Independence Day? Whose Independence?

0
67
Madi Jobarteh

By: Madi Jorbateh 

As Gambians gather to celebrate yet another false Independence Day today for the 59th time, almost 100 children were killed and many more still sick with acute kidney injury (AKI) simply because of the failure of duty by elected and appointed public officials and business operators. The last demographic and health survey conducted by the Gambia Bureau of Statistics states that more than 35% of Gambian women between 15 and 49 years have no education. Maternal and child mortality remain high. Women’s access to power and representation in decision making institutions are abysmally low, while sexual and gender-based violence remain entrenched and widespread. This is just a snapshot of the incidence of injustices and inequality in Gambian society 59 years after Independence.

One can go further to highlight the limited opportunities for youth manifesting in the ‘Backway’ phenomenon. Or highlight the general poor delivery of basic social services such as water and electricity supply or healthcare which are not only erratic but also expensive. Over the past years, the cost of living has not only been increasing but at the same time the Government continues to increase the fuel pump price, as well as electricity and water tariffs while also increasing taxes, rates, levies, duties, charges, and user fees across the board.

These increases in revenue collection coupled with the numerous and huge loans and grants received by the Government have not translated into widespread prosperity, quality public services, meaningful and sustained opportunities, and better living conditions for the citizenry. As at today, more than seven billion dalasi is taken from the 2024 national budget to service debts. Instead of using the huge taxes and loans to create prosperity and sustainable development, a 2022 joint Gambia Government and World Bank report on poverty states that poverty has increased by more than 7%. After 59 years of so-called independence, most Gambians are in doubt about the viability and future of their country. An Afrobarometer survey report in 2022 states that 79% of Gambians believe their country is going in the wrong direction.  

Is this the Gambia we deserve? Is the Gambia as we have it today the vision and objective of the founding fathers and mothers at Independence in 1965? Look around your community to ask if it is clean, safe, and convenient for you? The Gambia was touted as an improbable nation because of its small size and ‘lack of resources’ back then. But DK Jawara had dispelled that saying the country may be small, but it has great people and huge opportunities to survive and grow. Fifty nine years later, is this what Independence should look like and mean for Gambians? On a day like today, every Gambian must raise these questions if we truly care about our worth as human beings, and our rights and duties as citizens.

To answer this question, we must refer to Section 1, subsection 2 of our Constitution, which states,

“The sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia from whom all organs of government derive their authority and, in whose name, and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of government are to be exercised in accordance with this Constitution.”

What does this provision mean to and for you? Do you see yourself as a sovereign citizen? Do you see yourself as the source of power and legitimacy of the positions that elected and appointed public officials hold and yield? Do you think the Government is running this country in your name and for your welfare and prosperity? Do you think that elected officials such as the President and appointed officials such as Ministers and Permanent Secretaries among others are serving your best interest by protecting your rights and fulfilling your needs?

To put it in context, every Gambian must understand that this country is a Republic which is what is highlighted in Section 1 subsection 2. This provision is indicating that the Gambia belongs to all its people equally, and that the country is governed according to the will, voice, and power of the people. This is why the Constitution has created and entrenched the fundamental rights of Gambians under Chapter 4 and then obligated the Government to respect, protect and fulfill them. In the first section of that Chapter, Section 17 of the Constitution states,

“The fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in this Chapter shall be respected and upheld by all organs of the Executive and its agencies, the Legislature and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in the Gambia, and shall be enforced by the Courts in accordance with this Constitution.”           

 

If such were the case, the question is why is the Gambia such an impoverished nation where citizens continue to face widespread deprivation, violations of human rights, poor and erratic social services, and serious insecurity in their homes and communities?  After 59 years of so-called independence, how come Gambian citizens continue to endure hardships as they move around their country, and face obstacles as they seek to earn a decent standard of living? Who is responsible for these hardships and obstacles when the country has all the necessary natural, human, and financial resources, and the opportunities to produce one of the most developed countries in the world. If Singapore, which also gained independence in 1965 could jump to one of the 10 most advanced countries in the world within three decades of Independence, how come the Gambia is among the 10 least developed countries in the world after 59 years of nationhood?

The time has come for Gambians to realize that this country has remained a wretched, impoverished, unjust and unequal society precisely because of the failure of Government. That is, the men and women who occupy Government offices in general continue to refuse to uphold the Constitution and laws of the Gambia. If elected and appointed public officials were to uphold the Constitution to fulfill their mandate and abide by their oath of office this country would have been positively different by now. But the failure of the Gambia is the lack of the political will by public officials to abide by the rule of law and to demonstrate commitment to public interest.

Rather after 59 years, what is apparent is the pampering of public officials with fat salaries, unjustified allowances, and unethical incentives that they continue to enjoy with impunity. Independence has become meaningless for the majority of Gambians simply because public servants, our Mbindaan, from the President to the rest of the officials are not interested in service to the nation in transparency and accountability as they continue to plunder the wealth and opportunities of the country without fear or shame! The evidence of this lies in the fact that after creating multiple projects and commissions, convened uncountable workshops and dialogues, embarked on numerous travels, and secured huge financial and material resources in the name of national development, impact and change remains peripheral and minuscule.

As a result, the incidence of corruption within the Government, the abuse of office as well as the poor performance in service delivery have been the characteristics of the Gambia Government since Independence. The evidence of this can be found in Gambia Government’s own reports, Auditor General’s Reports, National Assembly Reports, as well as reports of multiple commissions of inquiry including the TRRC and the Janneh Commission, which all show that the Gambia Government is the chief lawbreaker, champion human rights violator, and chief plunderer of public wealth hence the greatest obstacle to the ideals of national independence and development. Where this is the case, the inevitable result is poverty, deprivation, lack of opportunities, poor service delivery and violations of rights which are widespread across the Gambia.

Therefore 59 years later, the masses of our people are yet to enjoy the fruits of Independence. Rather it is the public officials who are the servants of the people, Sunu Mbindaan, who continue to enjoy the sweat, labour, and power of the people endlessly. Sadly, this is simply possible because the average Gambian citizen has failed to uphold his and her rights and duties to hold public officials and institutions accountable to demand transparency, accountability, and quality service delivery.

If you believe in Section 1.2 and Section 17 of the Constitution, start today to be a different Gambian. A New Gambian who is ready and willing to stand up to exercise and defend his or her constitutional rights by fulfilling your duty to hold public officials and institutions accountable. Stand up and speak up to demand quality public services which must be available, accessible, and affordable for all citizens. Start today to speak up against corruption, abuse of office, human rights violations, and poor services. The Gambia we have is the Gambia we make. After enduring 59 years of poverty, deprivation, and hardships, it is your decision now whether you will continue to accept another 59 years of more poverty or reverse this unacceptable trend to begin to enjoy the real Fruits of Independence in more prosperity and freedom. 

Leave a Reply