By Alieu S.K. Manjang
“In this time of globalization, with all its advantages, the poor are the most vulnerable to having their traditions, relationships and knowledge and skills ignored and denigrated, and experiencing development with a great sense of trauma, loss and social disconnectedness.”
— James D. Wolfensohn, World Bank President
It has become a norm and a tradition for Gambians to heavily rely on foreign entertainers to gratify their longing and need for music and comedy. The continued influx of Senegalese and Nigeria artists into the country has provided evidence to this practice. The pretext for the long existence of this pattern and phenomena is reflected in labeling our own local artists as “second-rate, substandard and uncompetitive.” This excuse is not self-explanatory; rather, the endurance of such practice is understood within the Gambian’s rating and positioning of themselves vis-à-vis others. Gambians appear to have developed low self-esteem when it comes to interacting with their neighbours. We lack courage and confidence to raise our heads up when it comes to celebrating our national products and whatever symbolizes us a nation, as we continue to prefer foreign products over our local products, be they cultural or economic products.
However, this is more evident in the entertainment industry. The Omnipresence and domination of foreign music, drama and artists in the playlist of our national radio, TVs, private radio and traditional occasions are self-evident. This has resulted in propelling our promoters to rely on foreign artists to maximize their business gains, as we individually exert efforts to subscribe to dramas that are prepared and produced by our neighbours.
As we breathe the wins of change, Gambians should mirror upon the state of their entertainment industry and the implications of foreign cultural products on the growth of local artists and on our society as a whole. Formulation of a conscious policy is needed, amid this change, to encourage Gambians to embrace themselves and to put an end to the importation of foreign artists and to dishearten their fixation with foreign dramas as a way to upkeep and celebrate our homegrown artists as well as to maintain and preserve our cultural authenticity. This is economically sound and worthwhile given the fact that the coinage that will be expended on our own products will remain in The Gambia and will ultimately be spent and invested on the Gambians; this will also hearten the existing artists to be creative as it will also inspire our hidden gifted and talented artists to adopt arts as their profession. Socially, this will enhance and restore the stolen self-esteem in our artists as it will propel Gambians to value and accept their production as a sign of national products that will be valued and respected by others. Culturally, our local cultures and values will continue to be cherished and communicated through music and drama to the coming generation. Music and drama are not only intrinsically valued for entertainment purposes; they are also tools and instruments for carrying and cherishing local cultures and traditions as well as beliefs system.
Thus, growing dearth our traditional culture and values and the parallel penetration of alien cultures and values in our society is a result of heavy consumption foreign drama, especially the Nigeria ones. And despite the commonalities of cultures and traditions between Senegal and The Gambia, each of these countries has peculiar values and ideas specific to their local settings and environment. The growth and development of Senegalese musical industry went hand in hand with continued promotion of Senegalese national identity and their cultural identities that distinguish Senegal for other countries in sub-region. The irresistible consumption of their music and drama automatically entails parallel consumption of their core values and ideas which are not necessarily in conformity with ours in all cases.
In the view of this, and as we aspire to rebuild a nation wherein all available resources should be mobilized towards the national development and unity, we cannot realize this mission if we continue to refer to low standard of our artists and their subsequent lack of support-base as a pretext to import foreign entertainers and their dramas. Unknown to or ignored by many is the fact that these foreign artists started their music from scratch; yet by virtue of local supports and our continued subscription to their products they are able to reach their current state.
Gambians should take pride in their local artists and there must be an end to importation of foreign actors and musicians to perform in our occasions and events especially national occasions and events. Our state owned enterprises SOE like GRTS and Gamcel/Gamtel etc. should be barred from importing foreign artists and they should be forced to hire local artists in their fundraising events. We cannot afford to see our public funds being used towards develop foreign entertainment industry while our own industry is crumbling to catch-up with their counterparts. A heavy tax should be levied against importation of foreign artists by Gambian promoters to discourage the practice and to develop our musical industry. Similarly, Gambians in diaspora should gear up their efforts to support growing Gambian artists by inviting them to perform in events and occasions. The irony is when Gambians in diaspora invites foreign musicians to celebrate Gambian cultural weeks. What Gambian in this celebration!
An infant industry cannot challenge a developed one, and should Gambians continue to rely on foreigners for their entertainment our artists will continue to emerge and suddenly or mysteriously disappear as a result of absent local support. To prevent this, Gambia has to develop protectionist policies in cultural realm to make the Gambia a thriving actor in global culture. To forestall counterargument from anti- protectionists, I refer them to the below quote from Murray N. Rothbard:
“Whenever someone starts talking about ‘fair competition’ or indeed, about ‘fairness’ in general, it is time to keep a sharp eye on your wallet, for it is about to be picked.”