As The Gambia marked its 54th independence anniversary, a consortium of civil society organizations Monday held a forum at Westfield Youth Monument in Serekunda to galvanize conversation about the future of the country.
Held under #GambiaWeWant, the forum brought together about 100 activists, most of them wearing black or white t-shirts with #GambiaWeWant. Rappers rapped political message songs and the crowd danced to the tunes.
“When we decided in the 2016 election, we didn’t decide just for regime change. We decided for system change. We decided against abuse, corruption and bad governance. But unfortunately, this government appears to go back to the practices of the old regime,” said Madi Jobarteh, a prominent activist and one of the organizers.
Former president Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to step down in December 2016 and the ensuing political impasse triggered a vibrant movement of young Gambians who used the #GambiaHasDecided slogan to pile pressure on him to give up power.
But according to Madi, the enthusiasm and the momentum generated to create #GambiaHasDecided have dissipated. “People have gone back to their usual mode and taking things for granted. So we therefore organize this event to say let’s move from #GambiaHasDecided to #GambiaWeWant as a means to re-energize and to bring back our people to that very momentum that created #GambiaHasDecided.”
Among the panelists at the forum were retired civil servants who were in government right after The Gambia gained independence. Salieu Taal, an organiser and one of the founders of #GambiaHasDecided told The Chronicle that the idea was to have an inter-generation dialogue to exchange ideas and experience about the different chapters of history from independence to date.
Taal’s objective in starting #GambiaHasDecided movement was to compel ex-president Jammeh to step down and he stepped down. But disappointed with the government, Taal’s new battle is to inspire the same momentum for #GambiaWeWant.
“The kind of Gambia I want is a Gambia that will provide the basic essentials to Gambians. Every Gambian in every village should have access to electricity, water, education and healthcare. It’s very nice to build nice bridges and roads but every Gambian has a right to have access to limited resources and I think these resources historically have been spent more in the Greater Banjul Areas,” he said.
As the forum closed, the organizers hoped the conversation could be a powerful catalyst for change by inspiring people to speak out. “Various strategies, avenues and activities will be employed to engage the people in order to awaken the awareness, the consciousness and the commitment of the citizens to realize that never again should we leave the narrative to be controlled by the government, politicians, political parties and elected officials. Instead we should control the narrative,” said Madi.
While the Westfield Monument forum was underway, President Adama Barrow and hundreds of people had gathered at the McCarthy Square in Banjul, about ten kilometers away, to celebrate the independence. As if he was responding to the activists, President Adama Barrow used his independence speech to break down the meaning of Gambia’s independence.
“Gambians have come to appreciate further that nationhood or sovereignty should be matched by economic independence and the capacity to generate resources and funds for investment and judicious spending. We have learnt also that Independence rests on working with responsible leadership that allows for diversity, choice and acting on correct decisions.”
This year’s independence celebration began on Sunday and will run till Saturday.