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Feb 11, 2015, 10:44 AM

February 18, 2015, and Gambia would be celebrating 50 years of independence from colonial rule.It would be time for proper stock-taking of all these years: the first 30 years of a PPP government against a lesser 20 years of APRC rule.We should look at POLITICAL as well as ECONOMIC independence (or Development), because the two concepts are worlds apart in real terms.Political independence means nothing if there is no economic independence.


The British colonialists imposed upon The Gambia a two-prong system of governance: namely a Colonial style of Direct Rule in the Capital (Banjul) and an African governance system of Indirect Rule in the Provinces, or Protectorate as it was administratively called.Gambia was ruled by way of ‘Regulations’ from the Colonial office in London.Customary laws and practices were fully recognized but only so far as these did not conflict with British ‘Regulations’ and where there was conflict the Regulations prevailed.

For easy colonial governance the Protectorate was divided into administrative Divisions and Districts.Local Chiefs were appointed to head Districts with responsibility for governance and for revenue collection which was essential to sustain ultra conservative colonial spending.Revenue was therefore closely monitored by Colonial Travelling Commissioners.

Under Indirect Rule, all British policy and policy changes were channeled through District Chiefs to the local population, and the same were used to enforce colonial regulations in the Provinces.This political system served the end of achieving colonial domination with little effort (by tasking appointed local leaders) and minimal expense (by using revenue from Property and Compound Tax).This system went unchanged until 1959 when the colonial administration for the first time seriously contemplated granting self-rule to The Gambia.

Self-rule was attained in 1962 following national elections that year.Independence was granted in 1965; Republican status attained in 1970 and political ties with Britain ended.

In the area of development, the colonialists did very little.British economic policy was strongly against supporting capital investments and any major development projects. As early as colonial times, the colonial Government expected; and indeed required, the colony to take responsibility for its own development.Much later in its history the colonial government showed a slight policy change by passing the Colonial Welfare and Development Act of 1940 under which British grants could be provided for specific developmental needs for the Gambia’s medium and long-term development some of which were to be jointly funded by the two parties.

By the end of colonial rule in 1965, few major projects were implemented including two referral hospitals in Bansang and Banjul respectively; Armitage High School in Georgetown for the education of children of Chiefs (probably as part of benefits to chiefs for acting as intermediaries in the colonial administration); construction of Clifton Road (now Independence Drive) clearly to facilitate the Colonial Governor’s drive to the Legislative Chambers and back to Government House.It can therefore he claimed that the colonial government made little contribution to the economic development of The Gambia, but contributed significantly to the impoverished conditions at Independence.


Following the first Gambian elections in 1951, the legislative elections, Gambia’s first two political parties were formed: Democratic Party led by Reverend J.C Faye and the Muslim Congress led by I.M Garba-Jahumpa. Two of the defeated candidates in the 1951 elections (Edward Francis Small and P.S Njie) had contributed to the promotion of the Democratic Party.However both Democratic and Muslim Congress could not get a strong following; both were narrow-based relying on religious connections and support of Banjul electorate.Not much attention was devoted to the provincial population who at that time showed little or no interest in political parties or the significance of political activities.Some of these however came to lend support to P.S Njie who had formed the United Party in readiness for the 1954 Legislative Council elections.P.S Njie won those elections by a convincing 58%.The two main contenders (J.C Faye and Garba-Jahumpa) got about 21% each.P.S Njie became Gambia’s 1st Chief Minister.

Following a Constitutional Conference in 1959 to introduce universal suffrage for the entire country, the 1st national elections were officially scheduled for May 1960.DK Jawara and his Protectorate People’s Party (PPP) entered the political arena.

Through long observations and political adroitness the new party first called itself Protectorate Peoples Party (before it later became Peoples Progressive Party) thereby winning the support of the big majority of voters in the provinces.PPP convincingly won the 1962 elections and Jawara became Gambia’s 1st Prime, Minister.It was sensational talk then, that the provincial electorate being first time voters were deceived into casting ballots for the wrong symbols otherwise PPP’s victory would have been more resounding.Jawara and PPP colleagues spent all the subsequent months preparing for Independence which was attained in 1965.Further to that political achievement, the PPP achieved the status of Republic for the Gambian nation in 1970.

In the ensuing years the PPP’s political domination grew from strength to strength culminating in the party’s biggest landslide victory in 1977 elections at which the PPP won 27 seats, the United Party (UP) won only 2 seats and the UP/NLP coalition none.Thereafter, it has been said, Gambia could have been made a one-party state, but the PPP government refused to follow such an undemocratic course.The government instead supported a multi-party state and against any form of media censorships.The PPP government was widely honoured for democratic principles that allowed opposition parties and newspapers to function freely even where they criticized government actions.

Opposition leaders were not repressed, nor persons detained for anti-government criticism or political rhetoric.Complacent in their sweeping victories, the party began to lose sight of the need for party structural organization and cohesion.Factionalism took hold, and compounded by corruption and a weakening economy. That unsatisfactory position brought about the Party’s demise with the military coup of July 1994.

Regarding what development the PPP government registered we can count a few major projects: Banjul/Serrekunda dual carriageway, construction of Kairaba Avenue, improvement of river transport, agricultural productivity and diversification…In addition to these, a host of small-scale ‘Tesito’ projects in all the regions.There were plans on the drawing board for more major projects.

Examples are national television, a modern airport, Trans-Gambia Highway, North Bank road including the much talked about Laminkoto-Passimas road, Westfield-Sukuta, Soma-Basse, and so on, but these projects never got off the drawing board; but were later undertaken by the new entrants (AFPRC/APRC).

APRC Political and Economic Development

A new political entity was formed in July 1994.It went by the name of AFPRC through a two-year transition period laid down by the Gambian people after a nation-wide consultative process.The new entrants then opted to call for national elections in 1996 in which they themselves took part under civilian banner.They had declared a lack of interest in politics and political power emphasizing they merely intended to put right the wrongs of the previous government. But they retracted that declaration and did give a good showing in electioneering.

The APRC won those elections against very strong opposition by the UDP, PPP, NRP … The trend of election victories continued, the November 2011 elections being their biggest landslide.The losing parties consistently blamed their defeat on the wrongful interference of Divisional Commissioners, Seyfos, intimidating military personnel, unfair use of the state apparatus, among other complaints.However the party is still firmly entrenched and looking forward to further elections in 2016.

In economic development the APRC have not been found wanting by any stretch of the imagination.While significant development has been recorded in nearly all the sectors, most profound have been the achievements in Education, Health, Agriculture, and infrastructure.Uncountable schools, University, hospitals, road networks, airport, national television, free education etc. etc.The list is a long one and justice has been done to it by Ebrima Jawara in his book in ‘Overview of Development Projects 1994 to 2012’ which is hereby recommended for consultation.

On the whole one can correctly state that not much was achieved under colonial rule, political or development-wise.The PPP party scored very high political achievement steering the nation form self-rule to Independence to Republic; membership to important international, regional and sub-regional organizations, considerable peace and stability, press freedom, democracy and rule of law.Their development agenda however, fell short in many places particularly in some crucial development areas such as Education, Health and infrastructure.

To make matters worse, wide-scale corruption among some of their followers as was revealed in the Commissions of Enquiry and unprogressive tendencies, helped bring down drastically the party’s performance rating.The APRC for their part thrived mostly in the economic domain: remarkable development underpinned by stronger values and ethics, a more progressive, resilient and forward-looking nation.

We can say that between these two presidents, lay the political and the economic development of The Gambia.Like Hassoum Ceesay said (The Standard Newspaper of 6th February) these two sons of the Nation each deserves a pat; and to urge President Jammeh to push the nation to yet higher heights as the ball is still on his court.Gambia now stands assured that February 1965 did not mark ‘the birth of an improbable nation’ as Berkeley Rice pronounced.

Gambia has always been a nation and did not have to be ‘probable’ or ‘born again’; Gambia has always existed in time and space with strong democratic structures, peaceful and progressive institutions.This is a nation on the march and has overall been successful if even on balance of probabilities.

Editorial note:

The author wishes to acknowledge with gratitude records and photos from National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC).