THE MAKING OF A MODERN COUNTRY: THE GAMBIA SINCE 1994

THE MAKING OF A MODERN COUNTRY: THE GAMBIA SINCE 1994

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The Gambia, a tiny strip of land of 11,300 sq Km, has a population of about 1,967,709. Except for the west of the country which opens to the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia is geographically surrounded on all three sides by the Republic of Senegal.

The Gambia was colonized by the British for nearly four hundred years during which the British colonial government established its hegemony over the local people and implemented policies that were both cunning and exploitative. Apart from the fact that the colonialists, through their divide and rule approach, succeeded in disintegrating the fabric that held our societies together, they succeeded, by all means, in establishing a colonial economy that ensured that farmers were forced into cash crop production in order to provide raw materials for western agro-based industries. Revenue from the sales of cash crops was used to pay tax to the colonial government. In addition to the foregoing, they ensured that they had monopoly over the market; they could lend out money to poor farmers at high interest rates which culminated in further impoverishing the masses.

On the 18th February, 1965, this peaceful nation of tolerant smiling people gained its independence through resistance and dialogue. Thus, a nation of great promise was born; born from the shackles of slavery and colonialism. As an independent nation, it means The Gambia can now preside over the running of her own affairs. Such a moment brought great joy to Gambians. New promises were born from the dreams and hopes of an expectant population that will, as is enshrined in the national anthem, strive and work and pray so that all may live in unity, freedom and peace every blessed day.

However, thirty years on, this nation of peace loving people is still alive while those promises made to the masses were buried alive in the graveyard of hopelessness by the early independence political stewards. After thirty years of independence, The Gambia, a nation of less than two million people, could boast of only one referral hospital; children had to carry their own furniture to the few available schools. Prolonged power outages, coupled with erratic water supplies, plunged the masses in a truly desperate situation. Unemployment was rampant, hence increased dependency and consequently absolute naked poverty becoming the order of the day. The nation was afflicted by inadequate skilled manpower as the people were made to believe that the nation was not yet ready for university education among other forms of real independence forms of training. Thus, the highest level of education and training in the country at the time was a certificate or diploma from either the Gambia College or Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI). These, irrefutably, are the factors that propelled the AFPRC and subsequently the government of the Second Republic over the past 22 years, to ensure that the country is transformed into a vibrant, market driven economy with a view to creating a strong and competitive economy. To this end, both the AFPRC and the Second Republic, under the leadership of President Jammeh, has made massive strides in the area of education, health care, communication, agriculture and general infrastructure.

One may wonder why the First Republic, in spite of not fulfilling many of the promises made at Independence, was not voted out by the masses in good time. Due to the lack of effective civic education programmes, resulting in poor leadership choice by voters, the incumbent remained in power for far too long. The electorate voted in candidates usually based on acquaintance, or on ethnic, religious or regional lines. For these reasons, the incumbent was at an obvious advantage. It was clear therefore that the electoral system could not bring about a change in the leadership. As such, power had to be taken forcefully in order to revive the dreams this great nation had at independence in 1965.

On May 25, 1965, in the small border township of Kanilai in the Foni Kansala District of The Gambia, a child was born. The child was fortunate to be among the few who had the opportunity to go to acquire western education. He worked with application and industry to acquire this education and sat, in fact, the General Certificate of Education. Not having the right political connections to enable him acquire university or any form of tertiary education, this child decided to pursue a career in the then Gendarmerie and later the Gambia Armed Forces where he went through the ranks to become a young lieutenant. He served in the National Guard and had, for a certain span, served as personal bodyguard to the president of the First Republic. Being in such a privileged position, he had the opportunity to be exposed to the inner workings of the government of the day.

To this son of the land, silence or ignoring bad governance characterized by rampant corruption and other forms of vices is not an option. And to bring back sanity into this once beautiful country, someone has to champion a revolution for change by any means necessary.

By July 22, 1994, this true son of the soil, born on May 25th 1965, had now grown into a man but especially into a leader: a man that would not fold his hands and remain silent when bad governance, rampant corruption and other forms of vices were swiftly destroying the fatherland; a leader that would free the people of The Gambia from the horrors of ignorance, barbarity, decadence and destitution. That man and leader is Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa.

On a rainy Friday morning of 22nd July, 1994, the once sinking ship got itself a brave captain to take it to safe shores. That fateful Friday morning, believed to mark The Gambia’s renaissance, the much awaited turning point in the nation’s history, became known as the July 22nd Revolution.

The Revolution is justified mainly due to the fact that the Jawara regime had over stayed in power and it was apparent that the change that was yearned for by the people of The Gambia could not be brought about through the ballot box. The incumbent government had designed the electoral system in a way that regime change through the ballot box was almost impossible. The total lack of development in almost all sectors of society, coupled with high rate of illiteracy and the high level of corruption served as justification for the Revolution and for the same reason that it was embraced by the vast majority of Gambians.

Moreover, the revolution came at a time when Gambians needed a change for progress and development. During the thirty years of governance by the First Republic, there was no independent electoral commission, the Minister of Interior served as the chief returning officer who would “decide” who won or lost the presidential election. Thus, voting was believed by many critics to be just a formality.

With the advent of the Second Republic, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was established for the first time in the history of The Gambia. The Independent Electoral Commission manages, regulates and conducts all elections in a free, fair and transparent manner, as is corroborated by the many reports made by election observers from across the world.

To be Continued.

by Prof Pierre Gomez

Dean, School of       

Arts and Sciences

The University of The Gambia