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.

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Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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