My fellow Gambians, I repeat my Christmas wishes to you all and thank God the Almighty for this opportunity to also wish you a happy New Year. Christmas and New Year celebrations during my childhood in Banjul provided me some of the most memorable events of my life-I am nostalgic for the gesseh, the hunting and pakin, and of course the Simba. We also had fanal and Famara which was a mix of wollof and mandingka music. It was the most popular event of the year and Famara was the most popular fanal show. Although Christmas was a Christian feast, the festivities were appreciated and enjoyed by all. The greatest appreciation, however, was the unity of all Gambians during these celebrations. Be you Christian or Muslim, be you from the provinces or Banjulian, be you Mandingka, Fula, Jola, Sarahule or Wollof, we all came together to celebrate with our Christian brothers and sisters in a very Gambian way in the abiding belief that while we are many and from diverse religions, regions and ethnic groups; we are one people-The Gambian people.
Christmas and New Year’s day, just like other Muslim feasts are an opportunity, which I will take, to remember the sick and those in prison as we also mourn the dead. I once again join the entire country in mourning the innocent Gambians killed in the border as a result of the Cassamance crisis and the scores of Gambian children who died from acute kidney injury as a result of ingesting the toxic syrups from India. Our prayers are with you all as we commiserate with the bereaved families.
The year 2022 was not very kind to most of us. I certainly do not look back at it with great pleasure. We went through so many difficulties as the world is still gripped with turmoil. With rapid and unbridled increases in the cost of basic commodities, heightening insecurity coupled with an increase in violent crimes including robbery and murder, floods resulting in severe loss of property, low agricultural productivity, corruption, roll back of some fundamental principles of the rule of law which is evidenced by the return to unlawful arrests and detentions. I can say without fear of contradiction that 2022 is our annus horribilis.
However, for many of us, 2022 is not significantly different from 2021 or the years before it. Life in our beloved Gambia in the last few years has been very difficult for most of our citizens. Reflecting back at events of 2022 I wonder how others will judge the events of this tumultuous year. Some, may take a more moderate view of things. Some may clothe these terrible tragedies with a veneer of acceptable normality. Indeed while the glass is half full for some people, it is half empty for others. The truth often lies in between. But with objectivity, we can clearly see that things are not working well in our country and the vast majority of our people are suffering profoundly.
Experience has taught us that no section of the community have all the virtues and neither does any have all the vices. But the government is entrusted with the responsibility for ensuring the welfare and security of the people. As such when things don’t work out well we tend to blame the government; fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly.
I am not here to criticise the government at all or anyone for that matter. For indeed, things are easier said than done. In fact, I am quite sure that many people in the government try to do their best, to do their jobs as best as they can even if the result is not always entirely successful. Those people we truly applaud.
As peoples’ hopes and aspirations for the future are being dashed by increasing hardships, the toxicity of the political, religious and tribal rhetoric is intensifying. The political environment in the Gambia is becoming very charged. It is thus important for all of us to tone down the rhetoric and cut out the insults and try to bring about sanity. If The Gambia catches fire, all of us will suffer.
It is for this reason that this address is important. It is to share ideas with a view to contributing to finding solutions to our collective problems. It is but a poignant reminder of the suffering of the people. Giving a voice to the voiceless. It is intended to ensure that whosoever is responsible for the welfare of the people succeeds as we are all invested in the advancement of the country whether we are in government or not or whether we share the same political philosophy or not. It is Gambia first and must always is what matters. I therefore implore you to lend me your ears and open up your hearts to the ideas I have to share.
We need to change many things in our country. We cannot continue to do business as usual. We all know that:
1. We need to reverse the declining trend in agriculture and invest in our abandoned rich farmlands to promote domestic food production and reduce import dependence.
2. We need to upgrade our tourism sector by investing in the appropriate infrastructure that will help us attract high spenders who will also respect the values to our country.
3. We need to provide greater opportunities and economic empowerment to our women folk and youth of this country and putting in place targeted programmes which will reduce the rural-urban and the backway migration and the brain drain.
4. We need to take appropriate economic intervention measures that will reduce the excessively high cost of living.
5. We need to revamp the education system of our country and make it fit for purpose and designed to address the developmental needs of our country.
6. We need to invest in the health sector by ensuring that we have the necessary modern equipment and skilled professionals to deliver the medical care that our people need. An unhealthy population is a sick and poor nation.
7. We need to reduce government waste and channel our meagre resources to the national priorities of education, health and agriculture.
8. We need to address the insecurity in the country by investing in our security forces by way of training and kitting and deploying them to needed areas to ensure the safety and security of our citizens in their home and localities.
9. We need to reclaim our sea and other natural resources and make them available for exploitation by Gambians in an accountable and unbiased manner.
10. We need to engage the Gambian diaspora more and transform it into the Gambia’s biggest development partner and focus on increasing the share of investments in the diaspora remittance portfolio.
11. We have to establish an anti-corruption commission in order to eliminate corruption in public service.
12. We have to reform our civil service and bring back the values of hard work, discipline, and respect for rules and commitment to duty as the enduring characteristics of the institution.
13. We have to engender patriotism not only among state officials but in all Gambians.
14. We have to ensure greater tolerance and cohesiveness and reduce divisiveness and offensive tribal and religious rhetoric through civic education.
15. We have to implement the results of the transitional justice by ushering in the new draft constitution and implement the recommendations of the Janneh Commission and the TRRC.
Implementing the above changes would undoubtedly have its challenges, but it is the responsibility of all Gambians to cooperate in their implementation. This is why we need courage, strength of character and political will in our leaders. What we need from our leaders a special kind of courage; different from the one needed in battle, but that which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.” In fact, what is required of us all is something more than courage and endurance, we need a revival of spirit; a new unconquerable resolve. Putting Gambia first above all else!
We have been divided by religion, region of origin and tribe which breeds distrust and obstructs harmony and cohesiveness. What we need in Gambia is not division; what we need in Gambia is not hatred; what we need is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion towards one another, feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, regardless of background.
Things are changing rapidly in the world. We have to keep up and not be left behind. However, the pace at which things are changing around us increase the challenges we face. Insults, blackmail, deception, spreading of lies and deliberate fabrications are the new norm in the virtual world putting at risk the values of our people of respect, honesty and basic decency. We must all avoid this temptation. Clearly, advances and innovations in social media present many challenges for us, but they also offer numerous opportunities. As we try to capitalise on its untold benefits, we must stay clear of the dangers it presents.
I give to you all my personal commitment to always give my best and my utmost to this country to which I owe everything and I challenge you all to do the same. With this new commitment and resolve, I am certain that together we can surmount all challenges, and deliver the Gambia to Gambians as a healthy, educated and prosperous nation.
As we leave annus horribilis (2022) behind us, I hope and pray fervently that 2023 may bring us all God’s blessings and all the things we all long for and I wish you all, young and old, wherever you may be, all the fun and enjoyment and the peace of a very happy new year.
Essa Mbye Faal
31 December 2022