By: Basidia M Drammeh
In an unprecedented move, United Democratic Party leader Ousainou Darboe promised to support Islamic schools, commonly known as Madrasas, like their English counterparts, to ease the financial burden, especially since these institutions rely heavily on school fees and handouts.
This promise by Darboe was welcomed by proponents of the idea, who have appreciated the initiative arguing that it reflects the increasing attention that some politicians pay to the issues affecting Arab and Islamic students and place it within their political agenda.
In contrast, critics have cast a cloud of doubt over the pledge, given the critical timing of the announcement. The promise came amid a ferocious election campaign. Many would argue that the upcoming election’s outcome is decided between President Barrow’s National People’s Party and his former political godfather and current arch-rival Ousainou Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party. The critics also argue that the announcement falls within numerous electoral promises made by politicians to tickle sentiments and canvass votes to win the elections.
In the same vein, President Barrow has recently received a group of individuals who introduced themselves as representatives of Islamic institutions in the Greater Banjul region, touting his support for religious causes in the country. Mr. Barrow equally promised in a public address to increase the subvention that his Government has allocated to the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council.
In the midst of the Corona crisis that devastated the world, including the Gambia, the Government was forced to close schools to limit the spread of the epidemic. The measure has inflicted heavy financial losses on Arab and Islamic schools, in particular, due to non-payment of school fees and students staying in their homes. In fact, some schools were so bankrupt that they were unable to pay salaries. As a result, some of the officials in the local Arabic and Islamic schools moved, through an intense media campaign, and reaching out to the relevant authorities, to appeal to the Government to help these schools get out of the financial hardship they have suffered as a result of government restrictions. However, these efforts have not been successful. The appeals fell on deaf ears amid empty promises. Perhaps this justifies why some of the skeptics have questioned Mr. Darboe’s commitment.
In any case, I believe that officials of Arabic schools, even if they have failed to receive the Government’s subvention, have succeeded in attracting the attention of politicians because they are an important segment of the Gambian society. Members of the society with Arabic and Islamic education backgrounds have long bemoaned marginalization at the hands of the primarily educated bureaucrats. As such, they must follow the speeches of politicians and presidential aspirants carefully and critically analyze them rationally to gauge their positions towards them and the issues that concern them in order to make informed choices.