Friday, February 14, 2014

Let us walk and chew gum at the same time

I woke up a snowy morning, couldn't get to the family car which was buried under a foot of snow.  Schools and offices were closed, while Washington area governments and municipalities struggled to make the streets passable - a huge challenge for these parts; ask Atlanta and Raleigh.

Since I was trapped and plenty of time at my disposal, I ventured into thinking out loud on my Facebook page by crying out for Banjul, the town of my birth with a short sentence which read thus:  "My Banjul used to be nice, clean, small town; not anymore" which was enough to generate the passion that, on second thought, should be expected.

Banjul is not only the capital, but it was until in the early 1980's the biggest city as well.  On paper, it is still the capital but has lost almost half of its 1980 population to the outlying communities we now call The Greater Banjul Area or GBA.

We Banjulians must first own up to the fact that we are equally responsible for abandoning the city we claim to love for the suburbs.  We did not only abandon it, but some who lived on the Wellington, Cotton, Hagan, Brown, Wilberforce, Buckle Streets corridor, actually obstructed government from buying off some properties to allow for the expansion of the operations of the Gambia Ports Authority.  Part of the refusal was the price on offer but the majority was because of the cultural attachment to the notion of "kerr chosan" ( traditional family compound) that should be kept within the family in perpetuity.  Eventually, the threat of using government's right to apply "eminent domain" forced them to sell for cash and a plot of land in the GBA.

The above is just to cite examples to show that we are as culpable as central government and Banjul City Council (BCC) whose primary source of revenue is compound or yard rates and daily rates it collects from operators of market stalls and businesses in the commercial districts around Wellington Street.  When businesses and residents started moving to the GBA, where tourism (another contributors to Banjul's decline) is heavily concentrated, the rate base started to erode faster than BCC can devise other means of generating income.

The transition from civilian to military rule in 1994 dramatically altered the relationship between the City and central government.  The coup makers saw Banjul as the treasure trove of young voters who were disillusioned with the PPP government, and thus good candidates to help 'the boys' cement their grip on power for the long haul.  We all know that they were right because Banjul, until the last couple of years ago, was the bastion of A(F)PRC regimes.

It is no secret that the loss of political support of the ruling party in Banjul that led to the election of an Independent candidate as Mayor is directly related to the regime's failure in solving the pressing needs of the youth of Banjul relating to job creation and basic amenities like passable roads, clean cutters, functional sewage system and reliable electricity supply.  The problems of the city multiplies during the rainy season when the gutters become clogged, sewers back-up and malaria-carrying mosquitoes feast on residents in a darkened city.

It goes without saying that "central to all these development goals and objectives is the issue of governance" to quote a statement in reaction to my post on Banjul.  Prior to this comment, there were earlier comment making reference to Gambia's colonial past, the exploitative nature of colonialism, Marxist rhetoric (not my cup of tea) and the like, which,  in my view, misses the point.  We are, therefore, obliged to state once and for all that because we suggest solutions to matters of fundamental importance of returning The Gambia to sanity doesn't mean that the issue of governance is less important.  This blog is not just about governance, per se, although , we can still argue, successfully, we believe, most of our coverage have been governance to the core.  We are trying, and we will continue to try not to stray into the weeds.  We write for the general readership and therefore we are mindful of them at all time.

We all agree that Gambia is faced with a multitude of problems.  In fact, the entire economy based on free market principles with government playing a regulatory role, has been destroyed.  Most, if not all of our institutions are in tatters.  The judiciary and the civil service must be completely overhauled.  These are monumental tasks in themselves which we have tried to address when and where appropriate.  The challenges are monumental.  Therefore, nothing should prevent us, especially those with expertise and/or relevant experience in these areas to share their views and solutions without being asked to concentrate on governance.

We will let the political and civic organs in the diaspora, together with the political parties and their supporters on the ground handle those aspects dealing with transition, political transfer of power etc. while we deal with issues that are, in our view, of equal importance, including matters that are purely political governance related.  For instance, the problems facing the economy and the governance matters are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are so intertwined that to try to isolate them and treat them independent of one another is like trying to isolate the milk already poured into your cup of coffee.  Since these issues are inseparable, we must try to deal with them in a integrated fashion, if and when we can.  In short, let us try to walk and chew gum all at once.