Posted - 17 Feb 2023 : 11:21:13
HAPPY FEBRUARY 18 IN ADVANCE
By Dembo Fatty
The oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines hope as: “to want something to happen and think it is possible”. I had always thought that hope meant to want something to happen but I never realized it also has to be something one thinks is possible.
So, is it fool hardy to hope in the face of impossibility or hope for the impossible? Then again, I realized that impossibility is relative and quite difficult to grasp and define. What may look impossible to one group or individual is possible in another group or to another individual.
Some have argued that the difference between possible and impossible is a measure of one’s commitment.
In my early formative years, sitting by the fires with elders especially during the harmattan season and grannies outdoing each other in story telling competitions while we listened and at the same time warmed our small frames, I learnt in one story the doctrine of the wolf. That whatever one sees and likes, was always within one’s grasp and that getting it was directly proportional to how determined one is.
The wolf always had that unsettling roles in many of the stories: mischievous, greedy but above all daring. The Walaf people aptly capture it in a proverb: LO GISS SA WORRSEK ANGCHI, DAFA DESS SISA FIT.
Similarly, the story of David and Goliath comes to my mind as well and I pondered why David stood his ground while everyone was running given the might and size of his opponent and he dared to challenge him. David saw what his people did not see. While his people saw Goliath as too big to fight, David saw Goliath as too big to miss and so when he struck, it was fatal. Hope it was that made him stand his ground. Was it possible? Yes, it was from his perspective but not to his people.
So, if we go back to our definition, hope has to include an element of possibility otherwise hope is nothing but a shadowy dream, an abstract devoid of substance and incapable of being converted into tangible or actionable thought at the bare minimum.
Since the beginning of time, what has sustained the human race is nothing but hope- the hope that better things are yet to be discovered. But humans never hoped while sitting and doing nothing. They hoped but also put in effort to realize their dreams. Failure was always a spitting distance away but that did not deter them because failure is a sign that someone tried to do something different but at the same time, failure provided valuable lessons that became “prior art”. It is always good to note that most things that are possible today were once labelled impossible and those who dared to proof them wrong, were sometimes accused of being witches and met with violent reactions from the powers that were.
You might be wondering why I am meandering around the definition of hope. It is one of the most important words in any language. It’s the very essence of human existence. To want to see something happen and convinced that it was possible has been an inherent ingredient in the drive to advancement of human civilization. I guess from the moment the first human foot prints appeared on the moon, the old saying that the sky is the limit has become obsolete at the least, and at best self-defeating because we have set our eyes to space outside of the comfort of out atmosphere. Soon and very soon, we will be vacationing on Mars. Impossibility has always become possible when a people are determined.
A people who have for nearly 149 years been subjugated to the whims and caprices of a foreign empire, who were never invited in the first place, their desire for independence must have been based on hope that better days were ahead of them. Hope that by being free, they could steer their destiny to the safe shores of prosperity for all guided by the fundamental and the inalienable rights to life, liberty and protection of the state.
Foreign interest in Gambia dates as far back as 1455 when the Portuguese arrived on our shores initially to trade. They were later followed by the Courlanders who in 1661 set up a colony on St. Andrews Island and built Fort Jacob but later lost it to the British in 1664 when the Courland King Jacob was held captive by the Swedish army and they lost most of their influence in not only in Gambia but in Tobago in the Caribbean. St. Andrews Island was later renamed James Island by the British. From then on, the British continued some level of presence up until 1970 when we became a Republic.
The struggle for independence and freedom has always been part of the fabric of Gambian life dotted across the landscape. From the Battle of Sankandi to the riots in Banjul and from the defeat of the British by Kemintang Camara, to the declaration of war by Musa Molloh in Fulladou, and many other examples. That land called Gambia stood her grounds to defend liberty and freedom and provided sanctuary to thousands of Nigerian and Ghanaian freed slaves in the in the Atlantic and resettled them in a place called Fort George. The current grounds of the Banjul Market served as the processing center for freed slaves rescued in the Atlantic. Banjul market is to Gambia what Elis Island is to the United States. I hope the Antiquities Division will erect a monument at the Banjul Market to celebrate this feat in our history as a people who opened their homes and resettle our brothers and sisters so that can be free. Sadly, we gave freedom when we could not be free ourselves.
And so if people thank Nigeria for coming to our aid in restoring democracy, I have always responded that Nigeria was simply paying her debts to us. We saved thousands of Nigerians between 1816 and 1832 although we are very grateful. Diplomacy also requires knowledge of history. If Senegal came to our help, they are also paying their debts. Banjul was inhabited in 1816 by people from St. Louis (Ndarr) who accompanied Captain Grant to settle the newly acquired island after the Battle of Waterloo when Napoleon lost to the British. Quite apart from that, in a previous census, it was to be recorded that Senegal had at least 300,000 of her nationals living in the Gambia.
This land, my land, your land and our land, made the headlines in the recent period preceding independence in 1965, when the United Nations sent a fact finding mission to determine if we were capable of taking care of ourselves because all indications by then pointed to the opposite direction.
At the time of independence, over 25% of our recurrent budget was funded by the British. We had a very poor if any industrial base of any kind. Education was totally forgotten. The primary schools built by Government were mainly in 1956 which meant that by 1965, none of these students had graduated from High School. Our human capital was in dire straits. There were less than 40 Gambians with post-secondary education in 1965 and less than 40 registered taxis in the Colony (Banjul and Kombi St. Marys). No descent roads of any kind and in the Protectorate, feeder roads passable only on foot in the dry season were the only means of connecting settlements. Mortality rate was high due to poor health care delivery systems.
The British maintained two different approaches to governance in Gambia. One part being a Colony whilst the rest as a Protectorate. The fear of how these two different systems would fuse in a post independent period was also worrying. No wonder in 1965, in the days leading to independence there were graffiti on the streets of Banjul asking Jawara to go back to his country as if the Protectorate was not part of Gambia.
And so to those who accuse the PPP as being biased, need to understand that Gambia was administered not as one territory but two each approached differently. It was just a matter of time to a Protectorate People’s Party. The Colony am told stopped at the Lamin Bridge, by the Abuko Nature Reserve.
That is why if we want to judge the first Republic with the second in terms of infrastructural developments, we will be making a mistake. Like Kwame Nkrumah said, if we are to measure his feats in development by the heights he attained, then we must be prepared to measure the depths from which he came.
I can understand the frustrations of this generation and impatience with the pace of development. I am not making any case for indifference. However, with the advancement of technology now, it has become possible for us to enjoy ourselves not only on land and sea, but beneath the waves and above the clouds. And so, the conditions then and now are very different.
The people who mobilized themselves and met the UN delegation holding placards in Banjul demanded immediate independence. They all had hoped that we could. The store keepers who imported television sets in 1965 when we barely had a functioning radio station also had the hope that a national television station was possible with independence although it would have to take 30 years to see that hope realized but it did.
A country is a work in progress, and brick by brick, layer by layer we build but never to finish because there is always room to improve till the end of times. The people hoped and expected those in power to deliver them to the Promised Land.
The Promise Land is an idea and an ideal and not a geographical entity in my opinion. It's an ideal of being free to worship ones God; to love and be loved; to be each other's keeper; to expect from people of trust to legislate just laws and dispense them without fear or favor and to enjoy the protection of the group.
That's why Moses never “delivered” anyone to any land as the Promised Land. Thou shall not kill; thou shall not commit adultery; thou shall not bear false witness, and so on, are the ideals of the Promised Land. The promise of a free and equitable society not necessarily a piece of land to live on and call it one’s own is what the Promised Land is all about. History would record that Joshua had to fight his way to the Promised Land. Martin Luther King said he had been to the mountain top and saw the Promised Land not in its physical sense but in its idealistic sense- a place of solace and peace where every citizen is accorded the dignity of a person with all the inherent attributes.
The same way Moses delivered his people to a promised land away from the tyranny of Pharaoh. The Promised Land to me is our individual body frames inside which we exercise and enjoy our inner freedoms to be who we want to be without looking over our shoulders.
For those Gambians old and lucky enough to have witnessed the first, second and the recent political quake in our nation’s history, with only two presidents and three coups in 51 years, will agree at least to some extent that change only happens when people have the conviction that it is possible. Hopelessness breeds inertia, self-defeat at the least, and at best, extinction.
A coalition was formed by opposition parties to form a single force to challenge in the incumbent because in their view, that was the only possible way to unseat Jammeh. Their believe that it was possible released an unprecedented energy unmatched in our nation’s history in terms of numbers but also in comparison to the labour union strikes in Banjul under MM Jallow, large enough that troops were brought from Sierra Leone to help bring order in Banjul.
Another parallel will be the revolt in Sankandi in which many colonial officials were murdered when the British meddled in local leadership selection. Each unique to its time, space and geography and each grandiose by its time if you ask me. Yet we lived up to expectation and over the course of our history, we have to a large extent, avoided bloodshed and national strive.
In the second half of January 2017, we remained as calm as a cucumber and put on our thinking caps never losing sight of the big picture. That is, our peace that many seem jealous about us. Small country, but collected enough to handle our problems with minimal casualties if any
Many put in time, resources, sweat whilst others gave the ultimate sacrifice that they are willing to die so others could live. On the shoulders of our leaders lie a heavy and complex load, all of which are expected to be met. Some who would like to see their loved ones released from jail. Others to be handed the corpse of their loved ones. Others seeking justice for properties confiscated. Others seeking compensation for being removed from office without due process. Others who want to see rule of law and civic societies strengthened.
Others who would like to see patronage entrenched further so that they can continue to live in Wonderland and line their pockets. Others who would like to see justice brought to those who wronged their countrymen and women. Others who think we should forget the past, pardon everyone and sit at the “table of brotherhood” and pretend nothing ever happened. Others who would like to see advances in social issues like women and children’s rights, strengthening of institutions and increased efforts at curbing corruption.
Did I not tell you that this load is heavy and complex? Yet, an unwritten contract was signed between the people and their representatives since 1965 and they gave their implied stamp of approval that the things we want to see happen, are in fact possible. Simply put, it was a “contract of hope”.
These contracts are renewed to ensure continuity and progress because the people hoped that they can always build on the successes of each preceding social contract to ensure that we the people live our lives to the fullest, stretching our rights and liberties to borderline anarchy, while enjoying the full protection of the state.
We exercise these rights because in our opinion and deeds, have sufficiently funded the social contract and that we are not sent a return cheque with the words “insufficient funds”.
Look around you and see if there is anything Gambian. Anything made in Gambia. Is there anything Gambian that binds us as a people. Independence creates uniqueness and a rallying cry around which a free people water and nature freedom with their tears and sweat at the minimum and their plasma if necessary.
As we go about preparing for the celebrations, let us renew our resolve as in the words of our National Anthem “ to remain ever true” to the ideals of a just and equitable society based on rule of law and protections of fundamental rights without let or hindrance.
Although I celebrate February 18, I tend to reserve most of my excitement until April 24.
A clear conscience fears no accusation - proverb from Sierra Leone