The natural rain and flood disasters that hit Kuntaur and its surroundings in Niani can be described as a blessing in disguise. While no one prays for disaster to happen in your country or town, sometimes the aftermath of such serious disasters lead to more empathy and creativity in improving the lives of the people. What people take for granted for one reason or another, when taken away people realize how valuable it was to their lives. This is what happened in Kuntaur a remote town in the Central River region of the Gambia three weeks ago which is virtually forgotten.
This town is located on the river bank of the Gambia River surrounded by swamp water which can be used for other agricultural and rice production all year round. It used to be a major center where agricultural production and business were booming during Gambia’s first Republic under Sir Dawda Jawara. Coincidentally, the former Human Rights Champion first president of the Gambia was born in this region of the country. The town used to boast of being one of the major business centers hosting big corporations such as the GPMB, Gambia Cooperative Union, Christian Relief Services, ActionAid, Gamtel, a Major Health Center, a secondary school and many new businesses. It was a favorite destination for many Civil Servants. The town was however, completely neglected when Jammeh took over power in 1994.
Kuntaur and Niani’s prayers may have been answered through an unfortunate flood disaster that would proof devastating to the residents of this regional town. The entire town was overtaken by floods leading to serious destruction of roads; bridges, homes, clothing, food supplies and virtually everything that belongs to the people. The disaster was so severe, it woke a sleeping region and nation on their responsibilities to each other. The outcry demanding help for the town led by citizens of the area mainly in the Diaspora hit social media and the airwaves like wild fire. The New Gambia somewhat fully conscious of their government’s responsibilities to the citizenry, mobilized resources and called out the government to wake up and respond to the disaster situation in Kuntaur. The outcry brought unprecedented publicity to the situation to a level that got everybody on the ground in Gambia and the Diaspora talking about the floods on social media. Gambians in the Diaspora rallied each other and collected funds to help the victims.
Citizens from all sides of the political spectrum called on government to response to the needs of the flood victims. This persistent calls for government intervention was lukewarmly received by local elected representatives whose response was to bring the national TV crew to film the disaster, but advice the people to wait until the president returns from a three weeks visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj. This response or lack thereof angered Gambians who continued to insist that something be done. An opposition party leader Mama Kandeh of the GDC took the initiative to fill the void left by government, visited the region, comforted the people and brought with him tons of food supplies to donate to the people. This move by Kandeh ignited firestorm in citizens blaming the government for it’s lack of empathy with the people. The subsequent resources mobilization by Gambians in the Diaspora with massive publicity motivated more citizens to response to the situation. A famous TV Show Kerr Fatou which airs on the national Television GRTS took up the task of making a trip to the region. This was followed by other networks such as Eye Africa TV who also hosted discussions on the situation.
Subsequently, what ensured after the firestorm would have both political connotations and also awoken the true conscience of a new nation that just regained it’s freedom from two decades of terror and intimidation. That freedom comes with new dynamism and level of political consciousness that challenges conventions and the conduct of government business as usual. The citizens demanded immediate action from their government while mobilizing resources themselves to help the people. This is a new paradigm in the new Gambia where citizens are not waiting for their government to act, but they challenge each other and good corporate citizens to do the right thing. As a result of the new paradigm, the government had little option but to response massively to the situation in Kuntaur. The government dispatched a high profile delegation including diplomats from International partners to assess the situation and help the people. This massive response by the Barrow government is first of its kind in many decades and may have set a new precedence in how government handles the people’s business. Opposition leader Mama Kandeh’s political maneuver; finding a new niche to force government’s hand to compete may equally be a blessing in disguise in Gambia’s new political reality.
This massive response from ordinary citizens, private businesses and public sector including the opposition is a new approach that ought to be the new model in the new Gambia. A combination of active citizen participation in the political and social discourse; pressure on government and opposition to win the hearts and minds of the electorates can only go a long way to benefit the people of the Gambia. For far too long ordinary Gambians have been reduced to subjects begging for their livelihoods and for services from their government that are owed to them. Gone are the days when government will sit and watch disasters hit people without appropriate response. Most encouraging is the type of men and women who are beginning to emerge in the New Gambia who will not take no for an answer. Gambians appear to be demanding accountability of themselves, their local and national leaders. This is a new sign of political maturity that must give you hope for a new and better Gambia. When citizens know and take their civic responsibilities seriously, no government or corporation can withstand the vigor and test of accountability to citizens. Kuntaur and surrounding areas may be flooded, but the massive help that poured to the area may be the beginning of new development approach in the Gambia. This must become true if Gambians are to realize the dreams of a new Democratic and economic system.
For commends or rejoinder to this editorial please contact us: Gainakoradio@gmail.com