The Gambia at 45: Reflections of our transformation 1965 -2010

By Bineh Minteh
Africa’s Political evolution from the whims of colonialism came at no easy cost for the modern states of the continent. Progressive and aggressive political confrontations epitomized the road map to freedom and subsequently Independence from slavery and colonialism for all the modern states of Africa. The modern state of The Gambia was born as a result of such visionary and brilliant political confrontations of Africa’s Independence era.
From the Antilles of the Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries, to the historical epithets of the medieval times under Mansa Khan Kan Musa of the Mali Empire, and the colonial machinations of the Portuguese, French and the English, The Gambia’s political evolution to a modern state of the 21st century never came on a silver plate. Like all modern African states, political, economical and social transformation took shape under compelling human challenges, thus bringing to light what many characterize as Africa’s colonial peripheral reality
Following the 1783 Treaty of Paris that gave Britain possession and control of the Gambia, the struggle for Independence of the miniscule West African State followed similar trajectories as many other African nations. The names of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, Mr. Foster, and Edward Small have since then become historical embodiments of the West African nation’s political architecture. Their political brilliance and philanthropy propelled The Gambia to an Independent Monarchy on Feb 18th 1965. And on April 24th, 1970 the peaceful West African Nation became a republic within the Common Wealth with Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara as Head of State After a second referendum.  A July 22nd Military Coup led by Junior officers of the Gambian Armed Forces then laid the foundation for the Second Gambian Republic under the custodianship of Captain Retired, President Yaya Jammeh.
Forty-five years on today, it is therefore worth reflecting on how far we have come thus far, what brought us to the realities of our modern socio-economic and socio- political transformations, and what the future holds for the nation amidst all the controversies and challenges throughout this historic journey.
Amidst controversies that ushered in the July 22nd 1994 Military Coup, Sir Dawda kairaba has indeed won the crown as the father of our nation. His three decades rule could best be characterized as a champion of human rights, a responsible foreign policy, and an open and free-market economic system. In comparison to his successor, former President Jawara’s political doctrines united Gambians under a unique national umbrella, thus strengthening and cementing relationships across ethnic, cultural and religious lines.  His economic policies were driving mechanisms of growth in the agricultural, educational, health and tourism sectors.
In general, numerous Gambian policy analysts’ only frowns at the late President’s failure to knock hard on endemic corruption, and institutional failure in the security sectors, as pivotal to the controversy that subsequently led to his overthrow by fellow young military officers. As we therefore commemorate 45yrs of Independence, it is worth thanking the father of our nation and all his compatriots for their efforts in placing the Gambia on the world map of Modern Independent Nations.  Sir Dawda’s Presidency has ended, but his legacy as the founding father of our beloved nation shall forever live on.
Following the demise of the Jawara administration after the July, 22nd 1994 Military Coup, a new political dynamism that welcomed the Military Junta indeed manifested that change came to The Gambia- a spiraling political dynamism that has transcended religious, cultural, ethnic and social parables. Using the slogans of accountability, probity, democracy, soldiers with a difference and promise of change for a better Gambia, was widely hailed across most hamlets, doorsteps, villages and remote locations across the nation, the young population in particular as leading agents in the forefront of a revolution that ushered in The Second Republic.
With surfacing crisis in the security institutions (mainly the military), widespread human rights abuses and mounting international pressure for a restoration of constitutional rule, the spiraling political dynamism that welcomed the revolution caused severe divisions across the political landscape of the miniscule West African nation. Tension in the military, and the opposition elements terse confrontations with the Junta transformed Political Party was prevalent. Many analysts and pundits therefore characterized the first chapters of the second republic with extra-judiciary killings, torture and disappearances, therefore casting a shadow of uncertainty, and a degrading legitimacy, and institutional ineffectiveness. Like all societies that experienced military political hijackings, such was the hallmark for emboldening some degree of divisions along political, economical and social parallels.
In comparison to the administration of the First Republic, and amidst all the controversies President Jammeh’s administration smartly embarked on Infrastructural developments – roads, schools, hospitals, a modern airport, a television station, an improved telecommunications infrastructure, and a university. His administration has also given equal opportunities to Gambians of all walks in education and other sectors of development. It is also worth noting that under his administration, the empowerment of women has taken a forefront of policy formulations. The proliferation of girl’s education and the appointment of women to higher offices of public functions has become the anchor of his administration. These are developments that many Gambians argued to be deficits of the first administration.
Nonetheless, unlike former President Jawara, foreign policy under Jammeh also shifted to be hostile towards the West. Many scholars of modern International Affairs characterized such a shift as a means of maintaining survival, security and sovereignty in the midst of an international outcry for appalling human rights, and democratic deficits. This has brought to light Gambia’s new partners in the global stage – Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and Taiwan. The presence of Cuban Doctors in remote hospitals across the Gambia and Gambian Students at major educational institutions in Venezuela, Cuba and Taiwan is a living testament to that reality.
Even though the administration of President Jammeh has brought considerable development in the midst of all controversies, divisions along political and economical parallels are more prevalent today than any point of our history. Many Gambians are incarcerated, many flee for political persecution, many disappeared and most extra judiciary executed – a blue print that characterizes our miniscule nation’s modern political landscape.
As we celebrate 45 years of self-rule, it is worth understanding that we have come a long way. A lot has been achieved, but a lot of challenges still prevail. In a span of 45yrs, we have seen only two different administrations, with a difference in policy formulation and institutional operational procedures. Just as great developments took shape across socio-political and socio-economic architectures, so did short comings also took shape over the past three and a half decades.
We must therefore measure our progress by asking the questions, how far we have come, what we have achieved, what our real challenges are, is this where we want to be, and what does the future hold for us.  And only by responding to these questions with honesty, openness and truthfulness can we effectively and efficiently measure our progress and effectively confront all our challenges and contradictions. The choice is ours as a nation and as a people.
It is also worth understanding that only history will continue to judge the administrations of both former President Jawara and incumbent President Yaya Jammeh. What else could one say?
“For The Gambia Our Homeland; Let Justice Guide Our Actions Towards the Common Good, Keep us Great God of Nations.”`     

The author is an Independent Researcher, Analysts and Consultant. A former officer in the Gambian army, he also produces The Sword of Truth at http://www.sofawarrior.blog.com/  He can be reached at bsm235@nyu.edu.

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