By Ousman Jarra
The tiny sliver of Africa’s smallest country is wedged into Senegal, and is seen as a piece in its side, or the tongue that makes it speaks, depending on who you talk to. The Gambia is a country with beaches that invite visitors to bask and hang around. Moreover, the small fishing villages, nature reserves, and the navigable river that start from the Atlantic Ocean going down the inland is dotted with small wildlife and on a leisurely river cruise and makes it the bird lovers utopia. Above all it is call the smiling coast West Africa because the way the river empties to the ocean. “Gambia may not be big but its people are renowned for their ability to live together, for natural friendliness and dignity and for their innate common sense and good humor,” Berkeley Rice wrote. So what happened in the last 21years that we lost such a wonderful qualities? Is mind-blowing to the whole world. The country is hold hostage by one man, which was done systematically by breaking down all the fabrics of the society through neglect, oppression, and exploitation by an institution headed by nobody but Yaya Jammeh.
The Agricultural sector which is economic backbone of the country and employed about 70% of the population has had heaviest hit, where the Government’s inability purchase the ground-nut of farmers resulted in the collapse of trickle-down economics. The consequence of which reduce many families in to extreme poverty. Secondly, the Tourism Industry that provide employment to many youths have suffered tremendously due to the frequent vile statements delivers by the President to the west in regards to their culture and lifestyles and culminated in the reduction of the tourist visiting the country, as security becomes an issue. The ramifications from the above policies and the worsening of Human Rights condition have upshot the mass exodus young men, making a treacherous journey by land and sea out of Gambia to Europe. Many perished in the Sahara either from the maltreatment from human traffickers or succumb to illness without any intervention on site. The few who were lucky to be alive and to have crossed the Mediterranean and reach Italy, only few of them will have official status or the right documents, most are short of money and don’t know how they will survive, but all hope they will find a safe haven, be it temporary or permanent, in a continent that seems soothing, profitable and secure. And for some, the fortunate minority, that is indeed what they will find. They will be taken care of. But many who are desperate, vulnerable, and ever fearful of deportation as illegal immigrants, they will be forced to live on the margins, to go wherever they can, and take on whatever work they can get to survive. And that lead them to wide open to exploitation. They need money and work, as a result, at the mercy of the farmers and landowners to pick their tomatoes and because of their unofficial recognition and permission to stay in Europe or worried about being sent home have no other option but to offer their unlicensed labor. They are often badly exploited, paid a meager amount for long, exhausting hours in the stifling hot sun and left to fend for themselves in abandoned and ruined farm buildings or filthy temporary ghettos made of pick up plastic sheeting with no sanitation or running water. In addition, they have no employment contracts, no rights or legal protection, cannot complain or object otherwise they won’t be employed at all. After fleeing Gambia to seek asylum in Europe, selling their family assets, a long and dangerous journey, only to find themselves in the tomatoes fields of Italy. These are realities that most of our young men found themselves in, a life almost akin to slavery.
The Back Way syndrome has secondary effect, created vacuum of unavailability of eligible marriage partners for our sisters, many will be waiting in the reserve because there is no husband to be married to. The few who have one, majority of the times have to settle for a polygamous setting where the husband is twice their age. The other who drop out of school due to lack of funding, have camp around the tourism industrial area looking for their luck with a working class European tourist whose only advantage over them, is the purchasing power of their currency. Most of these people endure all kind of abuse from physical to emotional and they have to settle for it because there is no other way out. Furthermore, out of desperation and living in a country where the private sector is dead, due to lack of conducive environment for foreign investment resulted the dubious recruitment of our sisters to work as maid in the Middle East, where they are at the mercy of their employers who has total control them. They often endure grueling long hours of works from dawn to dusk and no days off and should they decide to break away from employment contract, an exorbitant fees are levied against them which almost impossible to afford. Moreover, another group that works the street mostly at the dark of the night, looking for a potential partner for a brief sexual encounter to be able to put a meal on the table. In addition, most of these girls are breadwinners of their families, either their parents are under employed or too poor to provide for their families. These are the realities, some Gambians face because they don’t have a brother or sister in abroad who could commit to monthly remittance to sustain the family. These are consequence of society, when all its social or morale fabrics gone down the drain, when the religious leader are recruited as cheerleaders to legitimized a system, when everybody is waiting for Almighty Allah to come down from the clouds and take away all the pain and suffering so that everybody can be fine and live happily ever after. Gambians are very proud people, they may not be rich but they do take a pride in how raise their family (feed, clothe and send them to school so that they can become responsible citizens) and their remaining time is spent on worshipping their creator until death befall them, however, the 21 years of AFPRC AND APRC rule have destroyed almost all the pride that we call ourselves Gambian. The Back Way young men may never be united with our sisters in an institution of marriage and the results are breakdown of family life and alarming rise of illegitimacy. And no one knows what end of the story will be but up to you and me.