Senegal Is Working, Gambia At A Standstill

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Suntou Touray (A Recent trip to Senegal In Januray)


529018_10200481014127446_2100522642_nPolitics is working in Senegal while power struggles and empty penmanship leads the way in the Gambia.
After a three-year absence from the shores of Africa, I took a plunge last month for a near three weeks holiday and fact finding mission in Senegambia.

I must admit that the trip brought to light the realisation of how globally inter-connected we are now. In Senegal where I spent a considerable amount of time, things are working; people are always on the move. Whilst in the Gambia, the stark reality of dictatorship and fear infect the elites much more than the ordinary people.

There’s hardly anything to compare the Gambia with Senegal with in 2013, nearly nothing can be liken to the other. To understand Africa as an African living nearly permanently in Europe or America, you have to adapt to the situation as soon you land in Africa. Sadly, through my observations, I encounter Americanised Gambians and Europeanised Senegalise and Gambians likewise. They cannot just put the façade away and be one of the people.

543868_10200481018847564_434090800_nThe Gambia is commercially dying, I mean dying. Consumers don’t have disposable income and the means to generating wealth is all strangled by either state regulations or high cost of basic food and necessities. The ferry crossing into Barra is a danger zone waiting to erupt. The ferry is old and should ceased to operate. It took seven hours for a car to cross from Banjul to Barra in a normal Sunday crossing. Vehicles wait at the ferry terminal from 6 A.M in the morning, just to cross in 5 hours time. The ferry regularly encounter breakdown in the middle of the sea. It is unbelievable the impact such disruption has on business and passengers. The Gambia is mired in political, economical and social disaster.

Gambians have learnt their best to survive in the very hostile environment. People now demands payments for things we all use take for granted as either family members or friends. People hardly offer kindnesses for free this days. A young man who spent eight months holiday in the Gambia made this phenomenon glaringly clear when I met him in Muhammed the VI Airport in Casablanca, Kingdom of Morocco.  The young man explained the wealth of knowledge he had acquired in the Gambia.

150676_10200481032567907_2062660753_nThe joblessness in Spain is driving many Gambians to return home. These young men have risked everything they had to embark on a journey that turns to claim many lives. Sadly, the joblessness in Europe is forcing them to return home with almost empty hands. Upon return to be with their wives, these young men are left at the mercy of demands and disappointments. The young man wondered why people want too many things without having to work for them. Anyway, the quagmire that ensues in the country is reaching a melting point. The positive appearance we can garner is the fact that people are losing the fear that gripped the nation.

Gambians are now bored of their own self-inflicted fear. They have realised that neither  Europe, nor America will hoist Yahya Jammeh and his criminal gang out of power. People have started to open discussion of issues of concerns. “He cannot jail all of us” have become a familiar tone in many quarters.  Let us hope that spirit continues.

I am very impress with the level of political maturity in Senegal. I visited many places and spoke to people from 480694_10200475269103824_1211596128_ndifferent walks of life thanks to my basic Wollof language. The overall impression is that Senegalese refused to be politically enslaved by anyone. Even the Maky Sall government is going through intense scrutiny. Senegalese won’t spare the one-year-old regime to do anything and get away with it.  From taxi drivers to gray old men, Senegalese demonstrate through maturity through meaningful political discourse. It’s their bread and butter. Who the heck can part them with politics? People in Senegal in general are self-dependent and trade-oriented as compared to Gambians.

I attended the RADHO-sponsored media conference in Dakar, where I proudly watched the Gambia’s former Foreign Minister, Muhammed Lamin Sedat Jobe, speak eloquently in French. The event was well attended by Gambian dissidents. I was told that political meetings like that in the past would have been less well attended.

The views of Senegalese politicians are simply that “Gambians cannot keep talking on the media and writing on the newspapers without wanting to confront Yahya Jammeh on the streets of Banjul.” One politician further made it clear that “Senegal doesn’t see the Gambian problem as a priority.” This implies that  “we Gambians want to ‘eat our cake and still have it.”

I was sadden by the opinions of Senegalese about Gambians, for they are baffled at our cowardice and lack of courage in tackling a little man who pumped himself to be what he is not.

A lady street vendor selling bread and beans, who listened to us speaking about Yahya Jammeh, bluntly burst in peach sleek Wollof saying, “You Gambians are very funny. Can Yahya Jammeh kill the whole country if you stand together?” We looked at each other and said no. She then asked: “What have Gambians been waiting for in uniting against the sadistic regime?”

We couldn’t answer because Senegalese embrace each other. Senegalese might have underlying religious sectarianism or ethnic power struggles, but they understood that a divided nation cannot take charge over the direction of a nation.

The opposition against Abdoulaye Wade brought that to light. The politicians never hesitate to back Maky Sall since his party got the larger vote share in the contest against Wade. Yet, 200 kilometre to the border, the Gambian opposition don’t want to embrace such a system. What could be the causes of this phenomenon?

Senegalese political culture is working because the elite’s hatred of each other is at a controllable level whilst that of the peanuts colony Gambia, the reality is different. Smaller political parties in Senegal have no qualms in recognising the strengths of rival parties. A young activist told me “we backed Macky Sall because, all we want is for Wade to leave.”

The activist further mention that, the demonstrations against Abdoulie Wade left some lasting causalities, some died and others badly injured.

Abdoulaye Wade left and Senegal became a steady course of change. Yet Abdoulaye Wade has transformed Senegal, building multiple new road networks in Dakar and other regions, including the neglected Casamance region. Wade has built new suburbs in Dakar thus containing  the housing burden on the island capital. Maitre Wade’s government has treated religious brotherhoods with equality. Instead of allowing only the major brotherhoods to enjoy state sponsorship and partonage, the Wade regime  reached out to Janhanka, Mandinka and Fula religious brotherhoods in Cassamance region, thus elevating those religious households, creating some pride in those regions. The economy wasn’t doing badly either under Wade. Above all, Abdoulie Wade wasn’t a serial human right abuser. He allowed the law to take its course and due process seen to be leading the way. Yet, the opposition against him became unanimous and solid.

In essence, with all of Abdoulaye Wade’s achievements, the Senegalese people wanted change more than one man at the helm of their country for over ten years. The opposition united against Wade because they understood that change is always positive, no matter the chaos involved in achieving change.

Gambian oppositions have refused to rally behind the bigger opposition party in the last elections, to the Senegalese, nothing can be enough excuse for such a behaviour. If there are other reasons more compelling than, seeing the back of Yahya Jammeh and his oppression, then the lesser opposition parties in the Gambia don’t come to that realisation yet.

How many cruel things have happen since the re-election of Yahya Jammeh in November 2011? For starters, 9 people were executed, Imam Bakwsu Fofana tortured and exiled, Imam Baba Leigh still in detention, many more people still remain in prison, many unlawful murders remain unanswered, the land seizure and usurpation of private properties continues, three media outlets closed, the cost of living sky rocketing, now what could be the reason why, the smaller opposition parties refused to rally and form a Coalition with a bigger and larger opposition party? Could it be ethnicity, could it be power ambition on the side of the smaller party leaders etc? Whatever it is, the Senegalese sees us collectively as failures to our country and future, and they cannot be the catalyst to solve our own hatred of each other. Because, no amount of reservations within the opposition rank should be more urgent than, seeing the back of President Jammeh. After all, change is always positive in a collective landscape, even where the impression seems otherwise. People will always learn to grow from a change position. The blame for Gambia’s pain lies on every single Gambian, but the burden is on the shoulder of the smaller opposition party leaders.

I will provide my own narrative for the bigger Gambian opposition party on my next contribution. Meanwhile, I just hope someone remind the opinionated opposition politicians writing letters to Jammeh and the Inspector General that, that has never work yesterday and will hardly ever work today. Masterminding disunity is the cause of our state of affairs today. Whatever Jammeh does, he knows some opposition politicians see others as more urgent priorities than him. That is Yahya Jammeh’s saving grace, not his intimidation and harassment.

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