By Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh (PG CerTHE, FHEA, FRSA), Professor of Islamic Studies & Contemporary World and Researcher at the Islamic Cultural Centre London
The launching of the Gambian National Think Tank by the Overseer of the Office of the Vice-President Madam Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang on behalf of the President of the Republic of the Gambia is certainly a welcome idea. This awaited institution has been hailed by many Gambians at home and abroad as one that will play a pivotal role in taking the Gambia forward. It embodies the vision of the President to tap into the rich pool of the Gambian talents, expertise and experience for the development of New Gambia. After many years of economic corruption, social decadence and political uncertainty, the Think Tank has on its shoulders a big task in transforming the Gambia into a country of socio-political stability and economic progress in all domains. The experts of the Think Tank symbolise socio-cultural intellectuals who are concerned about the reform of the Gambia and should be able to contribute to the building of state institutions and structures that will promote good governance and enhance the rights of citizens and raise their ambitions. The new Think tank hopefully will not shy away from engaging with plurality of ideas and ideologies. I believe that intellectual plurality can develop a culture and a civilisation based on civility, the rule of law, respect of human rights and the protection of minority rights. The existence of intellectual diversity is antithesis to violent ideologies and monopoly of ideas. Historically, the preponderance of a monoculture held Europe back for many centuries (the so-called Dark Ages) until it reformed itself with the emergence of the so-called Enlightenment. The European Enlightenment encouraged critical engagement and the blossoming of science and philosophy. This led to the creation of enlightened minds that freed themselves from superstition and personality cults. The ideas and strategies developed by the Think Tank will be expected to feed into the social, political, educational and economic policies. It will be interesting how the Think Tank will develop different policy documents and recommendations for The Government to implement. The task before this community of experts is therefore daunting. With their diverse backgrounds, one is hopeful though that they will be able to overcome the huge tasks that lie ahead of them.
On a critical note, we assume that change comes through technological, economic and scientific/technical advancement. However, the most important drive and catalyst of change is through hearts and minds. This comes by developing the social sciences and humanities, in addition to the development of science in its different fields. Talking of humanities and social sciences, I particularly refer to educational sciences, history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, theology and religious studies. I do not know in detail the academic backgrounds of the Think Tank Group, but I would assume the above areas will be covered in addition to the “scientific” disciplines. I would also assume that the Think Tank will draw on the expertise of theologians and social scientists especially that the country is yearning for healing, transitional justice and reconciliation.
Finally, I believe that intellectual plurality should not be a source of fear or threat. Rather, it should be a source of strength and complementarity. It is also believed that the Think Tank will be focused on the supreme national interest of the Gambia detached from narrow party lenses. The Gambia is at a crossroads and the momentum for change must be maintained. Forward Ever and Backward Never. May Allah bless the Gambia.