By Badara Alioune F Taal
The Gambia is inside Senegal. The Senegalese used to say that The Gambia is their eighth region because of its location and proximity. The two countries share borders and have more in common than any other two countries on the continent. The cultures, people, tribes, and religions are the same and the composition of religions is proportionately similar. Islam is the dominant religion in The Gambia and Senegal. Catholics form the largest Christian group followed by Anglicans and Methodist. The difference between the two countries is their respective colonial influences as a result of which The Gambia became English-speaking and Senegal a French-speaking nation. The currency in The Gambia was the British Pound denominated until independence when the country introduced the Dalasi which is locally named and valued. The Senegalese joined the Francophone Federation and its currency is pegged to the French Franc and that stayed post-independence to date.
In 1982 after the coup attempt by the late Kukoi Samba Sanyang in 1981, there was a felt need to form a confederation between Senegal and The Gambia and unite the two economies, commerce, and politics. But it broke down due to lack of sincere commitment from both parties. Looking back, this was a clever idea at the time and should have continued because it was the best agreement with potentials that would have benefited both countries, especially The Gambia and Gambian people, to develop, given its size and location relative to Senegal in the quest to compete in the global economy.
I would like to draw some references to bridge building using inferences and examples from other countries around the world that took the challenge. Building bridges are important and a required tool of transporting people and cargo effectively and efficiently. It also facilitates commerce and provides security and economic development when fully utilised. Therefore, bridge building has been on the rise, but those countries involved had the infrastructures, land, understanding of geography, nature preservations, and an economy to support such monumental tasks. The Gambia needs to play catch-up with the commerce, economy, and infrastructure available to those countries before plunging into the challenge. Those countries are at a stage in their development process where building bridges becomes a necessity to complement their economic endeavours and The Gambia is not yet there.
In 1998, the Stolma Bridge in Norway was the latest such endeavour with a 301m span. The world’s second pressed concrete (PC) bridge is the Raftundt Bridge with a 298m span. In 1997, the Chinese government embarked on building the Humen Bridge with a 270m span. These PC bridges are China’s new method of selling their bridge expertise and technology within China and around the world. The Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge (174m span), Asuncion Bridge in Paraguay, South America, built in 1978 with a 270m span are examples of China’s contributions to PC bridge building (Li et al. 2014). Based on the span for all these bridges in China, US and South America, none is close to 7 miles in length. The Gambia Banjul-Barra proposed bridge is 7 miles long and the Chinese bridge building expertise has not been tested for that distance.
The Brooklyn Bridge was built by Europeans and Africans (in America at the time) and it barely covered 3 miles in length, and the longest bridge in China built by the Chinese technology is not seven miles either. So, is this project designed to fail beside the fact that it is introduced at the wrong time and place in our economy and transition, where other much needed activities should be prioritised, such as a capital city in ruin, poor drainage systems everywhere especially in the city of Banjul, poor infrastructure that is over 100 years old going back to the colonial era. To put it lightly, the development in the city of Banjul, the capital, is the remnant of the colonialists before independence. After independence, no Gambian administration, past or present can take any credit for implementing or introducing any constructive change to supplant the British (colonialist) plans.
The Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge in China took three years to build (1977-1980) and is about 1,120m long. The Brooklyn Bridge in New York/New Jersey is 5,989 feet long and 85 feet wide, with six lanes of traffic (cars only) and took 14 years to build. This bridge construction cost the tax payers $15.5 million in 1883 (about $393,964,000 in today’s dollars) to build and estimated 27 deaths in the process (Wikipedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Bridge). Building or investing on a 7-mile bridge building is not a priority for The Gambia. There are more immediate needs that should be a priority for our development than the millions and billions of dalasis the project will absorb. America has a seven-mile bridge stretching from the Florida main land to Key West, the southernmost point of the US and it was not built by the Chinese.
All developed countries have some of the following basic things in common: a vibrant economy, good healthcare system, low unemployment, progressive educational system, and low inflation rate. It became customary in Africa and The Gambia for culture to place more emphasis on religious issues than progress. As much as religions are promising paradise in the afterlife, let us be conscious about the current life we all know and enjoy and do what we can to protect and save its future for next generations. Every progressive country is working on its future and preserving its resources to provide for the generations to come and that should not interfere with any religious beliefs and practices.
Religion vs development
At this point in this paper, I wish to introduce another inference to address the importance of religions independent of developments. We can practise our different religious beliefs without sacrificing developments and social justices. At the back drop of any religion, social justice and human dignity are critically important and are addressed, whether it is Judaism, Islam or Christianity. It is the moral and religious responsibility of leaders of society to provide merit goods to the citizenry. Everyone deserves a place to live (shelter), food to eat and healthcare. Below are the inferences drawn from some religious centres of the world and how in those societies, everyone adheres to the calls of religion and yet carry out their developmental priorities as a country to serve the population without sacrificing the religious beliefs.
Last month, Muslims completed the annual Hajj in Mecca as one of the pillars of Islam but as pious as Saudi Arabia and Mecca in particular is, they are developed, progressive and continue to do so to an extent complemented with religious duties and obligations. Allah appreciates our efforts to try helping ourselves in the process of asking for His help. The pilgrims will tell you that Mecca is religious and developed and continues to grow its infrastructures to accommodate the millions of visitors and that is the lesson The Gambia should take and be cautious with balancing religion with progress.
Rome, on the other hand is fully developed like any progressive state and the Vatican City is in Rome and well developed as well, yet religious and holy. The city dwellers balance religion with everything it promises to developments. The same can be said about Jerusalem – creation of a balance between the religion and developments to better serve the citizenry. The worst crimes and sins are the exploitation of humans for selfish reasons. Elected officials are guardians of the economic wellbeing of the masses and as a result their decisions should go to benefit the masses and not only their own individual family circles. How much groundnuts or watermelon slices can one sell to purchase a home, and live a comfortable life? The local politicians are becoming overnight millionaires within a year in office and I wonder how come? As for these religions, we were introduced to them by the white man and the Arabs and yet our ancestors suffered the plight of slavery, dehumanised, and disrespected by both groups – the Muslim Arabs were the first to enslaved Africans to Europe and the European also took a page to continue the trade where the Arabs left off. In fact they never left, because they still do.
Separation of religion and country
The Gambia Constitution should have a paragraph to address country and religion – separation of church and state. The church (mosque) can practise its teachings and not interfere with the politics of the state, may voice its opinions on matters relating to social justice, human rights and dignity. All elected officials were voted into office by the masses and that mass consisted of all religions combined in one population, so that makes The Gambia a secular and not a Muslim country. In The Gambia today, there are more mosques than there are in the town of Mecca or Medina and we must be careful because there are other religions with equal rights of worship and representation that are not necessarily Islam. We have always maintained peace, living side by side with our Christian brothers and sisters for years, so separation of the state and religions will prevent any frictions and guarantee them their rights to worship in the country. Gambia Radio and Television Services announced some time ago that the current president had introduced a new initiative of visiting and praying with different mosque every Friday and there is nothing wrong with the idea. It is only fair that he returns that favour by reaching out to other religions, during their days of worship and join them in prayers as well.
The agrarian economy
What exactly is running the economy of the country? What is exactly backing the Gambian dalasi? The United States, for example, is one of the largest and most vibrant economies in the world but nothing is backing the dollar beside the TRUST in the Federal Government to pay. The population is willing to work in pursuit of progress and meeting its obligations. On the contrary, The Gambia lives off grants and loans with no genuine resources to meet the obligations of paying those loans. Agriculture will not cut it and Gambians in The Gambia would be naïve to believe such rhetoric and slogans. The West is abandoning the fields, trading agriculture with value-added productions and knowledge-based opportunities to compete in this global economy.
Didn’t the country learn from Jammeh who seized all the machines donated by the Taiwanese government for the country and in turn kept them for his private use? How much did he make compared to other ventured investments in his 22-year reign? Had agriculture been the answer, Jammeh would not have needed to keep those vehicles and other assets. He kept his brainwashing machine in tact fooling the masses to go back to the land and the farms. Even some griots (jallibas) bought into his plan singing a tune to reflect his rhetoric. The current administration is following from where he left off and that is because of their lack of vision, leadership and planning for the country.
Badara Alioune F Taal is a doctoral candidate in Higher Educational Leadership Research and Methodology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.