My recent personal experience in Gambia gave me sleepless nights and deep worry for the future of our beloved country. Almost everywhere you go there is dysfunction and chaos in every public space and or institutions. Something as simple as a basic process to deliver services to the public is deliberately made complicated as people cut corners and try to milk as much as they can from the process… People will be sitting at home and making phone calls expecting to beat the system and get in front of the line at the expense of other citizens. Those paid to provide the services are not shy or embarrassed to take phone calls and try to squeeze in their people!
At a Covid-19 testing center at the Stadium and Bigilo I witness first hand how a simple process was made complicated and chaotic to an extend where efficient services cannot be delivered. So we arrived at 8am at the testing center with few people ahead of us. There was a rush to stand in line with some chairs to sit on… My family and I were perhaps 5th in line… We took our seats and the line started getting longer and it appears there was going to be disorder as to where the line starts and ends… We brace ourselves for the chaos and the wait… As we were sitting observing more people arriving, my wife whispered in my ear.. “Daddy may be we should write people’s names as they come to be the line” I looked at her and responded that is a great idea… Just knowing the control freak I am she was worried what I would do… I said let’s do it… We asked for a piece of paper, a German lady with her family who were in front of us in the line got a book from her car. We started writing names of people starting from the first to arrive… We announced that we are going to organize ourselves and make sure the testing is orderly before the staff arrive. Everyone there seems to buy into the idea. We started listing out names and numbering pages 1, 2, 3, etc. Anyone who arrives we make sure that their name was written accordingly on the list… We waited for almost 3 hours before the first staff would arrive.
When he came we approached him and said we have organized ourselves and have a line/list of names as we arrived since the line was going to be chaotic. He agreed to our suggestion to go through the list accordingly. He had a list from the previous day, but we told him that anyone who wasn’t there that morning will have to join the new list…. Everyone there seems to have agreed to the simple orderly process… I stood there making sure that the gentle man will call the names according to our list… The process was orderly but was occasionally interrupted by people wanting to cut through the line to get in front… We all stood and were vigilant that no one cuts through the line. Some people will call their family/friends at home and give the phone to the staff to get quicker help…. We insisted that no one was cutting through the line and even confronted some brothers who wanted to bring chaos to the process… A lady with her young child arrived and just wanted to disrupt the process. She sad right in front of me on the chair that was being used to register people. We told her that she couldn’t use that chair because it was being used to register everyone. She got really mad and started yelling… Wow, she was testing the waters… My wife confronted her and told her that she was being disrespectful and disorderly… They argued and and others joined to tell her she must follow the line… She gave up and a few guys try to do the same….
The testing staff did not arrive until whatever time they desired… It appears that there wasn’t any schedule they will just come in when they feel like… It was unbelievable…. But we were patience and wanted to make sure the process was done right… a few other staff came in and volunteered to help register people… The process got a little faster and everyone there was registered through the list. We also ensured that the testers use the same list that the registrar had used… You could see first hand how people come in and try to squeeze themselves in front of the line to get favors… But this day there was citizen volunteers, activism and vigilante.
When the Covid testers finally arrived they too were instructed to go by the list that was already prepared… People insisted that the process be followed… A young lady resident somewhere in Europe jumped in and also volunteer… She said she was a lab technician, gave her name and ask anyone to google her credentials. She eventually put on gloves and started labeling testing tubes… Because of this orderly process many people wanted to volunteer and make sure services were delivered… Eventually the testing went really fast and orderly and everyone was able to get tested and out of there within a reasonable time…
The moral of this story is to highlight how change should start with us as citizens. That if we all want an orderly society and services delivered to us regardless of who we are or who we know, our country would be much better. When citizens are entrusted to deliver services they must deliver to the best of their abilities without cutting corners or wanting to get something out of their job they are already getting paid for…. The people at that event testify that we could do better as a society if only we care about each other and do on to others as you would want done to you….
If anyone is reading this post and you were at that testing center or have similar stories please share…. Things are made complicated in Gambia because people don’t respect the process and doesn’t obey basic rules and regulations… We are a better people if we organize ourselves…. That’s the Gambia we should envisioned and work to achieve… Don’t try to milk the system and please deliver the services you are already paid to deliver…. Thanks to all those who ensured that the process was smooth… If we exemplifies that our society would be a better place… “Be the change you want to see in the world”
By Demba Baldeh Associate editor