As The Gambia gears up to mark her 50th Independence anniversary tomorrow 18 February 2015, some key statesmen and politicians in the country shared their views on the journey so far.Excerpts from their remarks are featured below:
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP)
On the 50th anniversary of independence, I don’t want to look at myself as a politician or speak on partisan issues; my view on this day is not the view of an opposition member; instead it is my view as a Gambian citizen.
Personally, I rehearsed the national anthem in 1965 and marched at McCarthy Square and I saw the Union Jack flag lowered. That was the last day I sang ‘God Save The Queen’, and since then I have been singing ‘For The Gambia Our Home Land’, and it is from that perspective I look at these things; not a view of partisan politics.
I think we all have to congratulate ourselves for the country’s 50th independence anniversary; it was a very long walk, long journey with hopes and aspirations since we achieved independence in 1965, and some of the aspirations and achievements realized over this period should be consolidated.
We should look inwards to reflect and take stock of what has happened in the country for the past 50 years; and in the areas we have made achievements whether minimal or considerable, we should endeavour to consolidate those ones, as well as identify our pitfalls to remedy them.
In my view, there have been a lot of developments on the side of human resources. When Gambia gained independence there were very few graduates, few professionals in the area of medicines, law, engineering, accounting, etc. but today we have a lot of graduates in various disciplines. That a lone is an achievement and is a cause for us to congratulate ourselves, and this could not be achieved without the dedication of the then leadership, for their hard work.
When the country was gaining independence, I thought we would not survive, but the then leaders had the desire, determination in ensuring that the country survived and must not be swallowed up by neighbouring Senegal; and the country not forced into any kind of political alliance with our neighbours. The then leaders strived hard to ensure that what is needed in the country was achieved.
As a country, we made name for ourselves as best human rights defenders in Africa; that is why African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right is given the name: ‘The Banjul Charter’; the African Commission on Human Rights is headquartered in Banjul, the African Centre for Democracy on Human Rights Studies is also headquartered in Banjul.
All this is because of the immense strides the country has made in human rights, and I look forward to seeing the African Court on Human Rights to be headquartered in Banjul, and I think that should be one of our crusades now, because Gambia is a natural habitat for human rights for the fact that it is a home of other human rights institutions.
We have made reasonable economic progress; otherwise we would not have been where we are today, thanks to the Economic Recovery Programme in 1980s, although it had some negative consequences, e.g. redundancy; but the then leaders were buoyant and took the decision, otherwise the country would sink. And one should pay tribute not only to the then president but also the then finance minister Hon. Sheriff Ceesay with his experts for their hard work even though the decisions taken was criticised by many.
Virtually all existing parastatals came up during the first 30 years of Gambia’s independence, and GAMTEL was second to none in West Africa; it was only competing with South African telecommunications services in terms of efficiency and good management. The Gambia Ports Authority and the Social Security were contributing immensely toward the economic growth of the country.
We had a very vibrant river transportation system; it began to die toward the end of the first republic when lady Chilel sank, which brought the river transportation virtually to a standstill. Hence we are looking forward to a day when this will be revived, because it has a lot of impacts on the peripheral communities, e.g. Kerewan, Kuntaur, Janjanbureh, Kosamar, etc. and its revival will restore the lost growth of the country.
We have to be thinking Gambian; we should not be pigeon holding ourselves into groups that are considered as pro or antigovernment.
In this country, we should be differentiated by our policies that we follow and not by political coloration that one put on, and I think the essence of nationhood is to unite diverse people for common good, and this is what we should now be focused on.
As Gambians, we should be guided by the words of our national anthem, ‘That all may live in unity, freedom and peace each day’. We must learn to live in harmony and learn to work together for the progress of the country, and must accept the fact that we all have a stake in this country; and in pursuit of achieving our stakes as citizens on we must play our roles effectively, differently and probably at various degrees.
Mayor Yankuba Colley of APRC
In my view, there is no country in this world that is 100% independent, and Gambia as a country is not an exception. Yes, we have gained political and mental independence, but we are not 100% independent in terms of economic independence.
As a nation, we gained independence in 1965; then I was 5 years old. I was fortunate to enroll in school in 1966. Then the colonial masters used to charge 2 pounds 10 shillings for school bills, and that included all learning materials, with supply of milk every morning.
When Gambia turned into the first Republic, at least the then leaders had done their quota, and I quite agree that they should be given credit for their efforts and endeavour in leading the country into independence.
When the second Republic came into being, the country witnessed more sustainable development, more schools have been built, there is free education and scholarships for qualified Gambians; whilst the government continues to promote civic rights, among other things.
I am calling on all Gambians and non-Gambians living in The Gambia to come out in their large numbers to celebrate the country’s nationhood in grand style.
We have a cause to celebrate, and I am urging every patriotic Gambian to come and celebrate with us, and take reflection on what has been achieved in the past 50 years and what we want to achieve in the next 50 years to come.
Omar Jallow of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)
I want to congratulate all Gambians in advance for the celebration of our 50th anniversary (50 years of nationhood).
It is all Gambians who should celebrate, as the day is very important. I would to pay tribute to all those who contributed to bringing about this very important change in the development of The Gambia as a nation, for both political leaders, civil society leaders and trade unionists, because when the wind of change started to blow across Africa it was not only politicians who were involved in trying to gain independence for the African people.
The Gambian people as a whole were determined and committed to seeing that this change happened; for this reason and with the mass mobilization of people, we were able to have our independence.
After 50 years, the day should not just be about celebration, but as well a day of reflection on where we started, where we are today and how we are going together as Gambians, and to also plan for tomorrow for the Gambian people, particularly young people who are now the future of this country.
The PPP party, which spearheaded the independence struggle, stood firm to make sure independence was gained by the country. The British thought that after colonizing us for so many years The Gambia could not stand on its own.
The British were planning and convincing other parties to make The Gambia part of Senegal, but it was only the PPP that stood firm and said: ‘Independence for the Gambia today’.
That struggle the PPP spearheaded was why Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara became the first Premier, Prime Minister and President of the Republic of The Gambia.
When we gained independence, the skeptics and prophets of doom thought that The Gambia could not stand on its own as a sovereign independent state.
The Independence Day should be celebrated by all, because it ushered in a new life for every Gambian; where we can stand up and be counted nationally and internationally as a people who have gained their freedom, dignity and respect.
Author: Abdou Rahman Sallah & Cherno Bobb