We attained independence on 18th February, 1965 (some say 24th April, 1970). Whichever date it was, we have had self-rule for more than half a century and we are still a nation of poor, and mostly uneducated people. We don’t have sufficient food to feed our people, enough clean water or energy to power our economy. We lack adequate roads. The healthcare delivery is in shambles and we have failed to decentralize the little development we have. We are highly indebted and depend on foreign aid to foot the bill of our government.
I believe that our development will only be ushered in if and when we first develop our minds and liberate ourselves from the yoke of foreign domination (which is mostly economic). Our need is – or should be – first to develop the minds, and then to move to material and infrastructural development.
How do we develop the minds of our citizens and make them ready to take up the task of national development? Firstly, there should be a well structured education system. This should be an education system not based on passing exams, [rote learning]as is the case in our current system, but on structure and substance. This will be on what I like to call ‘developmental esucation’. By this I mean our young ones should be able to stand on their feet after going through nine, twelve or fifteen years of schooling.
The education system must inculcate patriotism and give the young ones the necessary skills to impact positively on the socio-economic development of the country. When they complete senior school and move on to the university, the seat of learning, (or what it should be anyway), they should be exposed to the economic realities of the world and shown how they can develop themselves to contribute their quota to national development. In other words, they should be taught how to be innovative.
For instance, when I was studying in Ghana, I learnt of some university students who invented a machine which, though crude and rudimentary, could be used to bake bread. We as a people should come up with ways to give skills and expertise to the youth of the country.
We also need to spread political awareness among our young population. What do we do to make our people politically aware and how do we attain this? As I said elsewhere, the goal should be to make our people so politically aware that they will know that everyone should take part in the development of the nation. They should know that the political officials are our servants and that we have the power to change them if they fail in their responsibilities.
Factually, one needn’t be a university graduate to understand that there is politics in everything. Or, to see the fellacy of saying ‘government cannot do it alone’. The truth is that, government does not do anything alone. Government is a trust, a contract between the population and elected officials. The population is always doing their part by paying taxes, working (in both public and private sector) towards the development of the country.
Government is elected and entrusted with the resources of the country and told to exercise certain powers given to them in order to serve the interest of the population. They are to deliver goods and services which are needed by the people. They are entrusted with the job of protecting lives and livelihoods. They are entrusted with the duty of protecting the rights of the people of the country.
To dilissiminate this information and spread this awareness, we need the Civil Society Organizations, schools and the media – both print and electronic – to play a leading role. This is a national call and no one should say that s/he is not interested in politics; everyone should be interested in politics if you love your country. So, everyone, the youth in particular, should join political parties and take interest in what is happening in the country.
Most of the time, when we talk about democracy and development we only think of it in terms of infrastructural development and elections. I say that these two – democracy and development – go far beyond elections and infrastructure.
Democracy is not only about elections. It is not only exercising one’s franchise. Democracy goes far beyond that. In fact, it will not be too farfetched to say that democracy pervades – or should pervade – our entire lives. Whatever we do has to have some form of democracy. When we elect leaders or politicians, they have a responsibility to understand that they are the servants of the people who voted them into office. When a master assigns his servant a task, the servant must fulfil that task in accordance with the wishes of the master. He cannot and should not, on his own, alter the dimensions in anyway.
Such officials should therefore respect the people and work for progress in every possible way. They should guarantee the protection of the people at all times. This includes [should include]minorities, the prisoners, the physically challenged, women and indeed every citizen. They must ensure that the freedom and protection of rights of citizens all together and altogether.
You would have noticed that I didn’t include the maintenance of peace in the duties of government. No, it’s not a mistake of omission. It is deliberate. The reason is that all the duties listed above are what peace is all about. If these things are done, then we will not only have peace, we will live in peace. Remember, peace is not the absence of violence but the presence of justice.
The citizens also have responsibilities. They should work hard for development. Citizens should be honest and shun corrupt practices; learn and seek knowledge (development oriented knowledge) so as to be better citizens.
With the help of Civil Society Organizations, citizens will hold public officials to account, ensure that there are no sacred cows (the Mashlaha has ruined us). Citizens should respect officials if they respect citizens.
Citizens should obey the laws of the land, vote regularly in elections, change governments periodically, serve as good ambassadors of The Gambia wherever they are.
If everyone does their duty and the government also does what is expected of it, we can turn this country into an advanced and developed country in no time. Let us be patriotic and work for progress, prosperity and peace. In short, do everything to ensure the political, social and economic progress of our country. Make the country such that our future generations can be proud of it.
Tha Scribbler Bah