A LETTER TO BASSE, URR (Are you building a new market?)

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A LETTER TO BASSE, URR (Are you building a new market?)

When this writer was a small boy in the early 1960s, I recallwalking along side my mother to the market on a regular basis. At this young age walking to the market, my mother held my hand firmly lest I would have been left behind, or someone bumping into me, or falling, or being trampled on by a rushing adult in the middle of the narrow market pathways. The fire ravaged market predated me which meant the market must have been built at the height of the colonial era well before the 1960s. The market was known as the “rainy reason market” and the dry “season market” is the one located near the river Gambia in Basse Wharf Town. Both were constructed by the colonial government (perhaps even before commissioner Edwards withthe white Rolls Royce) surely long before this writer was born.Presumably in the years of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and as late as the 70s, the Basse vendors made an annual ritualistic relocation back and forth between the two markets. This was necessary because of the annual floods that came every year with the regularity of clock work. During the floods, the dry season market would be flooded several feet under water for what would seem like eternity; the water came far in to town covering several meters beyond the market. This annual relocationbetween the two markets must have ended sometime in the 80s when the floods stopped coming on regular basis. By this timethe vendor stayed on at the market basically abandoning the dry season market up until the fire disasters in 2020. If the reader is a native of Basse, and old enough to remember the 60s and 70s,the resonance of this narration must elicit nostalgic thoughts about Basse Wharf Town. For the younger ones, this is Basse history 101.

Termination of the seasonal relocation from one market to the other probably become necessary because: 1) increase in vendor population; increase in businesses needing space; 2) increase in population of Basse; 3) increase in business/market traffic; and4) perhaps relocation fatigue. Together these reasons, a prior to the fire, led to one of the most congested market in the Gambia. In recent years it became dreadful to visit the market, vendors crowded the meandering pathways inside the market preventingsmooth movement. The market became so crowded that one would have to spend several long minutes standing chest to chest on wait for an opening to step from one end to another. Due to congestion, health risks were one of the biggest concernsnot the least pick pockets. The pathways inside the market wereclogged with market squatters who had no permanent space butwould daily create space on first come, first serve basis.Furthermore, both streets adjacent to the market, be it the street the central police station is located and the street to the post office were daily clogged with milling vendors and customers.The street the police station is situated was for years rendered inaccessible to motorists due to vendors and market crowed probably only rivaled by the Sandega Market in Serre Kunda. Vendors occupied the street outflowing from the market because there was no space available within market premises. Venders spread out their goods/food stuffs on the ground (health issues notwithstanding) along both sides of entire streets blocking the entrance to homes around the vicinity. For example, entering or leaving the home of the late Ous Camara was nearly impossible during market hours.

For several years the traffic in the market and around the market remained a challenge to say least; terrible indeed. Simply put, there was no organization in the market and no one ever addressed this issue until the fire and final destruction of the market. The madness could only be likened to a zoo. I called it“all for self and none for anybody”; no rules or order to follow inside the market. The scenario was a direct outcome of the population increase. In the region, it is a known fact that all roads lead to Basse market from far and near. For this reason, building a market in the same location would not solve the enumerated problems stated above. A bigger market space that confines vendors within, and off the streets is the only futuristic solution and the most viable. A market that prevented food stuffsplaced on the ground (should be disallowed) because lack of space is the solution.

Now that we have the chance to rebuild and avoid the disorganized scenario, we need to build a market that will stand the test of time. We need a market that is fit for purpose. We must rethink whether we need a market to be rebuilt in the same space. In my humble opinion, The Basse regional leadership composed of the Area Council, regional Chiefs, Alkalo of Basse, the sitting Governor, the regional National Assembly Members,and other key stakeholder ought to rethink building a central market large enough to commensurate population growth. The Basse central market is not only for the town of Basse and thesurrounding environ, but for the whole region. The entire region has a stake in the market. Rebuilding the market in the same place will not serve the need of the region and will notcommensurate the population growth. This is because:

By early19th century the population of the Crown Colony of Gambia was estimated not in excess of 15,000. Moreover, between 1819-1901 the population was estimate to be 13,456. Of this total, there were no figures for Basse (the Protectorate). However, in 1963 the first national census was conducted, to befollowed by 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003, and 2013 to date when figures began to be recorded for the entire country.

The 1963 census showed the population for Basse Local Government Areas (LGAs) as 58,049 (15%) of Gambia’s population. By 2003 census, the Gambia population increase to 1.4 million and by 2013, it increased to 1.9 million (38.5%) increase from 2003-2013. This spike in population growth has an array of policy implications for all sectors particularly education, health, housing, and agriculture sector. Moreover, with this steady increase in the population there is concomitant demand for land and services such as markets. Relative to the LAGs, in 2013, Basse LGA’s population was reported at 239, 916 from 182,586 in 2003, this was second only to Brikama LAG. Basse’s population increased by 38.3 percent (against the national population) followed by Kerewan and Kuntaur each rising by 27.9 percent and 26.3 percent respectively. With the steady spike in population, we can reasonably conclude that a market that was built to serve relatively a 1960s population of 58,049 people in Basse LGA, is now too small for a 2013 population of 329,916. This amounts to 17 percent increase from 1963-2013 in population for Basse LGA and growing. Since the spike in population is speculated to remain in upward movement, we can conclude that by the next census of 2023, the population of Basse LGA will have significantly increased to further support the suggestion for a market that commensuratethe population growth and will stand the test of time. My suggestion therefore is:

The leadership of Basse LGA, the Alkalo of Basse, URR regional National Assembly Members, the Area Council leadership, and other key stakeholders should engage the government to buy the current space. The government may builda government complex liken to quadrangle that will house all regional government offices such as the police (the police station needs upgrading), immigration, GRA, and all other government services housed in a one stop shop location in the heart of Basse. Immigration for example does not have to interminably squat in a privately loaned location (curtesy of Hamidou Jah of Jah Oil) as they have been in recent years. These departments will be housed in a more fitting complex where all government services may be had at one stop location. A feasibility study will undoubtedly support this proposition.This will also bring cosmetic value to Basse; a face lift value provided by a landmark government building following the fire.

The new market may be built in a much bigger space that will stand the test of time with modest but modern amenities with good planning for pathways and other emergency provisions for fighting fires; with fire hydrants in strategic positons. A good plan will help in entrance and exit directions for vehicles to drop off and pick up. A space for waiting taxi services will bringorganized flow in and out of the market perimeter. This should be a market that provides approved spaces for vendors and enforceable prohibitions of unauthorized space occupation. Overall, a more pedestrian friendly market with a good management system. A market easier to clean and manage and remove refuge. This market may be located for example withinshort distances either in the Mansajang area or along the most suitable highland areas on the Sabi road or other suitably identified areas. Government may annex the land with compensation to the village/individual from whom this land may be annexed. We need to explore this possibility. I firmly believe this is the direction to explore for viability. The current space is too small for a market and will result in space challenges if rebuilt as a market; there would not be enough space to be equitably distributed among the large vendor population. All we need to do is to sit down and look at this possibility.

Lastly, one wise man wrote: “The future did not happen because we failed to plan it. The Future failed to happen because we did not imagine it. Imagination is more powerful than knowledge for all good things that had benefitted man were first imagined.” Today let’s imagine Basse having a bigger, modern, well organized, and well equipped market that will stand the test of time.

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