Gambia 2018: Personal Experience and Observations – Part 1

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By Saul Saidykhan

Having spent a combined total of seven weeks in Barrow’s Gambia, one thing stuck out for me: the Gambia has changed significantly, but not in a good way generally speaking. There is simply no enforcement of standards – ethical, socio-cultural, or administrative where they exist at all. This is taking us down a path that is very dangerous to the country’s future. While sleazy wheeling and dealing (a.k.a ‘hustling’) has been a long-term feature of urban Gambian life, the new phenomenon is as scary as it is un-Gambian. We are officially a country of ‘Anything goes’!

The main reason for this – in my view, is the lack of an Orientation process for new migrants/immigrants.

Consequently, many new migrants/immigrants who come to Gambia lack any sense of what is socially or culturally acceptable in their host country.  So, they behave exactly the same way they did in their countries of origin. This is natural and unsurprising, EXCEPT some of the behavior – if unchecked, will ultimately land Gambia in the same dysfunctional situation the new comers are running away from back home! In other words, the very attitudes that have made their countries of origin unlivable for them are what they’re introducing to the Gambia. What is my evidence for this assertion? How about: Human sacrifice as part of a ritual to quickly become inexplicably rich without any effort; the selling of hard drugs like cocaine to Gambian youth to make easy money; using young Gambian women to lure respectable married men in society into sexual relationships in houses that are bugged with audio-visual devices, which tapes are then used to blackmail the men into signing over their property to them; introducing Pyramid schemes and ‘Lotteries’ to rip off gullible Gambians of their meagre savings; teaching Gambian youth how to dispossess vulnerable older Europeans (men and women) of their life savings through phony monikers and pictures online (so-called 419 fraud); introducing new crimes like raiding Muslim cemeteries and pulling out steel/iron grave identifier plates of peoples’ loved ones to sell; creeping into unfinished houses to rip out wires and other fittings to sell (I and my wife PERSONNALLY lost D50,000 THIS YEAR to this crime); knocking down concrete compound gate posts of cement block fences to remove the steel rods inside to sell (happened to one of my in-laws); the carnival-like atmosphere of evangelical Christian ‘Prophets’ preaching to feeble minds and the vulnerable promising ‘miracle’ cure for their sicknesses and other life challenges at public parks for a ‘donation’; ‘Breaking and Entering’ homes and or businesses with intent to steal even if it means killing the occupants. So on.

Every single one of these crimes is introduced to Gambia by new comers!

Now if it helps you, please scream ‘NATIONALIST’, ‘ANTI-IMMIGRANT’ or whatever adjective comes to mind at this point. I’ve read invocations of Donald trump which I find amusing. America has the land and resources to take in 300 Million immigrants if it wishes. Ask anyone who has travelled extensively here.

Anyhow, when one is done with protesting, please tell us just which of the foregoing were happening in Gambia before Yaya Jammeh insidiously opened our borders in the guise of ‘pan-Africanism’. In reality, Jammeh was primarily motivated by the need to dilute the impact of native Gambian opposition to his tyrannical rule. He needed the mostly desperate and vulnerable new comers who are susceptible to coercion to buff up his fragile support. Currently, 5% of the Gambian population (approx. 100K) is classified as “Other” because they don’t fit any of the traditional Gambian ethno-cultural categories. These are mostly migrants from southern Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau. The phoniness of Jammeh’s pan-Africanist claim has two clear giveaways:

  1. While he was loudly welcoming other West Africans, he was quietly-but aggressively pursuing policies that were forcing tens of thousands of legacy Gambian youth from specific areas and backgrounds to leave the country irregularly to make way for his preferred ‘patriotic’ new Gambians. Few seem to recall Jammeh’s push – scuttled by the UN, to re-locate Senegalese ‘refugees’ to the North Bank Region of the Gambia.

  2. The majority of Nigerians in Gambia are from Southeastern Nigeria. Most of these are proud Ibo ethnic nationalists. There are now “Biafra” shops, boutiques, and bars in the Kombos. (Bring up Muhammad Buhari in a conversation with these people and watch their reaction.) Would a true pan-Africanist support a people determined to fragment Africa further into ethnic Balkans?

There is currently an ongoing debate about the criteria for Gambian citizenship in the new Constitution being crafted. Most of the reactions are very predictable: those of legacy Gambian origin with large tracks of farming land in their family or a deep sense of the country’s history, are at best very circumspect about who or how one becomes a citizen, and those less rooted in the Gambia are mostly at peace with Jammeh’s ‘Open Door’ policy because of its implication.  Some in the latter category aren’t even hiding their glee at the prospect of upsetting the Gambia’s social demographics for political expediency. There is no real discussion about the effects of  the Jammeh-style auto-citizenship on Gambia’s physical, economic, medical, or educational resources.

The lack of rational debate about the Gambia’s capacity to carry the burden of such law, or right is no real surprise because many who are wary of this reckless and UNSUSTAINABLE idea are afraid of speaking out for fear of being labelled ‘xenophobic,’ ‘nationalist’, and so on. That the Gambia’s attractiveness to other West Africans (99% of our immigrants) has NOTHING to do with our material resources endowment seems to be lost on many. It has EVERYTHING to do with the peoples’ generosity of spirit, modesty, and innocence. All that would be lost within a generation unless it is guarded jealously!

I read Njundu Drammeh’s take on this issue a week or so ago. As usual, Njundu is passionate, erudite, and lucid. However, Njundu’s main arguments are more emotional than rational. The piece is generally wobbly-footed on reality and myopic when one takes a strategic look at the issue. The telling point for me is the conjuring up of an IMPROBABLE hypothetical scenario of an airport emergency baby born of non-Gambian parents on Gambian soil. Denying such a child Gambian citizenship will make him/her “stateless” Njundu argues. Quite fanciful! Nobody is defined strictly by where they’re born. (Jesus Christ was born in a stable, why don’t we call him a donkey?) Rather, we inherit one of our parent’s nationality just like we do their family name.

My three children are born and bred in America, but they’re Gambians. It’s my responsibility as a parent to let them know who they are, and where they come from. I do. If for reasons of low self-esteem, ignorance, foolishness, or plain negligence, someone fails to educate their child about his/her roots, that’s not the problem of the Gambian State or anyone else. A Kenyan born in Gambia to Kenyan parents is a Kenyan! There is both a price and limit to idealism. And in a clash between idealism and reality, the latter wins – always! We all need to be careful of the implication of long-term policies, laws, and rights.

This is particularly so as we’re already seeing the effects of the Jammeh experiment. Which is why I wonder what the point of bothering with hypothetical scenarios is when one has concrete facts to base arguments on? Unless we want to play ostrich with the facts. Why would any people or government make laws, or policy this way?  It baffles me.

Current Real-life facts: In Njundu’s native Baddibu as in my native Jarra, the negative impact of Gambia’s uncontrolled Irregular Immigration policy is already clear. As I pointed out severally, in both Farafenni and Jarra Soma, the number of irregular migrants is currently several times that of the native Gambian population. Only complete fools call this ‘development’!

Fact: most of the immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled peasants from Senegal, and the two Guineas. With the complicity of corrupt Chiefs and Local Government officials, they take over nearby farmlands only to build mud houses without any supporting modern public infrastructure or amenities. Worse, many of these people survive by cutting down trees in nearby forests indiscriminately to burn and sell as firewood for survival. Talk about environmental damage.

In Soma in particular, due to the complete sale of village farmland, some of the new arrivals now invade neighboring villages like Kanikunda, Sankwia, Karantaba, and Pakalinding pleading with elders to allow them to use unoccupied houses FOR FREE. (Doubters, can inbox me and I’ll put you in touch with someone on the ground to validate.) The new immigrants “parents” are nice now, but will their children be thirty years from now when the children and grandchildren of our current Jaaduma elders want their legacy family properties back given Njundu’s own rationale of the “Gambian-born children of these (irregular) migrants not knowing anywhere else?” See just one potential future danger of this chimera? These are just two rural areas.

Elsewhere in Gambia, we’re seeing a similar or worse trend.

In the urban areas, public infrastructure -schools, hospitals, and utilities are stretched beyond their limits. The average Elementary school in the KMC has 60 or higher kids PER CLASS. This is a major contributing factor to the shameful fact that for close to 20 years, 98% of Gambian public schoolers fail to Pass 4 or more Subjects in their WASSC Exams! We blame teachers and Administrators, but how can ANYONE adequately teach or Supervise 60+ children in a single classroom for 6 hours (forget the uncomfortable weather)?

On the airport baby hypothesis, here is another little fact: There will be approx. 39 million flights this year – up from 36.8M last year (107K flights daily) per global air traffic monitoring organization Statistahttps://www.statista.com/statistics/564769/airline-industry-number-of-flights/ . It is noteworthy to remember that Africa accounts for ONLY 1% of global flights, but 27% of crashes. And Gambia accounts for less than 1% of Africa’s flights. (The Gambia does not even get 7 regular flights a week!)

So practically speaking, the whole “stateless” airport baby scenario is as likely as Yahya Jammeh walking back to Gambia on foot from E. Guinea.

I’m open to persuasion based on realistic proposals about how we can mitigate our dearth of resources in our desire to keep our already high densely populated country livable. Band-aid theories and Social Engineering ideas masked as pan-African idealism will end up making us bequeath a minefield to posterity.

Africans should be able to live anywhere in Africa WHEN the proper structures are in place.

Watch this space for Take 2 on our ‘Anything goes’ country…

https://www.mantankara.com/single-post/2018/11/27/Gambia-2018-Personal-Experience-and-Observations—Part1

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