There is no way to probably understand the Gambia today without considering the history of the country. We also have to acknowledge the impact of past and present events - slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, globalisation, Covid-19 pandemic, and different wars around the World on present realities of the Gambia.
However, despite these, it is my contention that the Gambia is not a poor country. Our problem is that we are stealing its wealth.
The tragedy is that most of our leaders learned too well from the colonial masters on how to steal wealth from their people through bribery and corruption.
The bulk of our political elites have few original ideas. Thus, they can only copy and paste from their colonial masters whose pattern was to steal Africa’s resources. Resultantly, most of them cannot exploit our natural resources and harness it to uplift the condition of their countries because that was not the interest of the colonial masters.
If it is exploited, however, they siphon the money into private foreign bank accounts instead of their people.
On this trajectory, most of our leaders govern without real accountability and weaponised the law to serve ruthless private interests.
Look at our tiny Gambia, a population of less than three million with comparatively vast amounts of natural resources that, if exploited properly, we should all enjoy a decent life contrary to the beastly poverty in the country.
River Gambia, for example, is one of the most important waterways in Africa. It is the only river in Africa that is navigable by ocean-going vessels all year round. It has the potential to generate hydroelectric power. And, we have commercial fishing potential offshore and in the river.
Equally, we have large quartz sand deposits. We are endowed with zircon, titanium, clay, laterite, sand silica, etc. It is a beautiful coastline with some of the most beautiful beaches in West Africa.
Our climate favours agriculture and tourist attraction. And we have a young population. Nevertheless, the potential of this young population lays fallow, without use. And, yet, we are one of the poorest countries in the world.
Revenue from exploiting these resources should provide enough funds for our country but instead have fuelled corruption, environmental degradation, and poverty. Sadly, any resource exploitation initiated benefits only the elites and their lackeys.
With this, I maintain that hyper-corruption is Gambia’s problem, not poverty. Hence, our leaders are responsible largely for this artificial poverty the country is in, through greed, selfishness, and stealing.
Therefore, in the context of the Gambia, critisms should be directed to our president, especially to Barrow, who have proved unable to fight corruption and to provide Gambians with basic services.
The president and his cabal have reduced politics to nothing but a racket to steal money from the country. With government contracts awarded to well-connected individuals with no capacity and with questionable credentials to fulfil, but for the purpose of kickbacks.
Piles of Auditor General Reports cataloguing monumental corruption are languishing in oblivion because the people who are supposed to act on them are the very people affected by the reports.
Also, reading through the Malagen Newspaper reports by investigative journalists - untold corruptions were excavated, but nothing seem to happen that indicates that our government is not serious about cracking down on corruption.
With this, in order to mask their failures, they give in to the temptation of appeals to ethnic, tribal, linguistic, and religious division like the colonial government.
Then, they allow corruption to set in and become a way of life. Anybody who is critical of their malgovernance will be labelled as an enemy of the country.
The people of the country are a witness to the testimony that President Barrow, who came from nowhere and within seven years of serving as president, gets super rich while the county plunges into the bottomless pitch of degrading poverty.
Not only is mass corruption confined to President Barrow, but the sweep of his family, friends, and supporters suddenly became rich and powerful to the detriment of the country.
Bogged down in the vicious circle of malgovernance, it can be argued that we as a country aided and abetted stealing of our country’s resources advertently or inadvertently. Weird it may sound, but this is the reality – self cannibalism at its best.
Some of our struggles against dictatorship and support for political parties are merely so that we can have a chance to feather our own nest in government positions.
We only shout from the pinnacle about stealing when it is not our family, friends, tribe, religion, and region. Only a few genuinely mean consistently fighting corruption for the sake of the country.
Since our independence, billions of money have been misappropriated from the country under our governments. Our leaders, especially former president dictator Yahya Jammeh and president Barrow, both came from rags to riches and, within a few years, own everything in the country, including the people.
Thousands of Gambians suffer when our hospitals are without basic services, schools without chairs, people without water and electricity, and young people without jobs. These are some of the graphic and tragic demonstrations of the failure of leadership in the Gambia, spreading impoverishment’s net ever wider.
That’s the consequence of corruption, when vast sums of money are stolen from the country’s wealth. Forcing impoverished Gambians into material, political, and economic privation by their own government.
In this tsunami of chaos, it is incomprehensible that our primary loyalty remains rooted in tribal identity, party political affiliations, family, friends, status, and regional connections to the detriment of the country.
In addition, the so-called gift giving, which is an acceptable feature of our country, is being manipulated and abused to facilitate bribery, corruption and control. Thus, we all join in the great procession of corruption and/or accept corruption as a means of earning a living.
President Barrow has the chance to learn from the former presidents’ mistakes. He should equally remember how Gambians fought to ensconced him into power. However, under him, the country climbed new heights in breath-taking levels of corruption and buffoonery.
Robbed of the last sheets of his innate dignity, he vaingloriously boasts of his powers, achievements that are nothing of the sort. While the country is abandoned in economical menaced, constitutionally vandalised and reduced the country to be deride internationally.
Public appointments are made not on ability, integrity, or capacity to do the job - but fealty to the president and his political party. There is no coherent policy framework to address the myriad of issues affecting the poor, powerless, and needy.
One can therefore argue that the Gambia under President Barrow is catastrophically corrupt, his unfitness for office is no secret, and our economy is mishandled.
Everything is built with borrowing, not earned money. This is a ticking time bomb that is accumulating.
Based on these, the Gambia is hurtling towards another very difficult year in 2024.
Unless we as a country get serious without compromise to hold the president accountable and demand that our economy is run properly, governance systems improve and to get serious about corruption.
Political accountability in the Gambia, I maintain, should no longer become the new, but simply the expected.
The Gambia, I ague, cannot succeed unless we force our leaders to wipe the slate of governance clean. This should not be a spectator game – all should get involved.
Because the self interest of each of us is best pursued by advancing the common interests of all of us.
Editors note: Ebrima Scattred Janneh “EB” is the Anchor of The Dialogue With The Youths Show on Gunjuronline TV. Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Gunjuronline.com.
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