THE MAKING OF A MODERN COUNTRY: THE GAMBIA SINCE 1994 (Prt II)

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    To be self reliant, investing in agricultural production is the only answer since agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy and a lifeline for its citizens. Over 70 percent of available employment is in this sector. Therefore, in order to be self reliant and food self sufficient, the agriculture sector has to be given the attention and mechanisation it deserves. The Second Republic is doing just that.

    During the First Republic, the government could not provide the people of The Gambia with the needed tractors annually. Peasant farmers or farmers in general were not being provided with enough fertiliser, seeds and other vital resistant and improved varieties of crops, to help improve the sector. But when the Second Republic came into power, agriculture has been significantly improved. President Jammeh continues to encourage and inspire more Gambians into farming through his pragmatic and exemplary farming activities. It is not uncommon to see him in Kanilai, his native village, during his annual leave, toiling hard on his vast farms. What is more, we are reliably informed that the proceeds of these farms are mainly used to sponsor girls’ education through the President’s Empowerment of Girls’ Education Project (PEGEP).

    The Jammeh-led government has since 1994 been making giant efforts towards agricultural mechanisation in view of the fact that no nation can aspire to be food self-sufficient or have surplus to export without mechanisation. Under his Presidency, The Gambia continues to march frantically towards transforming the agricultural sector into a highly mechanised one: from 1994 to date, the government has imported more than many tractors. They were distributed to farmers through cooperatives across the country. The idea is to boost local production and ultimately attain food self-sufficiency. In addition, peasant farmers are supplied with fertilisers, new seed varieties, improved and resistant varieties of crops every year. Genuine Gambians will certainly attest to the fact that this sector alone has justified and rendered the revolution more than legitimate. According to MoA report (2016), “The main trust of implementing these projects were premised on improving crops and livestock production and productivity; income levels of small and medium holder farmers, improving access to financial services to increase agricultural production and productivity; food and nutrition security and sovereignty of the general farming population of both rural and peri-unban.”

    Since the inception of the July 22nd Revolution in 1994, the agriculture sector has received significant attention from the Jammeh administration. President Jammeh attaches much dignity to farm work and other forms of manual labour. He leads by example to inspire his fellow countrymen to go back to the land and grow what they are supposed to eat. In promoting this sector, slogans such as Back to the Land, Operation Feed Yourself, Grow what You Eat and Eat what You Grow, Vision 2016 and so on are given wide coverage to ensure that there is enough food in the food basket of The Gambia. With the introduction of these projects and programmes, tremendous achievement has been registered in raising awareness about the significance of self-reliance and food self-sufficiency.

    While achievements are no doubt being registered by government-initiated projects, the personal intervention of President Jammeh has impacted greatly on the sector. A number of new crop varieties aimed at improving the productive base of the farming community in The Gambia have also impacted greatly on the sector.

    Health is hope; and he who has this hope, has everything. When President Jammeh came to power, the health sector became one of his core priorities. Today, hospitals have been built across the length and breadth of the country equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment. The number of hospitals has increased considerably compared to both colonial era and First Republic eras put together. The most notable health facilities built by the Jammeh Administration are the AFPRC General Hospital in Farafenni; the Sulayman Junkung Jammeh General Hospital in Bwiam; Jammeh Foundation for Peace Hospital and the Serrekunda Hospital in Kanifing, as well as the many other outpost health infrastructures spread all over the country (MOH&SW, 2016).

    Furthermore, a paediatric hospital has been built in Kanilai, plus an unprecedented number of major and minor health centres across the country. These strides have not only made medical services accessible and affordable by all and sundry, they have also improved life expectancy in The Gambia compared to former years. Additionally, women enjoy free maternal health care service and this has drastically reduced infant and maternal mortality.

    A highly palpable endeavour in the health care delivery system is the bilateral cooperation The Gambia has established with Cuba. Through this bilateral cooperation, The Gambia enjoys a steady presence of hundreds of tried and tested Cuban doctors deployed in all major and minor health centres across the country. Armed with the foresight that real independence means little or no reliance on expatriates, President Jammeh has gone farther afield to establish a medical school that has now given us 158 home-grown doctors.

    The President’s Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP) has also complemented the strides made in the health sector. Initiated by the Gambian leader on the 17th of January, 2007, as part of his crusade to save humanity from the scourge of complicated diseases, the programme has, since its inception, benefitted thousands of patients both within and outside the frontiers of The Gambia. The programme provides herbal treatment for diseases such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, infertility, and so on, which western medicine find almost impossible to cure.

    Prior to the 22nd July Revolution, only two senior secondary schools were built in The Gambia by the government, that is, Gambia High School and Armitage High School. These were even times when pupils had to carry their own tables and chairs to and from school on a daily basis. The situation got so bad that even the construction of classrooms had to be undertaken by parents and students by using palm fronds and other local materials.

    Prior to the 22nd July, 1994, girls’ education was not encouraged. This created a serious disparity between boys and girls in the area of education. Women are the most economically active part of our society and form more than half of the population. It is therefore commendable to give the girl child a sound education and training that would enhance her full and unalloyed participation in national development. To curb this problem of disparity between boys and girls in the school system, the President’s Empowerment of Girls’ Education Project (PEGEP) was created. The initiative, sponsored by the President, seeks to increase admission and retention levels for girls in schools for as long as necessary. In addition to this, the School Improvement Grant (SIG) was introduced, much to the delight of parents. Its introduction has relieved parents of their children’s tuition and book bill burden.

    Under the visionary leadership of President Jammeh, The Gambia has witnessed remarkable achievements in the education sector. According to MoBSE (2016) “the number of schools increased from 284 in 1994 to 1,038 in 2016. In 1994, senior secondary education was indeed an urban phenomenon with only six schools in Banjul and Kanifing Municipality, 3 schools in West Coast Region (WCR), none in North Bank Region (NBR), 1 school in Lower River Region (LRR), Central River Region (CRR) and Upper River Region (URR) respectively. In 2016, there was a rise in the distribution of senior secondary schools across the country from 6 to 33 in Banjul and Kanifing Municipality (Region 1), 3 to 41 in West Coast Region (Region 2), 0 to 19 in North Bank Region (Region 3), 1 to 8 in Lower River Region (Region 4), 1 to 12 in Central River Region (Region 5) and 1 to 10 in Upper River Region (Region 6), thus giving a total of 123 in 2016, compared to 12 in 1994.” It is in this sector that the Revolution is believed to have registered the greatest achievement especially with the bringing of university education to the doorstep of Gambians where equal opportunity, in terms of access to university education, is given to all Gambians, irrespective of social and financial backgrounds.

    To be Continued:

    by Prof Pierre Gomez