Nov 13, 2015, 10:27 AM
does one understand the strength of a nation? Is it through the amount of money
a country has? Can one measure a nation’s might by the size of its military? Or
is strength determined according to the amount of natural resources a country
possesses? Answering the afore-mentioned questions is important because each
question highlights a perspective that is significant to the perceived image of
a nation. With answers, countries can enter into dialogues with their citizens
about how to create dynamic societies that will improve the quality of life for
each citizen in order to position such a country favorably among other nations.
In 2015, during a conversation with a trader in Mumbai, India, I was enlightened about the manner in which different people perceived themselves in comparison to others. The above trader described his view of India as follows:
We are very rich. America has a lot of resources, computers, and money. But each time I see America on television, someone is always getting shot, and it makes me afraid to visit there. But in India, we do not have to worry about our security because our government makes it possible for all of us to feel safe. Although people outside of India assume that we are poor, I promise you that we are not. We are wealthy in so many ways. Our cultural institutions reflect our values and belief system. Young people from India are among the most productive in the world. Just think about it. The CEOs of Pepsi and Microsoft, two of the most valuable companies in the world, are India. Therefore, we have a lot to be thankful for. If you want to do something in India, believe me, the opportunities are available to ensure your success. India may not have as much money as America. However, I feel safe knowing that I can leave my house and family in the morning, guaranteed to return home in the evening. That is what makes us rich and proud.
In a separate conversation in 2016, a waiter at a restaurant in Dusseldorf, Germany, expressed a similar concern about his perception of what made Germany great and why he worried about life in the United States.
Here in Germany, it is illegal to carry a gun. The only people who are allowed to carry a gun are the police and the military. However, each time I watched the news about America, I see people getting shot by ordinary civilians. We, Germans, like our peace and we get along with one another well. If you have a dispute with someone, you find a way to solve that problem legally. But the idea that people can just reach into their pocket, take out a gun and shoot you? That is crazy. If I may ask: How do America get guns so easily? It makes me very afraid to go there. My fiancée and I talked about going to New York for our honeymoon. But we decided against it because we did not want to get shot. That is the reason why I did not think about going to America. I simply did not want to get killed.
The two individuals mentioned above were ordinary people living normal lives in their respective countries. Although they were from different parts of the world, they each expressed a deep sense of love and pride about their homeland. Based on my conversations with them, I got a sense that both men valued safety, security, and prosperity. In my view, safety, security, and prosperity are interlocking values that must be present in a functional democracy. Absent any of the three values, the quality of human life becomes devalued. Thus, I would like readers to think about the following questions while reading the rest of this article: What will “The New Gambia” look like five years from now? Is it going to be prosperous? Are Gambians going to stay and work at home or are more people going to try the so-called “backway?”
My view is that amid uncertainty, there is opportunity. The Gambia is currently witnessing its third representative government since independence. Like any new democracy, the nation has a lot to learn both from its past and from established democracies. The healthcare sector, education, youth services, the national economy, and cultural institutions all need to work seamlessly in order to improve the nation’s standing. To make the above enhancements, transformative leadership will be required. The new government must address the following two deficits in order to change the quality of life of a majority of Gambians.
1. Alleviate Poverty:
One of the immediate priorities of the government is to address poverty. Many in The Gambia live on approximately $1.25 a day according to estimates by the United Nations. Whether that estimate is accurate or not is beside the point. What matters is the impoverished reality that many Gambians are currently faced with. In 2009, the Bureau of Statistics in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a report about poverty in The Gambia. In their report, many Gambians revealed that they kept their children home because of an inability to pay for school fees. If the rate of illiteracy in The Gambia is not reversed, Gambians will continue to experience apathy rather than prosperity. In a previous article, I posed the following question, “Can education change society?” I continue to believe that education is essential to overcoming obstacles that impede national development and social challenges. As a civil society, it is important to employ every available tool to improve the standard of education across the country. A dynamic workforce must be educated so as to meet the challenges of our increasingly competitive global economy.
2. Gender Equality:
According to the UNDP, between 2010 and 2015, there were 115.8 adolescent females between the ages of 15 – 19 who gave birth in The Gambia out of every one thousand births. The above numbers are a cause for national dialogue on improving the quality of life for adolescent women in the country. The world has moved far beyond the days when women were homemakers while men became bread winners. Rather than keeping girls home, efforts should be made to keep them in school and in the workforce. UNDP data suggested that 48.9% of Gambians ages twenty-five and older had at least some secondary education from 2005 – 2014. Out of that group, only 17.4% were women compared to the 31.5% male population. With a predominantly male educated society, no wonder that even parliament only had 9.4% of seats occupied by women in 2014. Consequently, workforce participation is uneven at 72.2% women and 82.9% men in 2013. Ironically, more women would prefer to work and earn income if they had the opportunity to do so.
I continue to believe in The Gambia and its prospects of a better future. While it is not expected that all of the issues facing the nation be resolved right away, it is important to consider factors that have long been responsible for the degradation of lifestyles across the country. A deep understanding of social issues from an objective perspective is keen to addressing the concerns of citizens at home and abroad.
Susso, S. P. (2017, February 13). Can education change society? The Point Newspaper.
Retrieved on February 23, 2017 from http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/can-education-changes-society
The Gambia Bureau of Statistics, The Gambia 2013 Population and Housing Census Preliminary
Results. (2013). Retrieved on February 21, 2017 from file:///C:/Users/Sankung78/Downloads/The%20Gambia%20Population%20and%20Housing%20Census%202013%20Provisional%20Report.pdf
The Gambia Bureau of Statistics and United Nations Development Programme – The Gambia,
Poverty and Social Impact Analysis Report. (2009). Retrieved on February 21, 2017 from
United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Reports. (2015). 2015 statistical
annex tables. Retrieved on February 21, 2017 from http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi
Author: Sankung Papa Susso is a Professor of Education at Touro College and University, System, Email: Sankung78@yahoo.com