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In Soma, Independence Day is Unnoticed

Independence Day was one time a highly anticipated moment across The Gambia, particularly by students. Irrespective of which region in the country one was, the feeling was a highly exciting one. Students all over the country would be neatly dressed, enjoying the fanfare as they were being engaged in a match-pass, just like it continues to happen in the greater Banjul area today.

This style of celebration would soon be changed by the ex-president Yahya Jammeh. He introduced a regional celebration of the Independence, with each region marking the day on a different date – some would even do it at least a month after 18th February.

As this continues to happen, people living outside the Greater Banjul Area began to be disconnected with their national day – a day their country gained freedom from the British colonial rule in 1965.

Eventually, this has now reached a stage where students and teachers as well as members of rural communities will not even notice the national day celebration with the feeling that Independence Day is like any other day.

As Gambia celebrates its 55th anniversary today, The Chronicle talked to some residents in Soma, one of the metropolitan towns situated 123km from the capital, Banjul.

local businesswomen in Soma on Independence Day

“For many people in Soma and the surrounding communities, this day is like any other business day. On Independence Day, the town is usually quiet and hardly a foreign national can realise it is The Gambia’s national day. Unlike some countries where entire streets are filled with musical concerts and nationals’ flags to show pride of their nation, Ousman Njie, a teacher and community journalist told The Chronicle.

Unlike the countries he visited such as China and the United States, he said national days like Independence are heart-melting because of how people react.

He recalled that two decades ago, in the 90s, there was a huge difference with regards to the way the celebration is done.

“I can still remember back in the days when Independence was approaching, we used to prepare for the event. My parents used to buy me a uniform, pair of shoes and white shocks.

“Independence is celebrated in every region. Here in Soma, we used to go to Mansakonko where the celebration takes place as the regional capital. Children used to hold the national flags and sang Independent songs.

To make it livelier, he recalled the boy’s scout who used to put on their beautiful scout uniforms with their band. The police would also lead the match pass with their Independence songs.

For Lamin Dibba, the sense of nationalism towards the Independence was at its peak, unlike the current generation.

A vendor, Fatou Saidybah, said: “When it’s Independence Day now, I am not usually aware of it because it does not stop me from going on with my normal business.”

Movement of people in small town in Jarra

Like many rural communities today, those moments when school children and civil servants in those parts of the country would be celebrating the day with pride and honour has vanished due to the change of style. The popularity of the event in terms of mass-viewership has also been reduced significantly.

Alhasan Bah a freelance journalist based in Jarra Soma.

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