LETTER: On the Plight of University Students in this COVID-19 Era: Letter to my President

Apr 24, 2020, 12:53 PM

Good morning Mr President,

In this eighth epistle of the series themed “On the Realities of our Current Situation”, I bring to your attention the plight of students of the University of The Gambia (UTG).

These young men and women have just commenced online lectures as schools remain closed and surely this  initiative by the UTG administration is highly commendable.

Such initiatives always reaffirm my faith in the creative destruction theory promulgated by economist Joseph Schumpeter. That our own local university here is able to do what the college of Amherst in the US is doing, is quite gratifying. We can surely catchup with the developed world; but there is a caveat: we just act with courage, determination and utmost seriousness.

Your Excellency, I respectfully make this submission with sincerity because I know that the UTG is home to many prominent activists in this country but they will talk about everything that’s going wrong in every place except their own backyard, the university. Talk of the Mandinka saying ‘kunu kantalaa buka a yaa jeh!’ Yet I don’t blame them much because in this reticent culture that I describe with the hashtag #HushHushNation, many people are gagged and #caged to the extent that even some lecturers who are negatively affected by these circumstances would rather keep mute or be punished in some subtle or direct way. So please bear with me Sir, as I present this case on behalf of the stakeholders.

Mr. President, we have a problem. The UTG Online lecture programme has already shown signs that it might be untenable due to technical and financial reasons. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the constrains can be ameliorated if you can step up and show leadership and commitment to the welfare of our youths.

I reproduce hereunder the gist of the problem. I believe that you are not adequately informed about the downsides of policies being implemented in your administration and that is why I am bringing these issues to your attention. Here is my lament posted on my public figure page on Facebook:

And also the UTG’s online lecture programme in this COVID-19 era is a commendable move.

However, the initiative required some prerequisite investment to prepare the platforms for successful lecture delivery and this was not done.

The 1.5mb data given to the students is woefully inadequate; and thus the programme might further impoverish the students who would have no choice but to buy more data to be able to follow the lectures in the cash-crunch of this COVID period...

Why is it that Gambians can never do anything properly even if the intentions are great?

Perhaps this problematic situation would wake our Higher Education minister from his maladministration-stupor of seeking a political legacy with his so called new University of Science and Technology project. The resources being diverted to build Badara Joof’s  new university are needed for the strengthening of UTG..

Meanwhile I congratulate the lecturers who have decided to go ahead and deliver these lectures despite the severe tech constraints they are facing.

#Gambia #KanaSong

Mr. President, less than 15 minutes after I made this post, came the first comment validating my argument and thus I present this one to you as well for your perusal:

Hate him or like him. Sabally always hit the truth.

The UTG said the two apps provided will be free and the 1.5mb will be use for research, but believe me this is not the case because I was having a lecture and almost all my bytes was consumed.

This morning, I supposed to have a lecture by 8:00am, but it couldn’t hold due to some technical problem.

The ministry should help us because some students are really suffering!

Your Excellency, now tat I have brought to your attention the problem that our innocent students are facing; are you going to act to resolve the issues and make life better for the young ones who took risks to ensure that you were inaugurated after the contentious December 2016 election or are you going to ask your loquacious Government Spokesman to come up with his customary bag of verbiage in the name of a press release?

Over to you Mr. President. Whatever line of action you choose to take, I can assure you that the hitches these university students are facing can be resolved and I implore you to get involved, hands-on, and perhaps redirect some of the resources identified for the building of your proposed new University of Science and Technology into revamping the extant technology at our only public university.

Your Excellency, if the above proposal is not going to be heeded, and I believe it might not be followed due to the vested interests and potential kickbacks from this new university project, then please consider using part of the purported D1billion lodged at the Central Bank as support for COVID-19 related challenges. Please use part of these funds to procure tech materials for the lecturers and adequate data for the students to properly follow their lectures and fulfill their increased research-based assignments during these difficult times.

I respectfully submit the foregoing for Your Excellency’s kind consideration and action.

Yours Truly

Momodou Sabally

Former Presidential Affairs Minister and International Speaker, Momodou Sabally is the author of several books including “Jangi Jollof: a Memoir on The Gambia’s First University Programme.”