Wednesday, February 23, 2011

46 Years Of Gambian Independence

NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA(MB)- One can say that some of us, like this editor--who can be said to have the good fortune of seeing and experiencing living in The Gambia in both the colonial days and since the attainment of nationhood by this country--are better placed than most to look back over the whole period of 46 years of Gambian independence, and to therefore comment meaningfully on it.
We shall do this now against the backdrop of the Herculean task the asccesion to independence entailed at that time of a less enlightened international community, a bi-polar world circumscribed by the struggle for ideological hegemony and by the ‘cold war’ between East and West, indeed a world that was then unaccustomed to the concept of a mini-state being accepted on equal terms in the comity of nations.  In fact, our struggle for and our attainment of independence in 1965 was not far removed from when UK  Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a world leader of his times, could unabashedly state that, he did not become Prime Minister only for him to oversee the desolution of His Majesty’s dominions abroad.
If it was easy for such sentiments to be expressed without raising eye brows then, and this was at a time when countries like India were in the thick of the fight for their independence from British colonial rule, one can imagine the kind of reception that would be given to  the status and prospects for the question of  Gambians striving for their independence.  But as can be seen in any objective review of the politics of the period since then, the power of ideas, like truth, not only prevails at the end, but it conquers all.

Hence the ‘wind of change’ Harold Macmillan, another British Prime Minister, subsequently alerted the  then white supremists parliament of South Africa to as he described a new dawn in world and African politics, one which had  made their apartheid regime unacceptable and anachronistic.  The whole thing points to the progress of ideas over time, and in this world nothing moves faster than that, as there is nothing more urgent than an idea whose time has come. 

It is in this  context that we can offer an explanation not only to the possblity of a mini-state like The Gambia to aspire for full svereignty as an independent state, but on the resolve, determination and ability of their leadership, despite all the odds ranged against them, to in the end make a remarkable success of  independence. For looked at against the backdrop of prejudice and cynicism which surrounded the whole vexed issue of a mini state like The Gambia aspiring to take its destiny in hand, we must truly congratulate our founding fathers for the courageous and resolute  manner they conducted  the politics of their times until they brought us our country’s independence from colonial rule.
As we look back to 1965 today, and as we survey the landscape of ups and downs we had come through, we should congratulate them all for affording us  this ooportunity to enjoy being independent, good or bad.   We believe that though, it could have been better, our record to date, when  compared to other mini states or other African states that are bigger and better endowed, has not been bad at all.
One is fully reminded here of the inspirng words of the late Osagyfo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who, on that country’s independence day in 1957, defined the significant of their achievement by citing it as proof that “the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs.”  And he added ominously that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was “linked-up with the total liberation of the whole African continent”—by then the vast majority of states in Africa were under colonial subjugation.  That of course meant that our black populations had, through the accident of history, been fully deprived of their right to manage their affairs, on the wrong premise that they could be better ruled by peoples of other races.
Managing ones own affairs in one’s own state is of course no easy task for as Sir Dawda also made clear in 1965, independence was ‘no magic wand’ by which we can “transform our groundnuts into diamonds,” but rather that we would have to earn our own keep, living by the sweat of our brows through hard work and above all “cutting our coat according to our size.”  His wise counsel was to stand us in good stead especially in the dangerous years of ‘learning to crawl before we can crawl.’  However, the results soon began to tell well especially after we cleared our budget deficit and, with the help of a small but well disciplined civil service and an enthusiastic civil population, increased crop yields, built roads and provided schools and health facilities among other amenities.
By the end of the first five years of independence, we had become a republican state after the adoption of a new constitution in 1970 and have managed to organise free and fair general elections.  By the early 1970s, the work of government expanded so that new ministries like tourism, and economic planning and industrial development were added thereby giving greater speed and impetus to the task of managing national development and providing growth in education, health, agriculture and infrastructure.  These developments allowed the citizenry to have a more forward looking outlook and to take advantage of possibilities the creation of a national commercial and development bank and a national trading corporation brought about in the fields of commerce and industry.  To this must be added the significant development of transforming our currency board into a fully autonomous central bank. 
But the new state became embattled with problems so that by the mid-1970s the adverse effects of the Great Sahelian Drought coupled with huge increases in petroleum prices occasioned by the Arab=Israeli War  eventually impacted on our vulnerable economy.  Inflation reared its head, scarcities in petroleum products and food supplies brought about the economic adjustment programmes of the IMF and World Bank amidst widespread complaints about corruption.  Matters were brought to a head when in 1981 insurgents led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang sprung an attempted coup on the governement of the day.  The intervention of Senegalese troops under a defence pact with Senegal helped to foil the bloody affair.
The Gambia therefore ascended to the next stage of its evolution by forming a confederation with Senegal.  This cumbersome and expensive venture which is heavily weaighed in Senegal’s favour proved unworkable and was an expense neither country could afford thereby leading to its sudden demise by 1989.  Full reassumption of our own affairs by the Jawara government, which continued to enjoy electoral victories throughout,  was to last until 1994.
By then the Gambia Field Force  was developed into the national army after the bloody coup attempt of 1981, and under the confederal arrangements.  Lt. Yahya Jammeh and three others organised a coup  and successfully toppled the elected government to set our country on a different course.  Their military government had few friends overseas but it was able to survive the two years of transition to civilian democratic rule and to embark on spectacular development projects including rapid expansion in education, health and so many other fields including the provision of a national television service.
A new constitution was adopted in 1996 followed by presidential and general elections in 1997.  Jammeh resigned from the army to contest the elections as a political party leader.  Since then, he has successfully contested in three similar elections and to date remains at the helm of affairs as the country’s president, when we celebrated 46 years of independence this year. There has also been an unprecedented level and pace of developments and innovations affecting all sectors of Gambian life and society.
Have we proven Nkrumah right that ‘the Blackman can manage his own affairs’?  We are sure all will agree  that  we have especially since The Gambia would not have been nowhere near to where we had reached today had we not gained our independence.
And we take this opportunity to therefore congratulate Presidents Jawara and Jammeh on the occasion of our 46th anniversary of independence, as we also look forward to more happy anniversaries to come. 
        Happy independence anniversary to all concerned,

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