An Interview with Dr Nick Maurice
Nick Maurice is the founder of Gunjur/ Marlborough Link and former director of Commonwealth organization, BUILD (Building International Links for Development). In this interview with Sainey Darboe, he began by taking stock of the progress made over the last two years .
Nick Maurice: Much has happened since I resigned as Director of the Marlborough Brandt Group and the link with Gunjur a year ago. Last summer a group of young people from St John’s Academy in Marlborough raised sufficient funds to travel to Gunjur and work with the people of Kulukochi on the outskirts of Gunjur to construct a classroom for the new school there. This is a vital resource which will enable more children to go to school locally rather than having to walk miles to the Lower Basic School of the Tarud Preschool. And of course, as always, the lives of the young people who went to Gunjur will have been dramatically changed. Teachers from Wiltshire, the county in which Marlborough is situated, have continued to travel to Gunjur to live in and learn about the community and its people, their culture and their faith and bring that learning back into their classrooms here in UK so that their students begin to get some understanding of the global environment in which we all live and in which they will work. It is crucial that we create more “global citizens,” people who can look beyond the borders of their own countries and see themselves as playing a vital role in improving the lives of fellow human beings in other parts of the world, and Gunjur has always had a vital role to play in creating those global citizens. In addition we have been working together to create employment and support entrepreneurship in Gunjur by giving out loans to young people to set up local businesses whether welding, bee keeping, internet cafe, retail outlets, tie dyeing etc. At the same time we are sending young people to the Gambian Technical Training Institute for training in a variety of skills whether secretarial, plumbing, construction or computing. All this has continued since I retired a year ago. But we are going through change. Sainey Darboe: A major plank of the relationship between the two communities had been exchange of people . This has been encumbered by refusal of visa applications . What progress has been registered to change this situation? Nick Maurice: You are right! The exchange of people between our two communities underpinned everything that we stood for. We always, and rightly, believed that we here in Marlborough had as much to learn from the people of Gunjur as vice versa and the way to enhance that learning was through living in each other’s communities and homes and getting to know people at a very fundamental level. Many lives in both Gunjur and Marlborough have been changed as a result of that learning. We now live in a very different political and social environment. The world is on the move in a way that it wasn’t when we started the link and much of that movement is as a result of social, political and economic problems often leading to conflict in the countries from which people are moving whether legally or illegally. It is estimated that in the UK there are up to half a million illegal immigrants living in our country. But by the very nature of their illegality, no one can possibly have an accurate figure. And therefore (quite wrongly in my view) young Africans are not to be trusted by our Home Office to come to UK and to return. We also have to hold up our hands and admit that we ‘lost’ four young friends from Gunjur back in 2008 who disappeared while under our care in Marlborough and we know that our ‘card is marked’ “Marlborough is not to be trusted to take proper care to ensure that their visitors return home.” That is the attitude of the Home Office. We also have to see the problem in the context of the large number of young Gambians who have been taking the perilous ‘back way’ to Europe, many tragically dying in the attempt. “If they are being given a ‘free ride’ to the UK by the people of Marlborough, what is to stop them from becoming illegal immigrants?” That will be the view of many. I honestly do not see this situation changing in the near future. We have had ten applications for visas turned down in the past five years. And of course this has undermined everything that we stood for. What was once a mutually beneficial relationship has become very one-sided. Sainey Darboe: You have been visiting Gunjur and Gambia annually for more than 30 years which makes it your second home .What are your expectations of the new government? Nick Maurice: In common with many Gambian friends that I have talked to, my expectations are very high. I hope that once the “dust has settled” following the election and the refusal of ex President Jammeh to accept the result of that election, with all the terrible anxieties about potential conflict breaking out, that the Gambian people both in The Gambia and the diaspora in US, UK and Europe and indeed globally will get behind the new Government under President Barrow and support his expressed desire to do everything possible for the development of your great country. I am sure President Barrow would be the first to agree that his Government cannot succeed in bringing real prosperity to your country on its own. We all have a responsibility to support them in whatever way we can and that includes the international community, the bilateral and multilateral agencies. Sainey Darboe: Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2012, but the new government has expressed a willingness to return the country to the organization. With your experience of work with the organization, how would you like to help with that process? Nick Maurice: In 2002 I set up a coalition of development agencies BUILD (Building Understanding though International Links for Development) based on the Gunjur Marlborough link and its underlying ethos, in an attempt to spread the message of what we were doing globally in order to get many more towns, schools, hospitals, faith-based organisations, local authorities, sports clubs, youth organisations etc to form global partnerships for mutual learning ultimately to bring peace, prosperity and justice to the world. BUILD is a Commonwealth accredited organisation and in that capacity I have attended many of the Commonwealth People’s Forums (CPF) which take place prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings in different parts of the world. The CPF’s are a great forum for representatives of civil society across the globe to come together to discuss the grass roots issues that they see are fundamental to their wellbeing whether it be climate change, the problem of small arms, drug use, lack of access to health care and education, transport etc. From the CPFs goes a paper which is presented to the Heads of Government stating those issues that “The people of the Commonwealth feel that the Heads of Government should be addressing”. As a result of this work, I do have connections in the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Royal Commonwealth Society and if your President wishes, I will certainly use those connections to encourage and lobby for the acceptance of The Gambia back into the Commonwealth family at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which is taking place in the UK in spring of 2018. Rejoining the Commonwealth family of nations will bring with it new opportunities for engagement with and investment from other Commonwealth countries and opportunities for young Gambians to study with the help of scholarships etc. Sainey Darboe: As a person immensely familiar with The Gambia, what do you see as the biggest challenge for the country? Nick Maurice: I am sure that the biggest challenge for the country is its economy. From what I read, it appears that the economy is in a dire state, largely because there has not been the investment that is required to build that economy whether in agriculture and fisheries, tourism, business development, education, health etc, all of which are interrelated and are all hampered by a fluctuating exchange rate. Related to this, of course, has been the problem of young people leaving the country in droves, young people who ought to have been in a position to make a vital contribution to bringing prosperity to the country. But given the political and economic environment in which they have been living perhaps they can be excused for wanting to better their lives in Europe and indeed support their families at home through remittances. With the election of Adama Barrow comes a huge infusion of hope for the future. But elsewhere in the world, Donald Trump has been elected in the US with his racist and anti-immigrant policies while U.K has decided to pull out of the EU. Don't you feel pessimistic about the state of the world? Sainey Darboe: You are right about the infusion of hope, but I reiterate that that hope will be better achieved if we move rapidly away from the past and perhaps “let bygones be bygones”, and all work together, and I have no doubt that the Gambian diaspora has a crucial role to play in that hope! Yes, I deplore the ghastly sentiments of President Trump and his sexist, racist, anti Muslim and anti immigrant statements and policies. I also deplore the result of the referendum in the UK which means that we are leaving Europe. I consider myself to be an ‘internationalist’ and a ‘global citizen’ having worked in and benefited from the people of so many different countries from the tender age of 18 when as a VSO volunteer I spent a year teaching English in Togo and living with a wonderful family there. To see the US and the UK ‘raising the drawbridge’ to prevent people from other countries coming in to make a significant contribution to our societies as so many have done and are doing, makes me feel very depressed. I often say that, by definition, refugees and asylum seekers are exceptional people. They have uprooted themselves from everything that is familiar and loved, including their families, they have undertaken perilous journeys across countries and continents to a completely uncertain future in a country about which they know very little, if anything, and in which they are going to have to make major social adjustments. THEY WILL MAKE A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION!! This makes it even more important for us to stand up for what we believe in, that we all belong to the global village, we all have a responsibility to that village and its inhabitants, human, animal and vegetable and the environment in which those inhabitants will prosper and we must all cooperate to send out a message of hope through positive action. Sainey Darboe: Any last words? Nick Maurice: I cannot improve on the words of the American anthropologist Margaret Mead who wrote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. And the words of American Senator Bobby Kennedy who on a visit to South Africa during the apartheid era wrote: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression."
Editor's Note: Dr Nick Maurice's interview with Sainey Darboe was conducted in February following his visit to Gunjur.