool. I want to believe that Babili Mansa understood this very well and used TV to the maximum to control the former president’s narrative at every level. I also want to believe that the authorities of the new Gambia can capitalize on the potential of TV to influence opinion for the better, shape perspectives for the better, entertain positively and educate us as they embark on the difficult task of governing. The new Gambia is faced with a myriad of challenges and I believe that the GRTS as a powerful communication medium is underutilized, at least for now.

 Having said that, I perfectly understand that GRTS is in the throes of a transformation. Saddled with serious financial constraints, with new top level management, who are yet to stamp their mark on the content, the station is yet to find its bearing. This is understood, but I want to humbly suggest that in the process, they should undertake what marketers refer to as a product review and identify their star, cash cow programmes, as well as the dogs and problem children. In my humble view, the programme entitled Kachaa is a star given its focus on socially interactive themes and issues. Thanks to Kachaa and Bakary Fatty the credentials of Jali Mbye as a great historian and great kora player were put to the fore. This has catapulted this humble Jali in to the limelight. The Nuuni Neenla programme could be rebranded to evolve into a very interactive and opinion influencing programme that tackles social ills.

What about the Assignment? This flagship, weekend programme could evolve into a star that not only informs but serves as a platform for key officials of the new Gambia to lay out their programme and engage with the people. For example, Honourable Ousainou Darboe – a human rights lawyer turned politician - is a great asset of the new Gambia in my humble view. I have been monitoring his engagements since I was in high School just after the Kukoi led abortive coup, when the late Honourable Sheriff Mustapha Dibba was incarcerated and charged with treason. This erudite lawyer stood his ground and liberated Dibba – one of the main exponents of democracy and pluralism in The Gambia. Over the years he has been relentless and very consistent in exposing impunity not just in the second republic, but the first republic as well and the high point was the street protest he led to reclaim Solo dead or alive.

Honourable Ousainou Darboe – the leader of the UDP and the Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs, International cooperation and Gambians abroad - is now in the throes of politics and Gambians just rewarded him and his party with well-deserved “political capital” in the recent parliamentary elections. How he dispenses this capital through his dominant party will go a long way to consolidate democracy in the new Gambia. Of late he has been a subject of a great debate in certain circles, which is very much in line with the basic tenets of pluralism – understood as “genuine engagement of diversities within the bounds of civility”. In return, my humble view is that he has to use the media such as TV, radio and even the print media to explain his vision and that of his party to dispel misconceptions and set the record straight.

The recent press release from this gentleman was a step in the right direction in which he pointed out, “We are a nation of one family, united by blood ties and love of our people.  Whatever village or town you live in, whatever work you do, which ever language you speak, whichever party you belong to, you are first and foremost the daughter of the son of the land, this beloved land of The Gambia, this home and abode of ours”. He went on exhort the parliamentarians of the UDP- the dominant party in parliament to “serve all Gambians”.  Well said and such statements should come often, to dispel misconceptions and set the record straight.

I concur with the fact that the Gambia is one big family. A case in point is that the author is Mandinka, but born and bred in Foni Bondali - the land of the Jolas where there has been great ethnic diversity and tolerance from time immemorial. All my childhood friends were Jola and my father, who passed away in 1972, was a great friend of the current chief Seyfo Mr Ebou Colley. If that is not enough, my grandfather - a renowned Jaliba – Abdoulie Suso was the first to compose a song in Jola “Balawo Musa Colly – ISabari”. My mother’s mother was a wollof called Chumbu Samba – daughter of a Hallam player!  What a colorful mix.

This is the essence of The Gambia – The Smiling Coast of Africa. In later years when I was Director of Marketing GTA/GT Board, (2005- 2012) I used to point out in my overseas marketing campaigns, that The Gambia is the Smiling Coast of Africa because we are at peace with each other, and there is unity in diversity and great religious tolerance, social cohesion and that Gambians are very open, hospitable and warm hearted. In the Smiling Coast we all tend to be related to one another.

These unique qualities attracted the first batch of tourists to our shores, and years have gone by but these unique attributes are still the bedrock of our tourism and the bulk of our visitors have thoroughly enjoyed their stay in the Smiling Coast. Invariably, it is not uncommon to hear “meet you soon” or “welcome back’ at hotel reception desks of our various hospitality outfits. This is further evidenced by the 52% huge repeat visitor base. According to authoritative studies, the lion’s share of visitors has expressed their willingness to recommend this small gem of a destination to friends and relatives back home.

Invariably, it is said that tourism in the Smiling Coast was started by accident by one Swede named Bertil Harding way back in 1965. According to another tourism expert, “this was an accident waiting to happen|” given the abundance of positive credentials we have on the Smiling Coast.

Simply put, our legendary hospitality and kind-heartedness, buttressed by a great degree of social cohesiveness, constitute our unique selling point a “product plus” according to the Tourism Development Master Plan Study. In my view, that story should be told in very clear terms, and the programme to tell that success story is “Expedition Gambia”. This is a great programme that showcases the true credentials of Gambian tourism, and it is increasingly recognized that “tourism is an opportunity for people to do better”. In my view, “Expedition Gambia” should evolve into a travel trade/ tourism/culture information programme to better reflect the changing dynamics of tourism and project our unique selling points.

Another programme that has yet to unleash its full potential is the “Weekend Spectrum”. I want to believe that this programme should be revisited and repositioned in terms of content and delivery. A weekly current affairs programme of this magnitude should be very interactive and should make best use of expert opinion to inform, educate and enlighten people about key issues at both domestic and international levels.

 In The Gambia we have it all from celebrated artists, musicians – Jaliba Kuyateh comes to mind, fashion in media gurus – Ms  Conateh/ Ms Chilel Sarr come to mind , historians – Hassoum Ceesay comes to mind, film makers – Mr Ebou Waggeh, Nana Offori Atta come to mind,  seasoned diplomats – Alhagie Momar Taal comes to mine, legal experts –the erudite  Henry Darlington Carrol comes to mind, economists – Mr Momodou Sabally comes to mind, bankers, political scientists, international law and international relations experts Mr Ebrima Badjie – former Gambian envoy to India/Taiwan comes to mind, tourism experts – Adama Bah comes to mind, cultural experts – Bakary Sidibe/Sheikh Omar Jallow come to mine, social development experts, human rights activists – Mr Musa Mbenga of DUGA  comes to mind, social workers,  private sector gurus – Mr Alieu Secka comes to mind and environmental experts, including climate change experts, Pateh Bubu Jallow comes to mind.

 My question is why we are not using them to the maximum in our television and other media outlets for expert opinion on key and significant issues of the day? This is food for thought for the new authorities.

 I always admire the Senegalese for their love of country and creativity and they pay particular attention to the role of experts/intelligentsia in national development.  As such, they always utilize expert opinion in their TV programmes. A case in point, the very day on December 9th when the ex president made a declaration in rejecting the election results, straightway the TFM  TV station went to work and invited a very articulate expert to give his opinion and perspective on the issues of the day and entertained questions  and answers from the audience.

In my view, this made a lot of impact in shaping Senegalese public opinion, which is critical in a democracy. Cognizant of this, the Senegalese Foreign Minister immediately joined the fray to lay out the official Senegalese Government’s position on the issue, with the confidence that public opinion was on his side.

I rest my case.

Lamin Saho