THE MAKING OF A MODERN COUNTRY: THE GAMBIA SINCE 1994 (Part 3)

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    The Jammeh administration, in its quest for national reorientation and reconstruction, has had the foresight to give priority to education being in full knowledge that Africa’s underdevelopment has to a large extent been attributed to ignorance and lack of strong and skilful human resource base.

    In this light, since the 430 years rule of the British and PPP regime failed to produce a university that would train Gambians to become actors and drivers of their own development, President Jammeh conceived the idea of putting this structure during the transition.

    Amazingly, the Second Republic was able to put up a University Extension Programme in 1995 before instituting a fully-fledged university in 1999. This citadel of great learning and emblem of national pride has today produced thousands of Gambians who have taken their rightful positions in the development of the Republic. Many analysts describe the university as the greatest and most heart-touching project of the 1994 Revolution in its efforts to usher in meaningful and sustainable development. So far, over 3520 students have graduated from the University of The Gambia. Out of this number, 180 in Law, 750 in the Humanities and Social Sciences and 282 in the Physical and Natural Sciences just to name a few.

    Aware that government cannot do it alone in the business of providing education for all, the Jammeh Administration has encouraged and continues to encourage private sector participation in such business. This has resulted in greater access to education as well as bridging the gap between boys and girls in the acquisition of education. Again scholarship schemes such as the President’s Empowerment of Girls’ Education Project (PEGEP), Scholarship Trust Fund, Jammeh Foundation for Peace, among others were personally set up by President Jammeh to sponsor thousands of students both within and outside the country.

    One sector that received the most criticism in the past was energy. The then national utility provider, Gambia’s Utility Cooperation (GUC), was sarcastically referred to as “Gambia Uses Candles” due to the inconsistency of the limited electricity supply. The sector was only able to provide electricity to most of its customers for only 12hrs or sometimes not at all, for days, owing to low generating capacity. This was made worse by the fact that electricity supply was within a privileged area. But with the advent of the July 22nd Revolution, today, energy is supplied throughout the country. This has been made possible because of the increase in number of power plants across the country. The construction of a new power plant in Brikama has resulted in the expansion of electricity coverage to hitherto un-electrified major settlements such as Brufut, Sukuta, Sanyang, Tanji, Tujereng and Jambanjelly, Gunjur, Siffoe and Kartong. The rural electrification project has enabled many towns and villages in rural Gambia to benefit from electricity supply, with new power stations installed in Barra-Essau, Kerewan, Farafenni, Kaur, Bansang and Basse.

    Today, most rural villages, which were once victims of rural-urban drift, are turning into major centres due to the intensity of economic activities taking place in those communities. This positive transformation is as a result of accessibility to cheap electricity supply.

    Before 1994, the road network in this tiny West African country was so deplorable that certain communities were completely unreachable by car. It beats the imagination why a community located less than 50 Km from the capital city could be so badly deprived of motorable roads that had to cover distances of 8-10 Km in order to catch possible transport. But since the beginning of the Revolution, the government has not just been rehabilitating roads, but has also been constructing new ones in order to ease mobility and development (Ministry of Works, 2016). A number of road projects have been embarked upon by government in this regard. These include the 168Km Kombo Coastal Road; the rehabilitation and upgrading of the 20Km Barra-Amdallai Road, the 13-Km Mandinaba-Seleti Road, the 193-Km Soma-Basse Road, the 23-Km Basse-Wellingara Road, as well as the Trans-Gambia Highway. These major road networks and many others have bridged communities and made the movement of people and traffic of goods and services much easier.

    In one of his greatest works, Decolonizing the Mind, Ngugi Wa Thiong’O argues that African nations will continue to exist in servitude and backwardness unless African nations are genuinely prepared to sever all unproductive ties and primitive loyalties with colonial masters; that if neighbouring African states cannot fully integrate due to differences in colonial ancestry, then African governments will continue to suffer from the inability to make any meaningful progress that would meet the pace of global race. It seems therefore that The Gambia, under the leadership of President Jammeh, is taking that giant leap of faith towards establishing Wa Thiong’O’s utopian Africa. The Gambia today, under President Jammeh’s regime, is recognized not only as a politically sovereign nation, but also as one of the very few African countries that have demonstrated the will to be truly independent through its foreign policies and development programmes. That is to say, that the foreign policies of the government are purely anchored on the beliefs, norms and values of the people and not on those of foreign powers.

    The Gambia may be geographically small but politically, it is a giant. Gambians today are brave to dare the future with all that it holds. Gone are the days when people fear what change will bring when The Gambia discontinues her ties with institutions of self-aggrandizement whose only benefit is to remind Gambians of the hazards of slavery, colonialism and 400 years of looting. The Gambia’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth is a clear manifestation that her independence is complete and that The Gambia is free to withdraw or establish ties with whosoever as and when necessary.

    One does not have to be a genius or be at the helm of political affairs to be able to point out the achievements of the July 22nd Revolution and speak about them with authority. There is no gainsaying the fact that the 22nd of July, 1994 marks the beginning of real independence and rebirth of modern Gambia. The July 22nd Revolution is therefore worth celebrating.

    This is Gambia’s recent history and the records speak for themselves.

    The End.

    by Prof Pierre Gomez

    Dean, School of Arts and Sciences

    The University of The Gambia