Gambia at 55: Hassoum Ceesay says the country has been generally peaceful

EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: The Gambia, commonly call the smiling coast of Africa is situated in Western part of Africa almost entirely surrounded by Senegal with the exception of its western coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.

It is one of the smallest countries in mainland Africa. The country gained its independence on February 18, 1965, from Great Britain. Gambia’s Independence Day celebration includes raising of its red, white, blue and green national flag, and the lowering of the Union Jack, marking the end of 300 years of colonial rule.

Unlike many African countries, Gambia had a peaceful transition from its colonial masters, but is the country lucky like other African countries in their development aspirations?

Historian and Director General of National Centre for Arts and Culture, Hassoum Ceesay said generally, the country has been at peace during independence, a luck that not many African countries had in gaining their independence in an atmosphere of peace and stability because some of them have to fight wars, like Nigeria and Guinea Bissau.

“Luckily for The Gambia, the country has been at peace since independence. Although there were challenges, including the economy because the country had only groundnut as the main economic booster. Event after the first two years of independence, there was a system called grant in aid, which involved the British paying the salaries of some of the civil servants because there was almost nothing,” he said.

Mr Ceesay said due to the country’s hard work and determination, the situation ended in 1967, ushering in the country’s first achievement.  In addition, the historian said Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was an accommodative man who maintained peace and unity in the country despite the challenge of huge political adversaries.

According to him, Sir Dawda was able to maintain unity even though there were lot of political differences with different political persuasions but unity was maintained through his political accommodation which was like a survival tactic for him.

He said opposition MPs and political parties can join him and the PPP party which was one of his survival tactics to maintain unity and stability.

Mr Ceesay said until 1994, the country was able to build a solid reputation for its democratic space, pluralism, and political tolerance with a robust foreign policy, saying although after the army coup of 1994, the country began to lose some of these cherished ideals which it was known for and what is happening now is slow recovering of the lost glory.

“Since independence, the country have had lot of challenges ranging from coups, droughts and economic challenges despite all the tribulations. He said there is a lot to be optimistic about, saying at independence, many people doubted that the country will survive as a viable independent state.”

The historian said the Gambia could have been a lot better comparing the resources at its disposal at independence and now. “I think what is important now is for Gambians to reassert themselves particularly to take more control of the economy and make the most of what is readily available, including the river, the soil, and the youthful population and their talent. I think that is one way we can maximise our economic benefits. Political independence is the start but economic independence is the best. If you have political independence, your citizens expect to feel it in their pockets, and in the prices of commodities. Well, we have not been able to get that yet,” he said.

Gambia’s economy is largely dependent on tax and agriculture. About 75% of the population depends on crops and livestock for their livelihood.

Mr Ceesay said although Gambia has its political independence but there is still a lot left to be done in terms of its economic independence.

He said some of the dreams of the country’s independence heroes were fulfilled while other were dashed because the level of poverty is still high, while the dream of a united Africa is not fulfil and youth unemployment increasing.

“If the heroes of independence come today, I think they will give us a pass mark. Of course there is still a lot that remain to be done. But at least there will be a pass mark for what we have done in fifty-five years.”

He said after 55-years of independence, old issues have become new issues. According to him, the old issues facing the first government at independence are some of the issues facing the current government, saying that with unity and commitment, Gambia can reach its full development aspirations.

“This is the first independence Gambia is celebrating after the demise of the country’ s independence  hero, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara who Mr Ceesay said will not only be remembered as a man who led the country to independence from the beginning to the end but also a man of great virtue whose every move was consensus.”

Over the years, Gambia celebrate its independence by organising musical jamborees, conducting sporting activities and giving lengthy speeches but the historian said Gambia should include more intellectualism like debates, symbolisms and conferences as part of the independence celebration.

Moving on, the historian said the way forward for the Gambia is discussion, tolerance and consensus.

Written by Juldeh Njie

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