One of the first acts any country does upon being independent is to raise its own flag and our Gambia was no exception. But what do we know about our flag? What does our flag stand for in relation to our values? In battle, the flag is the soul of the unit. To seize the flag of an opponent, you’d have to vanquish them first. The flag represents the soul of the nation. What does our Gambian flag mean to us? Is the adoption of our current flag a mere repudiation of the Colonial Government Ensign or does it represent something more to us? What does patriotism mean to us? What are our national symbols are what do they mean to us Gambians?
Enter Ousainu Gambia. He does have a surname, but he chooses to go by Gambia because as much as he loves himself, he loves his Gambia just as much. Well-known and recognized for being an environmental protector preserving The Gambia’s remaining flora and fauna for the next generation, Ousainu Gambia is on a mission to promote patriotism in the hearts of his fellow citizens in order to realize development. Ousainu realizes that patriotism, loving one’s nation, is at the heart of national development for no nation can develop without patriots. Promoting patriotism includes the recognition of Gambia’s national symbols and of these, our national flag is perhaps the most significant.
Enter FlagUpGambia, the charitable organization he set up to Flag The Gambia. “This campaign aims to inspire Gambians on patriotism, nationalism, togetherness and national unity so as to collectively work together in making The Gambia the best place for all citizens,” he tells The Chronicle in an exclusive interview.
Armed with a smile and usually decked in outfits adorned with The Gambian flag, Ousainu would trek to schools, public and private offices to donate the national flag and ensure it is hoisted over their premises. Ousainu sees The Gambian Flag as both a symbol and an emblem that embodies values such as unity and hard work, which every Gambian citizen should work towards. Ousainu has so far donated several national flags to many public and private institutions and schools throughout the country.
“It is my opinion that one of the reasons Gambia is not moving as expected is due to the ‘lack of patriotism’ in the minds of Gambians. Equally, a lot of Gambians don’t value the national flag because you can see flag poles standing on the highways as well as important government and private institutions without flying the national flag on top of them,” he said in a visible state of sadness.
According to Ousainu, there are too many schools without the national flag and building love for our nation and its symbols must start at early age. Our children must be taught the history of our nation, the meanings of our symbols and our national values that these symbols represent. Patriotism is critical to the development of any people and patriotism is much deeper when one knows the history of their country. Ousainu takes it upon himself to visit schools, sensitize the children, donate and raise the flag in their premises.
“I see the flag as a unique symbol that represents every Gambian, I use it as a weapon to preach patriotism and togetherness.”
No other flag should be flown more prominently than The Gambian Flag because it is the one flag that represents all Gambians. All other flags should play a secondary role to our national flag. Loyalty should be to The Gambia first and foremost and all other entities come second. Loyalty to any other flag should be secondary to The Gambian Flag. Patriotism should be anchored on national symbols and not political party flags, and certainly not individuals. Patriotism is seeing the country first and foremost, and above everyone else. The patriots are those who love their country and are always prepared to defend it at all times. Ousainu Gambia is the commensurate Gambian patriot. He lives and breathes The Gambian flag but that’s not all there is to Ousainu.”
You’d see Ousainu not only giving away Gambia flags, he goes out there cleaning gutters, planting trees and cleaning the beaches of The Gambia. He is always at the forefront defending his beloved Gambia while inspiring many others to take action.
Ousainu spoke to The Chronicle about his activities regarding environmental preservation. He has set a target for himself and that is to plant five million trees in five years which is meant to help the country withstand the imminent climate change. According to him, the consequences of deforestation, air and sea pollution through littering, are severe as the country continues to lose its forest cover.
“This is affecting the lives and livelihoods of people and I felt like taking it upon myself as my civic duty and responsibility in addressing these problems. The natural forest cover of the Gambia is almost gone as a result of people cutting down trees for social and economic benefits without replacing them.”
He said the impacts of climate change are already being felt through inconsistent rain patterns, excess temperature and the disappearances of wildlife.
“Our ocean is seriously polluted by trash and plastic bags which are affecting our marine species, and as a result the quantity of fish has been drastically reduced.
“These and many other problems are what motivated me to take a stand in finding solutions to address them in order to protect and preserve the environment for all,” he said.
Ousainu acknowledged the participation of several other youth organizations that he works with to alleviate the environmental damage, using their personal resources to implement their activities including radio, community and school sensitization.
“My dream for the next five years is to succeed in reforestation in all the areas that are affected with defenestration. The target is at least five million trees in five years to make sure we make Gambia green again.
His efforts have earned him The Stone Circle’s Youth Excellence Award (YEA) 2020. The award was given in commemoration of the International Youth Day – the UN’s annual celebration of the role of young people in creating positive change across the world.
The Stone Circle Awards is The Gambia’s premiere youth-led and youth-focused media that puts the spotlight on young people and their invaluable contributions to self and national development.
“The winner, Ousainu Colley, is a patriot and prolific environmentalist whose selfless service to sustainable development has significantly impacted not just on his intervention areas but has gone far enough to inspire a generation to volunteerism and service to community. Ousainu is the Programme Officer of Green-Up Gambia and the Founder of Flag-Up Gambia. Through his sacrifice and dedication to duty, he has unreservedly contributed in helping both organizations realize their objectives,” the press statement from the award committee wrote about Ousainu.
Reacting to the award, Ousainu-Gambia dedicated his award to Gambian women and all the frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19.
“I feel so honoured and excited to win this year’s Youth Excellence Award. I am the lucky winner but there are many others like me,” Ousainu said.
Ousainu is the commensurate patriot. A young man who loves his nation and displays his love not only in words and style of clothes he wears, he goes out there to promote love for his Gambia and is seen at any event that cleans his nation and builds it better for the future. Ousainu is building a better Gambia. The Gambia needs many more Ousainus!
Alagie Barrow was Director of research and investigation at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC).