I was not present when the trumpet of nationhood was blown at the then McCarthy Square in 1965. I showed up on the scene about a decade later when I became the 5th child in Landing Sabally and Kaddy Jammeh’s household on 84 (Old) Perseverance Street in Banjul. Independence, for me, in the subsequent couple of years that we lived in Banjul was symbolized by bright uniforms of well-dressed school children, the scent of leather sandals from Bata; and songs like ligaye jotna that would be practiced by my siblings, Gass, Burama and Ramou.
There is one more memory of Independence that I still cherish: it is the mass of young people assembled at the McCarthy Square in the evening of each year’s Independence Day as the likes of Banana Jarju and Jabou Jawo thrilled us with dazzling skills in the athletics competitions; this reminds me of other greats from our track and field: there was the young sprinter called Omar Faye; there was “Peter and Paul” famed for long distance running. And of course how can I forget the legendary Biri Biri. These sports personalities have one quality in common: Independence and perseverance. Certainly it is not all fun on the track or on the football field. The body does ache and the mind gets challenged to give up in the heat of it. But it is the spirit that says no, to the doubting side and the athlete proclaims there and then: by the Grace of Allah, I can and I will! These are the men and women that the philosopher praises for refusing to depend on other people but believing in themselves, exercise independence and grit to dare to do; to excel even where others expect them to fail.
The spirit of Independence and perseverance that makes our athletes great is the same spirit that makes nations great. Certainly it was convenient for America to remain a colony of Britain but they chose the path of Independence. Oh how glad I was upon yet another reading of Thomas Jefferson’s immortal document when I saw with fresh light the statement: “…That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown…” well I said to myself, now that we too have finally severed ourselves off all allegiance to the British crown by breaking away from her commonwealth, The Gambia can celebrate her Golden jubilee with renewed pride and greater dignity thanks to the vision and courage of H.E Sheikh Professor Dr. Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh.
Behold, I believe that The Gambia can become one of the world’s leading nations in terms of prosperity and economic activity. We surely can become that thriving “financial centre, a tourist paradise, a trading, export-oriented agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on free market policies and a vibrant private sector, sustained by a well-educated, trained, skilled, healthy, self-reliant and enterprising population and guaranteeing a well-balanced eco- system” as propounded in our vision 2020. Only that we must understand as Gambians that no one is going to come and do this for us, it is the responsibility of every single Gambian. We all have a part to play and we must not sit back and watch believing that it is the responsibility of Government alone. The private individual and the private company are as relevant to our collective goal as Government. Together we shall make a formidable and unstoppable force but divided we shall never prosper. “To the Gambia ever true” should be our mantra; not only to be sung but also to be lived.
We shall have disagreements and personal and group conflicts and some of us will feel hurt and offended; yet we must realize that this is the nature of all relationships. We have disagreements within our families but scarcely do we disown our families or change our surnames. Just like the tongue and the teeth do clash sometimes and then make peace and progress in their common duty so must we as Gambians learn to forgive in our inevitable trespasses against one another just as we except the Good Lord, Allah, to forgive us our own trespasses against His Law. This kind of attitude is what entails true faith and true maturity; qualities none of us would dare condemn, yet hesitate to embrace. May Allah the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful imbue us with the qualities of patience, persistence and forbearance. We should learn to cooperate as a team: “When you work with others in a spirit of friendly cooperation, you are conducting yourself according to the founding principles of most religions and all successful societies.”
This is my believe, this is my hope, and this is my conviction: that we can make it bigger and better as a nation and that there is hope for an even brighter future as portrayed by H.E The President during his independence speech. I must reiterate the need for each one of us to take his/her fair share of responsibility as citizens and residents of this our Allah-endowed gem of a smiling coast. Even the Kiangkas (I dare say) can play a role. Look, even the Sarahulleh’s are now aware of the need to do more than grab some money, they are sending their children to school in droves and we the Badibunkas are impressed with what theyugo’s are doing—Lol!
On a more serious note, we need to put in more especially at the level of the private individual and private company. You can make a decent living/profit while at the same time making meaningful contributions to national progress if the desire and the will are present and focused. After all, all we do is put in the effort, ultimately Allah is the Doer and He shall reward us both here and in the hereafter.
For those of us who say they do not own a business or hold a job, and I happen to be among this group now, there are no excuses. If you can but pray with sincerity for the common good to prosper you will have an impact by the grace of Allah. Even if it be to say a word of encouragement to a fellow citizen, we must all do something in the positive direction. Our intentions matter a lot; I believe that our intentions, personal or collective (when charged with emotion and faith) define our reality. Let us be positive, let’s be optimistic; as the philosopher Philo once said: “Households, cities, countries, and nations have enjoyed great happiness when a single individual has taken heed of the Good and Beautiful. Such people not only liberate themselves; they fill those they meet with a free mind.” If each of us can keep and nurture thoughts of peace, love and unity, we shall enjoy greater progress and happiness.
Sustained positive thoughts and actions can only lead to victory and progress. Just like our famed athletes get challenged in the midst of their games, we shall be tested along the way as individuals and as a group but victory is assured for those who would maintain faith and keep taking the next step in spite of the odds. The race for national development is not a sprint but a marathon. With the rapid pace that defines our global village, we must graft the speed of the Banana Jarju’s and the Clifford Adams’s into the stamina of Peter and Paul to be able to win and win big in good time. By the grace of Allah we shall arrive together in the promised land of further prosperity as defined in our development blue prints. At the end of the day we shall win together and thus we pray: keep us great God of nations to The Gambia ever true.
The Gambia’s Pen
Author, “For The Gambia: Living the National Anthem”