Decadence of Our Kind
By Mo Kora
While the rest of the nations are working very hard to forge a better life for their citizenry and future generations, our nation is ignorantly, selfishly, and shamefully concocting a very bleak future for our people. There is no sense of direction in the way things have been going in Gambia. As spearheaded by the second republic and overlooked by the current establishment, we are losing on all fronts when it comes to safeguarding the interest of our citizenry. At the center of all of these deficienciesare the failures of our government and the docility of thecitizenry while immersed in the culture of self deception and abject poverty.
During Jammeh’s Era, our institutions were bastardized, misguided, abused, underfunded, and contaminated. Whenmalpractices were happening in our institutions, officials who were there to regulate things in their duties as public servants ignored everything by negligence of office. They were only concerned with keeping their jobs for their own selfish reasons knowing that there would be no negative consequences for them since many in the past had done similar negligence and went unpunished. Many of the civil servants who had neglected their duties in the second republic are manning very important positions in the current government. The presence of these culprits in the system is a testament to the fact that our government is not there to look after the interests of her citizens but rather man a system that compensates the participants by granting monthly stipends and quite often allocating countless per diem to its high echelons. Again, on the side of the general public, the common denominator is reluctant bystanders who continuously expect God to come down and save them from their self-inflicted miseries and bad leadership. Government is supposed to serve her citizens on a daily basis by providing services which will enhance her people’s standard of living. In the case of the Gambian government, the opposite is the truth. In the area of Economy, Agriculture, Tourism, Culture, Education, and Religion, it is very easy to detect the shortcomings that have strangled all the above sectors.
As far as Gambia’s economy is concerned, Gambians are in the passenger seat due to unregulated, corrupt, and minimal government oversight. Quite often, non Gambian business conglomerates are given better opportunities by the establishment to run their businesses at a higher percentage than indigenous Gambian business personnel. When these foreign business conglomerates take root in the country, the outcome is total profitability for them while Gambian people keep losing on a daily basis since the government doesn’t have the right machinery or desire to extract the needed tax. Frankly, in many instances, there is no oversight at all due to an unequipped, corrupt, and uninformed structure in carrying out her lawful duties in safeguarding the interest of her people. Even Gambian employees of these foreign businesses are quite often abused by their foreign employers because there are no defined guidelines in regards to their salaries and conditions of employment. Sometimes, Gambian employees are fired and let go by their foreign employers without any compensation whatsoever. The fired employees are quite often left on their own to deal with their incessant misfortunes because of the failures of their government in protecting and safeguarding their interests.Currently, there are foreign companies and businesses operating in the Gambia which are importing poor Indians to do jobs for them which can be done by Gambian citizens. The kinds of jobsthese imported Indian workers are doing for these companies in the Gambia don’t require any special skills. Gambia which hashigh unemployment rate should not allow such practices. I doubt if the government is even aware of these things happening in our country or the system just doesn’t give a damn. I think the latter is the case since one seems to wonder if there is even a functional system in existence. Besides, many foreign business individuals keep bringing their family members and setting up businesses for them as there is no regulation in place to keep control of this kind of occurrence in the country. One would be correct to say that almost 96% of major businesses are in the hands of foreign elements who are arrogantly exploiting the country and her citizenry because we have no functioning system that regulates such crimes. You cannot love your country if you don’t love your citizens. And in order to love your citizens, your policies have to reflect and safeguard their interests. Instead of seeing our citizens succeed, the system tends to stand in their way and support outsiders at the expense of our citizens. Is this a case of mental deficits or a curse upon our kind?
Seeing second-hand products inundating markets and street corners in metropolitan areas in the Gambia is a common occurrence. The prevalence of this phenomenon is due to excessive export of second-hand goods and other products to theGambia by non-Gambians who are mainly from other countries other than West Africa. The fact that non-Gambians are dumping their merchandise in the Gambia puts Gambian businesses at a disadvantage. It takes longer periods for goods to leave the ports on arrival in the Gambia. Again, the Gambia government has no measure in place to alleviate this misfortune that has been plaguing Gambian businesses for many years. TheGambia government sees the high traffic at our port as a sign of economic success. Yes, the government may be collecting more revenues from the ports due to high volume of traffic. Are the revenues collected from the ports due to the new surge in export to Gambia by non-Gambians utilized by the Gambian public? Today, many Gambian business people at the market are bitterly watching this unwanted scheme because they are the losers. As usual, the Gambian government is busy collecting revenues from the ports to fuel her unspecified projects which are quite often incorrectly presented to the general public to justify the amount of money collected and spent. To the government, it is business as usual while the citizenry remains docile without holding the government accountable.
Street Vendors, who are 90% foreign individuals, price their produce as they choose, and yet, they can get away with it due to a lack of government oversight. Because there is no government supervision, the prices of basic commodities have surged and put a big strain on heads of families who continuously struggle to provide food for their loved ones. In addition, these street vendors operate as freely as they wish without giving back to the state what is supposed to be released to the national coffer. This system of injustice is a daily occurrence in our state with no protection from the authorities who have miserably failed in their duties.
In the area of land acquisition and real estate sales, it is very common to hear and see ads by both local and foreign personnel. Is there any effort by our government to intervene and protect Gambian people from doing away with their properties? Unchecked and negligent government interference in regulating who and how much land and real estate should be sold and bought would only breed catastrophe for Gambian people and a reason for instability in the country sooner or later. When government fails in performing her duties, it creates a breeding ground for chaotic conditions which serve as a prelude to civil disobedience and instability. The current price tag assigned to land in the Gambia puts 99.9% of local Gambians illegible to buy or acquire land in their own country. Folks, is this not a case for concern for the Gambian government and Gambians? If you cannot afford to buy or acquire land in your own country, where do you expect to buy or afford one? Do you expect your children to be homeless in their own country because of wrongful government policies and a lack of foresight by the citizenry? The most habitable parts of the country are quite often acquired by outsiders because of misguided government policies. These inclement tendencies toward our citizens are an aberration of the highest order. It totally defeats the purpose of one’s claim of being a citizen of a nation. And any government that participates in such acts should be condemned and forced to regulate things as desired by her citizens. The citizenry should not be bystanders while they are losing their land all because of a corrupt regime that is there to serve its own interest. I would think we learned our lessons from the demise that had befallen on us by Jammeh during the second republic. By the look of things, we are far from learning our lessons and far from taking charge of our destiny by holding our government accountable. We the people of the Gambia are the ones who should demandour government chart a path for us but rather the opposite is happening.
When the Junta came to power in 1994, they were purely trying to do everything to get money thinking that money was the most important thing for them to keep the government in operation. Out of desperation and a lack of knowledge in running the state, the junta started introducing ridiculous land laws and seizing people’s land so they could sell them to the highest bidder and enrich themselves. Because of greed and a lack of concern for the citizenry, they started targeting foreign buyers and made land acquisition available to outsiders. This is how prices of land started to get out of reach for 99.9% of Gambians. Foreign buyers took advantage of this unpatriotic and idiotic policy and invested heavily in real estate which pushed prices higher for everybody. Terrible contracts were signed that allowed the exploitation of our forests and waters. Thanks to a leader whobarely had $50 in his account, Gambian people remained subservient to the status quo and became participants in this insane scheme that legitimized abject poverty in the country. If we sit again and allow our government to chart paths that entrench us in poverty, lack of opportunity, unemployment, disease, hunger, oppression, insecurity, and trauma, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. Promise is a comfort to a fool. What happened to the promises that were made at the time of change? You can fool us once, but you can’t fool us twice.Effective government policies are the bedrock of any developednation. When government policies don’t reflect the interest of her citizenry, that nation is bound to be on inflammation. It is only a matter of time for cracks to start emerging in the structure that is built on lies and illusion under the cover of an imperfect bureaucracy. We have to admit that the people running our government haven’t perfected the bureaucracy that runs effective and functional governments. It is better to be late than never. Since our government doesn’t perfect the bureaucracy that is behind any functional and effective democracy, we can hire experts in our various ministries to train our civil servants. When our current civil servants are trained by their various ministries, they too can train the future generation. Unless we perfect the bureaucracy, we will be like walking on a treadmill. The bureaucracy to run a functioning government is a system that can be taught and perfected and not just based on idiosyncrasy.
Gambians have been told that tourism is a great source of income for the government and her people. The truth is that Gambia has not been benefitting from tourism for the past 24 years because of wrongful government policies. Many of the major hotels which are frequented by tourists are mostly foreign owned. The money made by these foreign- owned hotels goesback to their foreign owners. Normally, the foreign-owned hotels should hire Gambians and provide employment for them. In many instances, only a few Gambians are hired and paidminimal salaries. The profits that foreign owned hotels generate compared to the salaries they pay their Gambian employees, is unbelievable. Besides, Gambian government hardly collects the required taxes from these hotels and doesn’t hold them accountable while benefitting from their existence and operations. Prior to the second republic, many foreign tourists would rent from the locals during their stay in the tourist season and sometimes beyond. Staying with the locals was far more affordable than staying at the big hotels. This arrangement wasbeneficial to both the locals and the tourists with the localsgaining a lot by renting their places. Now that many outsiders own their own places, they provide accommodations to their fellow outsiders and keep the benefit that would have gone to the local population. Furthermore, tourism brings with it its own vice and negative consequences. Because of abject poverty in the nation, our youthful population, both boys and girls are exploited by unscrupulous sugar daddies and sugar granniesleaving our future generation prone to all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases. While all of these vices are happening to our young population, our government is taking no actions to regulate and protect our future generation from imminent destruction. There are no controls on the drinking age, the admission to clubs, and many other necessary measures to protect our sons and daughters. It is common to see children as young as thirteen roaming bars and night clubs in the dead ofnight being left to be preyed on by sex predators and child molesters. Where is the protection that we need from our government in safeguarding our welfare? Where are our representatives in parliament who are supposed to submit and pass bills to protect our citizenry? Let’s be honest brothers and sisters, do we need God to come down and tell us some of these things and show us how we can put a stop to it? Should we even call our government a government in light of all of these miserable circumstances that have been befalling our peopletime and again? We are in the 21st century and are an independent nation as well. Please LORD, have mercy on us.
Culture as a fabric of our society is tarnished since there is no common method of socialization in our nation. If we have a common method of socialization, we will be a more unified nation. However, this is not the case in the Gambia. It is government’s responsibility to come up with a common method of socialization for her citizenry. This common method of socialization will be inculcated into our educational system so that it can be taught to our kids at an early age. Thus, they can have something in common to unify them as citizens. Today, our society is more fragmented than ever because of numerous factors. Governments after governments have failed us in addressing and taking this issue seriously? You can see the contrast even on our streets. The most fearful of all is how polarized the country has become religiously.
Religious polarization should not be taken lightly by the Republic. After many years of negligence and a lack of oversight by previous governments, including the current government, many different religious groups have moved to Gambia to cultivate their various doctrines. The products of these various religious groups are now surfacing in our midst and they each have strong convictions that their school of thought holds the purest conviction to prevail over the rest. Here and there, differences occur at certain traditional ceremonies and sometimes even in mosques and on burial grounds. Again, the common culprit is our government which failed in its responsibilities because of its lack of oversight to safeguard the Republic. Many of these religious groups buy their way into our society by bribing corrupt government officials to allocate land to them for their establishments. There are many, many Madrasas of dubious origins and phony churches including other different religious denominations which are freely operating in the Gambia without any government oversight or scrutiny. The time to rein in these groups is long overdue. And if left unchecked, very soon we will be victims of our own negligent creation with a much higher price to pay. We see what is happening in other West African countries. Recently, ECOWAS had to allocate $2 billion dollars to fight belligerent religious groups in the region. If the affected countries had not failed in their duties earlier on, they could have prevented this costly engagement. The money allocated to fighting fanatic groups could have been used towards agriculture by boosting food production in a region that is constantly dealing with food shortage and drought. It is about time we get our acts together and face the realities in our nation rather than dodge them. Failure to act will become a very costly enterprise. The writing is on the wall already, it is just a matter of time for some of the insecurities happening in other neighboring countries to play out in our streets. Irresponsible and incompetent government is a magnet for attracting criminal syndicates to its territory. Indeed, we have a lot of them in the Gambia and they are operating freely. Many of these phony churches and madrasas are engaged in visa scams and fraudulent practices in collaboration with some NGOs which are operating in the country unchecked.
Education in our schools has been on the decline for many years because of numerous reasons. One of the reasons is the existence of incompetent educational institutions especially at the primary level and secondary level. Government –owned schools are underfunded with little resources to provide a better education for our children. On the other hand, most privately-owned schools are overpriced compared to the quality of education that is being offered by them. Some of these privately owned schools are infested with unqualified educators whose certificates cannot be traced to any credible educational institutions. In this area too, our government has no mechanism in place to oversee these money making schools. A lot of these money-making schools charge a lot of money for classes and yet they don’t deliver and there are no consequences whatsoever. At the end of the day, our kids are left with a very poor education after spending thousands of dalasis. It is recently reported that education in African countries has declined. I am convinced that the proliferation of privately owned schools and a lack of government oversight are responsible for this downward trend.
Remember, the backwardness and downfalls of nations arecaused by the actions of incompetent and selfish leaders who use divisive tactics in order to cement their positions in power. In their quest to remain in power, selfish and incompetent leaders will go to any length and breadth and see to it that their egotistic and narcissistic inclinations are maintained even if it means dragging a country into a war. In Africa, these kinds of leaders usually play the tribal card which is very easy to exploit in pitting people against one another. Recently, we have been hearing and witnessing such rhetoric in our country’s political arena. Gambians should put into consideration that the country is more important to them than any individual regardless of the person’s position. The citizenry should owe allegiance to the flag at all times rather than owe allegiance to a leader who is on a path of plunging the country into chaotic conditions. The aftermath of a long dictatorship demands a greater caution andwise political decision making in order to maintain peace in any nation. The last thing we need in the Gambia is a leadership that lacks the maturity and know-how to establish a working and transparent government free from corruption and nepotism. Moreover, we need highly qualified and patriotic security advisers to the leadership who can prevent any lapse in security.
In conclusion, unless we do away with the above shortcomings in our country, we will not achieve the change we are all yearning for. If we don’t take care of the above mentioned shortcomings in our nation, it will remain to be the decadence of our kind
By Mo Kora