22nd July 1994 was a watershed moment in The Gambia; that fateful day when a group of gallant men in uniform took it upon themselves to bring about a revolution that would later put the country on a positive and monumental development trajectory. From the outset, the soldiers led by then Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh had as their mantra “We are soldiers with a difference” and in grand style, they assumed the reigns of the country without a fuss or even a chicken being slaughtered as many would to attest to.
From the very infant days of the revolution, there were calls by the Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and Head of State of State Yahya A.J.J Jammeh for the citizenry to embrace patriotism and join ranks for the interest of the motherland, underpinned by the three noble principles of accountability, transparency and probity. The message from the new dispensation was that it was never going to be business as usual as was amply manifested by Chairman Jammeh’s uncompromising resolve to nip in the bud corruption, greed and all other vices that were deemed inimical to the progress of The Gambia.
A new Gambia was born with the conceptualization and eventual unveiling in 1996 of the country’s premier development blueprint, VISION 2020 The Gambia incorporated, which among other things sought “to transform The Gambia into a financial centre, tourist paradise, a trading, export-oriented agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on a free market policy, sustained by a well-educated, trained, skilled, healthy, self-reliant and enterprising population and guaranteeing a well-balanced eco-system and a decent standard of living for one and all under a system of government based on the consent of the citizenry”.
With fresh impetus and direction from the leadership, there was no looking back since then as The Gambia continues to undergo one life changing development after another. Crucially, the agricultural sector by virtue of its status as the number 1 source of livelihood for most Gambians was prioritized. President Jammeh, cognizant of the sector’s role in self-sufficiency made a strong call to his fellow Gambians to go back to the land so as to become food self-sufficient thereby reducing the country’s heavy dependence on food imports which in themselves come at a cost from an economic point of view. To show that he meant serious business, the architect of the July 22nd Revolution himself matched his words with deeds, putting large swathes of land under cultivation in his native Kanilai.
The Gambian leader made it a grand development agenda to kick hunger and pave the way to make The Gambia a bastion of food security. For a country that is very much endowed with arable land and fresh water, the President never relented in hammering home the importance of his green offensive, with farmers across the country also benefiting from valuable agricultural inputs notably fertilizer and implements in his all-important quest for a food self-sufficient nation. Today, the back to the land call has become a recurring theme and farming no longer seen as a thing for only the rural dweller.
Perhaps, the education sector is one of the major successes of the July 22nd Revolution. Recognizing that no meaningful development can be effected in the lives of a people without education; and having come into power at a time when schools were few and far between, education in The Gambia was accorded the utmost attention it deserves. Schools of different categories were not only built across the country but continue to be supplied with highly trained and well-motivated teaching staff, all anchored on the core values of access, quality and relevance. Today, even the remotest village in The Gambia can boast of a primary school. The days of travelling several kilometers in pursuit of basic education are relegated to the doldrums of history.
Thanks to the July 22nd Revolution, Gambians no longer require leaving the shores of the country to seek university education elsewhere. What initially started as the University Extension Programme in 1995 culminated in the University of The Gambia. The UTG is one of the remarkable success stories of the revolution. Being the country’s citadel of knowledge, it continues to graduate thousands of Gambians and non-Gambians alike in the various fields with many of its alumni manning highly important positions both within and outside The Gambia. Of more significance is the School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences of the University of The Gambia. The many homegrown doctors and other qualified medical practitioners that are providing highly sensitive and professional services in every part of the country are the pride of the University of The Gambia.
In addition to the many tertiary institutes that are very much visible in the country, the July 22nd Revolution has also paved the way for the establishment of countless vocational training centers that are arming out- of- school youths critical skills needed to become productive members of society without having to be a burden on their families, the community and the state in general. Over the years, thousands of young Gambians have also been provided scholarship packages in pursuance of higher education both within and outside The Gambia.
Like education, the health sector has also undergone tremendous transformations with the advent of the July 22nd Revolution. Health facilities have sprung up in every part of the country, making health care both affordable and accessible to the citizenry. From the early days of the revolution, the AFPRC hospital in Farefenni was constructed, Sulayman Junkung Hospital built in Bwiam, Jammeh Foundation for Peace Hospital erected in Bundung and of recent Sere-Kunda General Hospital in Kanifing. These strategically situated hospitals are a far cry from the pre-Jammeh era. As the country celebrates 22 years of unprecedented development, the state of our health sector offers great hope. Not only have minor health centres expanded and are being upgraded into major health centres and many other new ones being built, official accounts point to significant improvements in overall health statistics.
As The Gambia and her friends bask in the glory of the July 22nd Revolution, we would like to sieze this moment to salute the gigantic efforts of President Jammeh in creating equal opportunities for women and girls. Indeed, Gambian women can take pride in the fact that they can today stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in every facet of our nation; from positions of leadership, politics to serving as holders of top managerial positions. Gone are the days when leadership was seen as a male preserve.
The level of infrastructural development taking shape in the country cannot be left unsaid. Bridges were built, better road networks created as the telecommunications sector equally continues to grow in leaps and bounds.
“Aluta continua, vitoria e’certa”. The struggle continues, victory is certain.