Gambians witnessed almost three decades of the first Republic were basic human rights of citizens were largely respected. Resemblance of Democratic norms were somewhat adhered to in the form of multiparty system that witnessed elections every five years.. For the most part the same leaders were elected back in office time and again. To a large extend the life of the ordinary Gambian was somewhat survivable in contrast it fundamentally was different from that of the elites. There was elitism where a class of citizens continues to enjoy the privileges of government and their standard of living including their families was much better than the ordinary Gambian farmer and petty trader. Lives of flamboyance and ‘who you know’ became the order of the day… The state began going downward spiral to such chaos that the country remained one of the poorest in Africa… That style of governance led to one of the worst nightmares of the Gambian. A group of disgruntled soldiers who could not enjoy the same privileges of elitism went on a rampage and seized power in broad daylight… At the time of changing that government there was virtually no concrete visionary policies to make the standard of life of ordinary Gambians any better. It was business as usual every day and the elites thought handing over cash to citizens was that constituted a good economy and helping their constituents.
The hungry junta with historic opportunity to turn things around for the country squandered a life time opportunity that will never come their way again. The country lived a nightmare of the most horrendous stories of brutality and economic looting… The movie went on for two decades and majority Gambian elites joined the van wagon and help systematically destroyed institutions and lives of the ordinary Gambian. The people went from petty beggars in the first republic to total dependence in the second republic. Survival of the fittest at the mercy of the state ensured unabated… Lives were lost and futures destroyed…
Fast forward, the Gambian people had the courage to pressure their political leaders to do the courageous and unthinkable – put their partisan interest aside and rally the country to regain its lost freedom and dignity… Along the way, many citizens were lost, some incarcerated and slide into permanent ill health. The New Gambia now had the opportunity once again to not only eliminate the status quo but think and position the country beyond what entailed in the first Republic. One year later, the Gambian people can assess where we are and what path the country is on. Certainly no one disappeared over night; no one was arbitrarily arrested or lost their jobs, went to beg in fear of their lives… Freedom of expression and association was once again restored to some degree. That is a remarkable change! Now the reality of governance and the fundamental principles of building institutions to prevent going back to the status and status quo remained a daunting task… The basic questions that Gambians of independent and patriotic minds must ask are:
- Will the live of the ordinary Gambian be any different from what it was during the days of the first republic?
- Will freedom to express oneself to some degree and political pluralism be the measure of success for governing?
- Will the status status quo of depending on foreign aid and making borrowing the major source of revenue be the order of the day as it was during the first republic?
- Will elitism be even more pronounced in the New Gambia as many only remembers and can only imagine the status quo of the two republics?
- Will the future of the Gambian child be any better in education; access to technology, higher education, job opportunities and decent Healthcare system?
- Will Gambian women and youths remain the symbol of political patronage and endless parties while elites continue to live a far different life style?
- Will Gambian democratic and civil society institutions be strengthened to not only prevent a repeat of the mistakes of the past 50 years but shape a future for an economically independent Gambia?
- Will our Healthcare system be any better than building huge structures where access to drugs and basic healthcare treatment be as elusive as it has always been?
- Will the live of the ordinary rural Gambian, the market vendor, the office clerk, the elderly and most vulnerable be any different from what it has been?
- Will our new leaders in Gambia become comfortable in their new found privileges and forget about justice for the victims of tyranny and restoration of basic human rights including access to clean drinking water, electricity and food self-sufficiency?
- Will the engines of economic growth be top priority for the current leadership and will Gambians see for the first time humility in our leaders to step down when the time comes for them to as promised?
- Will Presidential term limit, independence of government institutions and the National Assembly be any different?
Without a double these are fundamental questions of enormous proportion that would keep any informed Gambian awake at night. If our leaders are not thinking hard and serious about these issues, there is a reason to worry. As the saying goes “Those who failed to learn from their past mistakes are condemned to repeat them”. The new government in Gambia has a golden opportunity to do things different; govern different, engage different, spend different, show up different and most importantly think different as far ahead as hundred years in the life of a future Gambia. While we remained optimistic that our path will be different we are cognizant of what power does to elites especially African elites. There are so many difficult choices and if anyone tells you that the path to a higher standard of Gambian live would be easily attained, they have no idea what they are talking about. The great thing, history shall record every second, every event and every decision right or wrong that the leadership makes. The future of the Gambia in the next half a century starts with President Barrow’s leadership. Your legacy will make or break the next Generation of Gambians!