The Gambian: What makes us tick?
As the Gambia prepare to celebrate 55 years since it gained independence from England, Ebrima Baldeh takes a dig at the nation, the challenges and why our take-off is worrisome; at a time of heightened political and economic tensions. Who we are, and what we stand for is something that can be answered in multiple ways; with no short-cut response. In 2009, I had a rare discussion with Harona Drammeh, the chief executive officer of Paradise Tv, on what truly inspire the Gambian, and the pysche of our people. It was an intrinsic reflection albeit aimed at dissecting why we are somewhat perpetually hypnotizedby Senegal, Nigeria and the United States. Those were the times, Senegalese used to ( and still now) steal the limelight in Banjul almost on a weekly basis, laughed all the way to the bank after a successful gig at the Jamaa Hall in Kairaba and left us wondering whether he had reputed musicians. And as if that was not enough, Nigerian musicians and actors jetted in town, flinging left, right and center, their handlers usually arranged media coverage, and a befitting welcome at the airport.
It is understandable, not only in the Gambia, the United States remains a land of high promise, with abundant opportunities waiting to be tapped; a nation that has a magnetizing effect even when it is struggling to tackle its challenges. It is no wonder that the United States continue to win the hearts and minds of not only the young people; almost every Gambian is one way or the other influenced by the U.S charisma.
The other day, the Speaker of the National Assembly was heard saying “we gonna’’…. at the national assembly chambers, this is the ridiculous situation we are faced with. If the Speaker can “mistakenly” speak American English, it goes to show how the U.S continue to inspire our leaders. With the power and influence of the U.S media, events here are glamorized back at home by outsiders who spend a lot of time consuming news and information.
Why are do we denigrate ourselves, desperately eager to be “the other”? When I opted to study in the U.S, many of my colleagues in the Gambia and here in the U.S were obsessed with the so called American accent so that whoever do not speak the American accent you will be perceived as “the new arrival” in the eyes of society; that individual is usually not co-opted into the greater American family. Many years ago, while growing up in provincial and urban Gambia, we spent so much time watching action movies mainly from Hollywood. Because, we’re enveloped by Senegal; the fact that we tend to share a common historical heritage, Senegaltook-off earlier than us in so many ways, wetherefore look upto them for inspiration. And when the Senegambia confederation was signed in 1982, it signaled a new dawn; but ended acrimoniously in 1989. The political marriage was all but over, but this did not in any stop us from investing so much time and money to woo Senegalese artists or musicians. Former president Jammeh even boasted about it when he showered gifts to Senegalese musicians and wrestlers when they come to Banjul. From Senghor to Sall, every Senegalese leader see The Gambia as a fertile ground for annexation; we are not held at gunpoint when cutting business deals, the truth is that we can hardly do without Senegal.Our love-affair with Nigeria is not only erotic but hypnotic, thanks to their Nollywood distributors, Nigerians films are consumed almost in every household. As a result of the over-consumption, we have suddenly picked up the Nigerian accent and their way of life. In one occasion, it was reported that Jammeh gave certain Nollywood actors thousands of dollars in his desperate bid to win hearts and minds in West Africa. Few years back, a local newspaper carried the story of how the famed Nigerian artist, Davido disappointed revelers at a gig after he failed to live up to expectation.
And then, the “huge” elephant in the room; the threat of a protracted tribal confrontation is quaking; like fomented palm wine, the pungent smell has rented the air and everyone is trying to dodge the environment. At the “July 22ndrevolution’’ denouement; the seeds of a looming “ethnic cleansing’’ was probably planted at a rally in Tallinding Colobane, editors at GRTS (radio & Tv) struggled to cut the vitriol by Jammeh and now a clueless Barrow is not budge. As usual during Independence celebration, his address to the nation will certainly be caramelized with gobbledegook; and then we beat our chest; we are now truly independent– democracy has been restored! No way; examine the rice farmers in Jahally Patcharr and find out how they are coping all these years; of false starts and failed promises. Take a closer look at the situation facing far-flung communities in the Gambia, who walk several miles to see a doctor, or attend school. What about subsidies for the poor farmers? Is the government cutting unecessary expenditure, to help ambitious women gardeners who are in dire of assistance to actualize their dreams.And this one: while the Gambian is good at imitating outsiders; sometimes this Gambian tries to ridicule their kith and kin out of jealousy and ignorance. What is even worrying is when it takes a tribal undertone. Perhaps, we should find solace in the words of Rumi Kaur, the Phenom Canadian poet: “ What terrifies me most is how we foam at the mouth with envy when others succeed but sigh in relief when they are failing. Our struggle, she went on is “ to celebrate each other is what’s proven most difficult in being human”.
At the end of the day, the nation will have to ultimately decide who’s best suited to do the job of getting us out of what the Economist, Amartya Sen calls, “transient crises” of clean-drinking water, electricity and free education. But then, ours is not transient, it is prolong and protracted in the more prosaic face of myriad of issues that stymies our beloved nation.
By Ebrima Baldeh